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  Governor Abandons Road Plan

By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 1998; Page D01

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday reversed his longtime support of a proposed intercounty connector to link Montgomery and Prince George's counties and said the highway should not be built, as he advocated looking for new alternatives to relieve increasing traffic congestion.

Glendening's comments mean the almost certain demise of the $1.1 billion road, known as the ICC, which has been in the planning stage for more than a half-century. The statement delighted environmentalists, who worry that a highway between the Gaithersburg and Laurel areas would accelerate suburban sprawl. But it angered business groups that have long promoted the connector as critical to the region's economic health.

The project has been floundering in recent months because of adverse decisions by government bodies, and the Maryland State Highway Administration recently rejected one of the proposed ICC routes as environmentally destructive.

Yesterday, Glendening (D) said that environmental concerns have prompted him to rethink his enthusiasm for the divided, six-lane highway and that he now wants to end the project altogether.

"The ICC and its alternatives . . . will not work, should not work," Glendening said in an interview.

He said that early planning for the road did not take environmental concerns adequately into account and that now, "there must be an entire rethinking of how to deal with the traffic congestion."

Glendening would not say what the alternatives to the road should be, saying he would have an announcement in the coming weeks. He stressed that he was not declaring defeat in dealing with traffic congestion and that he would work for other solutions. In conversations with some officials, he has indicated that he wants to make better use of environmentally sensitive planning methods that might include new mass transit.

Takoma Park City Council member Marc Elrich said he met with the governor Thursday and that they discussed the connector road. "He said there was no point in studying it further because the thing was dead," Elrich said.

Environmentalists who have long opposed the intercounty connector praised the governor's decision, but business leaders and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said they were bitterly disappointed because the highway was critical to improving transportation in the area.

"I'm afraid commerce between Prince George's and Montgomery counties is going to be stifled," said Barry Campbell, chairman and chief executive of Tracor Systems Technologies Inc., in Rockville, and head of the Montgomery-Prince George's Counties CEO Roundtable. "This is absolutely the wrong decision."

Duncan said the governor should at least allow environmental impact studies of several route options to be completed.

"It's much too soon to say the alternatives work or don't work," he said. "We have a terrible transportation problem in the county, and to walk away is a terrible mistake. It's of critical economic importance to this county and this state."

Business leaders and many commuters have long sought construction of the intercounty connector, which would run between Interstate 270 near Gaithersburg and Interstate 95 near Laurel.

Supporters say the ICC would ease congestion for Capital Beltway commuters, and business leaders say it would dramatically shortened trips for truckers and others moving materials between Baltimore's harbor and northern Montgomery County.

"You've got to face reality on this thing," said Robert T. Grow, director of transportation for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and a strong supporter of the connector.

To environmentalists and many residents along the highway's proposed corridor, that reality would mean disruption and disaster. The ICC would uproot established neighborhoods, increase suburban sprawl and eventually lead to even worse traffic congestion, critics say.

"This was a tough decision for the governor, but it is the right decision and he should be applauded for it," said Montgomery County Council member Derick Berlage (D-Silver Spring).

Last October, the County Council voted 5 to 3 to tell the state it preferred a more modest program of improving existing roads and intersections to constructing the intercounty connector.

A number of lawmakers from Montgomery who have been critical of the proposed road also praised Glendening's decision. "It's a 1950s solution to problems that will exist in the next century, and the governor is showing vision in realizing that," said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of legislation that would have killed the ICC.

Dembrow and other critics of the road said that Glendening's decision was an astute political move as he enters a difficult reelection campaign, in which environmental activists are likely to be among his strongest supporters.

Environmentalists "will not only get actively behind [Glendening] . . . but he will have stimulated the single most active core group," said Del. Leon G. Billings (D-Montgomery). "The governor needs that."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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