Regional business and political leaders said yesterday they believe Gov. Parris N. Glendening will recommend against building the intercounty connector, dooming a project they say is vital to expanding the suburban Maryland economy and alleviating traffic congestion.
John T. Schwieters, chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the managing partner of the Washington area Arthur Andersen accounting firm, said he had a 10-minute discussion with the governor Sunday about the project. He said he left the conversation convinced that Glendening (D) would announce his opposition to the road, which would link Interstates 270 and 95 north of the Capital Beltway, in the coming weeks.
"I was not encouraged," Schwieters said yesterday. "I believe the governor still has issues in his mind over environmental matters."
Schwieters's comments highlight growing concern among connector supporters, who have received reports that Glendening would oppose the project even though his own task force endorsed it this summer. During his reelection campaign last year, Glendening suspended the project out of concern that no suitable route existed to avoid damage to wetlands, open space and animal habitat.
"The governor has not made a decision, but he plans to do so in the not-too-distant future," said Michael Morrill, Glendening's spokesman. "He is in the final stages of making this decision."
In a letter yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan urged Glendening to endorse the project and restart the environmental review process as quickly as possible. Duncan (D) said he sent the letter after hearing from Montgomery state legislators that Glendening had decided to oppose the project, which Duncan has called crucial to stitching together the regional economy.
"Just in the last week, we have been hearing very negative things," Duncan said yesterday. "I was concerned enough to send a letter to the governor. If he doesn't move forward, it's going to be a huge disappointment. It's going to condemn our county to gridlock for years to come."
After more than a year of deliberation, Glendening's Transportation Solutions Group recommended that the state build a four-lane, east-west road connecting Prince George's and Montgomery counties and that it charge tolls set higher at rush hour to discourage congestion. Eleven of the committee's 15 members agreed that environmental concerns were outweighed by the importance of linking the I-270 corridor with Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Baltimore port and Annapolis.
Because the Glendening-appointed committee included some of the nation's most respected experts on roads, transit and land use, its endorsement had been considered a significant boost for the much-disputed project.
But even as the panel issued its final report, members said they were unsure whether Glendening would accept the recommendations. A majority of members were sufficiently troubled by the possible environmental impacts, and the panel almost killed the project last winter. The group also did not agree on the most vexing issue--a route for the 20-mile road.
Thomas B. Deen, who chaired the 15-member panel, said he has heard from at least two members of the business community who said the governor was not inclined to support the connector. But Deen said he had not spoken directly with members of the Glendening administration since he briefed the governor's "Smart Growth" subcabinet last month.
"I know there's pessimism on part of those who are in the business community," Deen said.