Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said yesterday that he wants to buy land along several routes once proposed for an intercounty connector, hoping to preserve the option for a cross-county highway that the governor has rejected.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has ordered state agencies to sell off $25 million worth of land proposed for the road's northern route. He also wants to use part of another planned route for parkland and a transit way, saying federal environmental agencies would never approve the $1.1 billion road project in any form.
But Duncan (D) and other supporters of the connector, referred to as the ICC, vowed yesterday to keep the fight alive. In an interview, Duncan said he has advised members of the county's State House delegation to find ways of raising money to preserve all alignments proposed for the road, which would join Interstates 270 and 95 north of the Capital Beltway.
In the next week, Duncan plans to file a request under state public records laws seeking details of all Glendening's contacts about the project with federal environmental officials. The environmental review of the project is incomplete.
"Basically, we want [Glendening] to back up what he said--that federal agencies have prejudged the [environmental] study of the road," Duncan said.
Duncan's comments joined a chorus of complaints yesterday over Glendening's attempt to end 50 years of acrimony over the proposed highway, suggesting that the debate over the ICC is far from over. The criticism came from all quarters, not just business leaders who say the road is essential in alleviating traffic congestion and linking the region's distinct economies.
Environmentalists said Glendening's alternative to the road project would severely damage streams and wetlands in Washington's Maryland suburbs. The governor plans to build roads at the eastern- and western-most portions of land set aside for the ICC, trampling on several sensitive stream beds in the process.
"Nobody is happy," said Greg Smith, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop the ICC.
Duncan would have to surmount numerous political and legal hurdles to buy the land proposed for the ICC.
For one, the county may not get a chance to bid on the property because of state rules governing the sale of surplus land. The land would be offered first to the original owners at the original purchase price, plus interest. State agencies would get the next opportunity to buy the land. The county's opportunity would come after that.
An even greater obstacle could be the political opposition. The Montgomery County Council and the county's State House delegation have consistently opposed the project.
As a result, Duncan said, he is exploring whether the state Board of Public Works, which oversees state contracting, could help find some of the purchase money. The governor is one of the three board members.
Del. John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery), the House majority leader and an ICC opponent, said he would discourage Duncan from trying to buy the land.
"He's been out there alone for a long time on this, with the exception of the business community," Hurson said. "It's wasting time now. To keep this alive after it has tied our county in knots is useless."
But the business communities in Prince George's County and Montgomery appear ready to keep the debate alive, fearing the economy could suffer. The Greater Washington Board of Trade plans a steady public relations effort highlighting the need to relieve traffic congestion. Richard Parsons, the board's spokesman, said, "The bottom line is it's not over yet."
Floyd Taub, founder and president of Dovetail Technologies on the University of Maryland College Park campus in Prince George's County, said he is reluctant to hire Montgomery residents because of Beltway traffic.
"They will have days when they will be late to work and days when they have to leave early," Taub said. "The question is, are we a region or a collection of provinces? This is a provincial decision."
Staff writer Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.
CAPTION: County Executive Douglas M. Duncan wants to keep options open for a highway linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties.