Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, hoping to resolve the thorniest transportation problem of his administration and ease traffic congestion for thousands of commuters, today will announce a $33 million plan to construct one portion of the controversial Inter-County Connector (ICC) highway near Rockville, county officials said yesterday.
Gilchrist and Maryland Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann are scheduled to unveil a plan in which Montgomery would construct a $16-million, two-lane highway along five miles of the same ICC route that prompted protests by dozens of neighborhood associations and county officials.
Under the plan, the state would purchase land between Shady Grove Road and Norbeck Road for an estimated $10 million, according to sources. Montgomery also would spend an additional $7 million to construct another two-lane road along a three-mile route between the eastern terminus of Norbeck Road and the western end of Spencerville Road.
The compromise agreement, to be announced at a news conference this afternoon, marks a dramatic turnaround from the sour relations between Gilchrist and Lowell K. Bridwell, Hellmann's predecessor who resigned last summer after designating a 20-mile route for the ICC between Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
In designating a route for the entire $216 million ICC, Bridwell called on officials from the two counties to spend local funds to preserve the right-of-way for the highway. Gilchrist, who had fought the road for months, derided Bridwell's decision as "a paper highway" and "a complete abdication of any solution" to Montgomery's traffic woes.
The county executive would not comment yesterday on the agreement with Hellmann.
"This is not the super-deluxe, Cadillac version" once sought by Bridwell, said John J. Clark, Montgomery's transportation planning director. "It's a Volkswagen."
Clark said the shorter east-west highway serves the "immediate" transit needs of Montgomery, where long traffic tie-ups on the Capital Beltway and other east-west highways are everyday headaches for commuters.
Also, because it will be constructed along the ICC route designated by Bridwell, the shorter road will not foreclose the option of construction of that four-lane highway in the future, Clark said.
County officials said the connector road probably will take two years to design and could be completed by the end of the decade.
In an unusual step, Hellman has agreed to acquire the land for the project "at the earliest possible date," Clark said.
"It took a new state secretary and a new county director of transportation for this agreement to happen," said Clark, who was a key negotiator along with Robert J. McGarry, the county's recently appointed transportation chief.
Montgomery County Council member Neal Potter, who was informed of the new road plan two days ago, said it represents "a little give on both sides."