This is the long, slow future that Maryland officials predict unless a proposed east-west highway linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties is built: A morning rush-hour trip in 2030 from Rockville to Baltimore-Washington International Airport would take about an hour and 45 minutes. Driving from Laurel to Shady Grove would take an hour. And Rockville to Laurel would take almost as long.
But not if an intercounty connector is built, the officials say. The proposed highway would cut about 30 minutes off each of those rides, planners said during the first of three community outreach sessions hosted by state and local officials who back an intercounty connector.
They also said the number of jobs Marylanders could reach in 45 minutes would grow from 585,600 to as many as 755,600 in 2030, depending on which of two proposed highway routes was built. The road is projected to carry 80,000 to 125,000 vehicles a day in 2030.
"The travel time savings are not one minute, two minutes or four minutes each way; they are 30 minutes each way," said Richard Parsons, president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, a project supporter. "It's not insignificant."
But many of the other time savings mapped out by state officials were that minute: A trip from Glenmont to Bowie would be four minutes quicker, and a ride from Laurel to College Park would be exactly the same.
Opponents dismissed the state's statistics because they were based on the difference between making no changes and what traffic would be like with a connector and because they say it's impossible to predict development patterns over the next 25 years.
They said any number of other fixes -- including building better transit lines, improving secondary roads, timing traffic lights more effectively and shifting some business development to Prince George's -- were better ways to reduce traffic congestion.
"It's a very sophisticated sell job, and I'm not sure I buy it," said Rockville resident Walter Morgenstern, one of more than 150 people who came to hear the update.
"Whatever additional roadway is put in this area is just gobbled up. Rapid transit makes more sense."
State officials also released maps, which showed where the road would run and where its intersections would lie, filling in specifics along the two possible routes announced in the fall.
The intercounty connector is planned to be an 18-mile, tolled highway that would link the business corridor along Interstate 270 to I-95, the main north-south artery on the East Coast and a direct link to the hubs of BWI and the Port of Baltimore. The estimated cost of the six-lane road, which state officials hope to begin building in 2006, is $1.7 billion before financing charges.
Supporters of the connector say it is necessary to increase economic development in Maryland and compete with the burgeoning Dulles corridor in Virginia. Many also say it would vastly improve mobility in Montgomery, although backers have eased off claims that it would have an appreciable effect on reducing Capital Beltway traffic.
"I think we need it," said Hern Krum, a Gaithersburg resident. "It's a matter of getting over to the other side of Maryland. There are no easy access roads."
The proposed connector's opponents decry it as a pathway to more suburban sprawl and argue it would encourage development in a part of the state that is already crowded. Many also disparage it as a "Prince George's bypass" fearing that the road would divert economic development from that county. Other opponents object to its path, which would cut through wetlands, streams and parkland.
The debate has spilled into the District and Virginia, where many officials laud Maryland's efforts to build the region's first major road in a generation. Others fear that its price tag, which Maryland plans to fund in part by borrowing against future federal revenue, would prevent the state from contributing to Metro and other regional initiatives. And some fear the connector would be a link in creating an outer beltway around the edges of the Washington region.
At a news conference before the session, several elected officials attacked the arguments against the project as "baloney," "false" and "desperate."
"The naysayers arguing against the intercounty connector will be the ones who use the intercounty connector," said state Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery). Without the road, she said, Maryland "will not move forward with our economic development."
Opponents have mailed 83,000 newspapers to people who live near the road, with a headline that reads: "Want a Beltway in Your Backyard?" They plan to hold a news conference and rally that is slated to include elected officials from Prince George's and Montgomery counties during Saturday's informational session on the project. The opponents will tout alternatives to the proposed connector.
The two upcoming informational meetings will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at James Blake High School, 300 Norwood Rd., Silver Spring; and June 24, from 2 to 8:30 p.m. at American Legion Post 60, 2 Main St., Laurel.