This year's campaign for nine seats on the Montgomery County Council has been shaped by transportation issues and is marked by two hotly contested races in Districts 1 and 2, where formidable newcomers are challenging incumbents.

In District 1, which includes Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac, Democratic challenger Duchy Trachtenberg is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Howard A. Denis, who has served one four-year term.

Denis, a former Maryland state senator, supports the controversial ICC, or intercounty connector, that would link Interstates 95 and 270, while Trachtenberg opposes the road.

The race is tricky for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) in his effort to build a pro-ICC council. Although Denis's support could help create the majority, Duncan hasn't publicly campaigned for Denis, and is backing Trachtenberg.

Duncan and his supporters say the ICC is critical to reducing congestion in the county, while opponents say it would lead to further development and crowding and would not ease gridlock.

"Transportation is the only crosscutting issue in this election," said County Council President Steven Silverman (D-At Large). "Traffic resonates with everyone."

Trachtenberg has never held elected office but is a longtime community activist who has tremendous grass-roots support, particularly from women and health-care professionals. She is a local and national advocate for health care, mental health care, education and equal rights for women as president of Montgomery's National Organization for Women.

"Montgomery County is at a crossroads," Trachtenberg said. "Runaway development threatens our quality of life. Our public health infrastructure is at risk."

Denis said if reelected, in addition to transportation initiatives, he would advocate for county homeland security initiatives.

"I strongly support the ICC and Doug Duncan's 'Go Montgomery!' plan," Denis said. "This is a balanced transportation plan. We need an ICC."

In District 2, Republican council member Nancy H. Dacek is facing the toughest race of her political career. She is being challenged by Democratic newcomer Mike Knapp, but Dacek contends she is actually running against a more formidable opponent.

"I'm running against Doug Duncan," Dacek said. Duncan is backing Knapp, director of business development for a Rockville-based biotechnology firm, who favors the ICC. Dacek opposes the proposed highway.

Dacek, a council member for 12 years who is known for her feisty demeanor, said she's ready for the fight. Duncan maintains that there is strong support for the connector in District 2, which includes Germantown, Olney and Clarksburg.

"Transportation is significant," Knapp said. "As I knock on doors, people ask the question about the ICC. I'm not sure people think it's going to solve all the problems, but they say it represents the county moving forward."

For the four at-large seats, Democratic incumbents Silverman and Michael L. Subin and newcomers Nancy Floreen and George L. Leventhal -- all of whom support the ICC -- will face Republican opponents Scott Dyer and Joe Dollar. At-large council member Blair G. Ewing lost his bid for reelection.

In District 3, which includes the Rockville/Gaithersburg area, incumbent Phil Andrews is facing Republican Graham B. Weaver. Andrews opposes the ICC.

In District 4, Democrat Marilyn J. Praisner, who opposes the ICC, has no Republican challenger. The district includes the Burtonsville and Aspen Hill areas. Democrat Tom Perez is challenged by Republican Dennis E. Walsh in District 5, which includes Silver Spring, Wheaton and Takoma Park. Perez opposes the ICC; Walsh supports the road.