Civic leaders in Germantown -- a sleepy rural community of 600 two decades ago, but now a growing suburb--think their area of Montgomery County is overdue for a major roadway.

Thirty residents of Germantown and neighboring areas, including elected officials and civic group representatives, offered testimony to that effect at a Montgomery County Department of Transportation public hearing last week on the proposed Great Seneca Highway.

Plans for a 7 1/2-mile, four-lane divided road from Gaithersburg to Germantown have been on county drawing boards since 1971.

A $300,000 federally funded environmental impact study on the project is under way and the County Council has designated the plan as a special capital improvements project.

Expected to cost the county $27.3 million, the road plan was conceived to relieve traffic on Rte. I-270 and spur economic development of the area west of the Shady Grove exit off 270.

The highway would bisect the wedge formed by Rte. 28 and 270 and would be traveled by an estimated 30,000 cars a day, said John Clark, head of the County's Office of Transportation Planning.

"Germantown has big chunks of land available, relatively cheap, but it needs transportation access," Clark said in an interview. "Without it the quality of life will suffer."

About the high price of the road, Clark said, "part will be paid by developers as they need to build a road to provide access to their developments, and eventually the county will recover some money in property taxes due to the new developments."

Six options for construction of the highway--including the option to scrap the whole idea--were presented by transportation officials at the hearing.

The goal, officials have said, is to build the highway without destroying too much of Seneca Creek State Park in the process.

Speakers at the hearing largely supported the route recommended by a county-hired consultant.

That alternative would use up 17.4 acres of parkland and would require the relocation of one residence.

The road has been considered piecemeal since 1971, first as Ritchie Parkway, then as the Western Arterial and finally as a whole since 1978, as the Great Seneca Highway. A detailed traffic analysis and environmental impact study have taken many years, according to project manager Edgar Gonzalez of the county's office of transportation planning.

The county hopes to recommend a route by Oct. 1 and to complete its study by the end of the year.