The new "techway" that business executives are urging to connect the technology corridors of Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland is likely to confront the same political obstacles that have stymied similar road proposals with more familiar names.
No specific alignment has been recommended for the techway, which was endorsed at a conference convened yesterday by the Greater Washington Board of Trade. But business leaders said yesterday that their favored route would run from the Dulles area along an extension of Route 28 in Loudoun County, crossing the Potomac River south of Poolesville in Montgomery County and continuing on to connect with Interstate 270 near Rockville.
An alternative path farther to the west could follow the route of a proposed bypass around the Capital Beltway, running through Leesburg and crossing into Maryland south of Frederick.
"Either one would be an enormous aid as long as it makes a connection," said Charles A. Dukes Jr., who heads the Board of Trade's transportation committee. "To leave unconnected two of the biggest economic engines in the state of Maryland and the state of Virginia doesn't make any sense."
Yet sharp differences between the two states over an acceptable route have doomed earlier efforts to build a new Potomac River crossing and have fanned dissatisfaction, particularly in the business community, over the quality of regional cooperation.
The first route, which in the past has been known in Maryland as the "northern connector" or the "western bypass," is preferred by many executives because it would most directly connect the business centers near Dulles International Airport and I-270. The Board of Trade has previously advocated it as part of a 35-mile, six-lane highway running between Dulles and Prince George's County via Rockville costing at least $2.5 billion, said Robert T. Grow, the board's transportation director.
But this alignment has long faced vigorous opposition from officials in Maryland, who warn that the road would slice through the rural preserve of western Montgomery County, thwarting efforts to manage development. From Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) to Montgomery County Council members, officials of both parties have consistently balked at any new bridge east of Route 15 in Frederick County.
"We are totally, unalterably and unanimously opposed to it," said council member Nancy Dacek (R-Upcounty). She said this united front, combined with an official desire to direct scarce transportation funds to more pressing projects such as transit, makes it unthinkable that Maryland would acquiesce to a road through the rural preserve.
The proposal endorsed yesterday also calls for transit and fiber-optic communication links to run along the road, but this did little to make the alignment more palatable to officials. "If this is a twist on the western bypass running through Montgomery County, it would unfortunately fall on deaf ears," said Steve Simon, a county spokesman, reflecting the position of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D).
Business leaders contend that a direct connection between the Dulles area and I-270 would relieve traffic congestion for thousands of Maryland residents who work in Virginia's high-tech sector, making it easier for firms to recruit and retain employees. A highway link also could foster greater collaboration between companies in the two states as well as research institutions, such as George Mason University and the University of Maryland, Dukes said.
A new river crossing could provide companies and residents in Montgomery and Frederick counties with better access to Dulles Airport. But that prospect poses a threat to Maryland, which has been successfully developing business at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Such a consideration is what some business leaders this week again labeled Maryland parochialism. But Maryland officials say their decisions are driven primarily by a concern for the environment and managed growth that Virginia does not share.
"They continue to have policies that are not as concerned with the environment as the state of Maryland," said Del. Jean Cryor (R-Montgomery). "We will not sacrifice what we have already worked so hard to achieve."
For that reason, Maryland officials have repeatedly said their preferred location for a major river crossing would be at Point of Rocks along the existing alignment of Route 15. That could link up with the proposed 50-mile Western Transportation Corridor (known in Virginia as the western bypass) that is scheduled to undergo environmental review by the Virginia Department of Transportation later this year.
But with slow-growth sentiment swelling in Loudoun, the support for a new thoroughfare that far to the west seems to be ebbing.
"You will find a pretty large public outcry against having that bypass," said Loudoun County Supervisor Scott K. York (Sterling), who won the GOP nomination for supervisors chairman this spring on a wave of popular frustration with rapid development. He said the proposal for a Potomac crossing in easternmost Loudoun on a Route 28 extension would be far more welcome.