Gov. Parris N. Glendening's decision last week to build part but not all of a new connector road linking Gaithersburg to Laurel has sparked new debate in Prince George's County over a proposed section that would run from Route 1 to Route 29.
Prince George's County Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) said that building even one leg of the so-called intercounty connector would draw only more traffic to some neighborhoods in his district, adding cars to the congestion but not jobs.
But County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), a longtime supporter of a two-county highway, is worried that the governor's decision will hurt efforts to build up Prince George's nascent high-tech corridor because there won't be a more direct route between Montgomery's high-tech corridor along Interstate 270 and Prince George's corridor along Interstate 95.
Glendening said that the state would sell off $25 million in property acquired for one of the proposed routes. Glendening, who cited environmental concerns for the decision, said he would continue to pursue the development of two new limited-access parkways at each end of the proposed connector route.
By canceling some, but not all, of the road, which has been debated for more than three decades, the governor has left raw feelings among those on both sides of the debate.
"It's a good news, bad news situation," Maloney said.
The new proposed western segment would connect Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg with northern Georgia Avenue. The eastern segment would connect Routes 29 and 1 in the greater Laurel area. The two legs of the four-lane highway would traverse nearly 10 miles of the previously planned connector route.
Glendening also said he would ask the legislature in January for $200 million to improve intersections, build interchanges and widen roads in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
"Laurel is not going to be inundated with traffic, but Beltsville will," Maloney said. "The gridlock will increase in this part of the county. We will face the brunt of it."
But state Del. Barbara Frush (D-Calverton), who, like Maloney, had been an outspoken critic of the connector, said the Route 29-Route 1 connection is "the lesser of two evils."
"We definitely need something to take the traffic off some of those communities," she said. "I think this road will do that. I think all in all, we're pretty pleased."
Less than five miles of the proposed connector would have crossed into Prince George's County. Several studies had proposed having the east-west connector cross Interstate 95 and end at U.S. Route 1 or Maryland Route 198 in the northern portion of the county near Laurel and Beltsville.
Since Glendening's announcement, several state leaders, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), have said they don't want the land to be sold off and want to leave open the possibility that the road could be built.
A majority of the members of the Prince George's County Council had opposed the road, and council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) said he applauded the governor's decision to kill the connector and instead focus on road improvements.
Curry had supported the connector, arguing that the road was vital to the county's marketing and the success of a technology triangle in the Laurel-Beltsville area that also includes the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
"That road is central to the continued economic growth of our technology sector in Prince George's County, providing a convenient way for our technology corridor to link up with the I-270 technology corridor," Curry said.
Curry said he had supported the Route 29 to Route 1 connector as part of the larger road project.
"They were never to be regarded as substitutes," he said. "They can by no means be viewed as a substitute for the traffic and economic benefits" of the entire connector.
Karen Coakley, president of the Beltsville Citizens Association, which supported the connector, also was upset with the governor's decision.
"This is being done for political reasons," she said. "I'm a dreamer. I'm going to be real curious to see how quickly that land is sold, and I'm not giving up until it is."
Coakley said she doesn't buy into the governor's reasoning about the environmental impact of the roadway.
"How are we going to meet clean-air mandates with all these vehicles stagnating on the roads?" she said. "We may meet one avenue of EPA by giving in to the environmentalists. But what are we doing about clean air? And what are we doing for all the roads that will become alternatives?"
H. Walter Townshend III, president of the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce, said he fears traffic will get worse even with improvements to existing roadways.
"Traffic is not going to be diminished," said Townshend, a member of the Transportation Solutions Group. "All the intersection improvements will definitely bring some improvement, but overall, it's more people and more cars on the same number of roadway miles."
Townshend, who had supported the connector, predicted that Route 198 would become a "de facto connector."