Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring on Montrose Parkway West, a controversial $68 million project designed to relieve traffic congestion between Rockville Pike and Interstate 270. But opponents of the project -- one of the county's most expensive -- plan to ask the courts to block the groundbreaking.
"This is not a dead issue," said Stephen Miller, treasurer of the Montrose Parkway Alternative Coalition, a group of civic associations from the area near the road's planned path. But he declined to disclose the legal basis for the group's planned challenge, saying he did not want to let county officials know his group's strategy.
The proposed 1.8-mile parkway includes a new four-lane road from Old Georgetown Road to Tildenwood Drive, said Edgar Gonzalez, Montgomery's deputy director of transportation policy. Montrose Road will be expanded from four lanes to six from Tildenwood to Tower Oaks Boulevard. The county would pay the entire cost of the project, which some opponents say might actually run as much as $90 million.
"This is a huge waste of money," said Drew Powell, chairman of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery. "You could build two brand-new high schools instead of this road."
County officials say the project is necessary to reduce gridlock in North Bethesda, and it is a cornerstone of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's (D) $1 billion plan to relieve traffic congestion. The traffic reduction program, called Go Montgomery!, was the centerpiece of Duncan's 2002 reelection campaign and received the County Council's endorsement.
"This is one of the most critical road projects in Montgomery County," Duncan spokesman David Weaver said. "We need this to reduce congestion."
Montrose Parkway West is one portion of a larger three-part project to build a parkway stretching from I-270 to Veirs Mill Road. The eastern part of the project, which is in the planning phase, would connect Rockville Pike and Veirs Mill Road and be funded entirely by the county, Gonzalez said.
A $100 million state-funded interchange on Rockville Pike would connect the two county roads, said Erin Henson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. The state will announce this fall whether it will fund the interchange this year. "There has been no formal evaluation made yet," Henson said.
County officials have been lobbying the state heavily to build the project. But in an interview this week Duncan, a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2006, expressed concern that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) will lack sufficient resources to fund the interchange.
"They've raided hundreds of millions of dollars from the transportation trust fund," Duncan said. "We're very concerned about the state's inability to fund any transportation project."
Weaver said the interchange is critical to reducing congestion in the area.
"Unless and until that is addressed, people won't see significant relief," Weaver said. "It would be unfair to suggest that the $68 million is not going to get you anything. It is going to get you something. But it works best with the interchange."
The Montrose Parkway Alternative Coalition believes the project will do little, if anything, to relieve congestion. The group says gridlock would increase at Montrose Parkway and East Jefferson Street.
"It really doesn't appear to solve the problems that exist," Miller said. "It just moves the problem somewhere else."
Emily Mintz, a local Realtor who is a member of the coalition's steering committee, said real estate developers are the driving force behind Montrose Parkway. To win approval for construction projects, developers must show that there are sufficient roads in the county to accommodate traffic to their sites. Mintz said Montrose Parkway just happened to be the most convenient place for the county to lay down pavement.
"They needed a road, and we were the deer in their headlights," she said.
Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), chairman of the council's transportation committee, said coalition members only oppose the parkway because it will run near their homes. She said they should recognize the need to alleviate traffic congestion in the area.
"Even the folks who oppose this road want to be able to continue to use their cars," Floreen said. "They're not coming to opposition meetings on the bus."
Some residents said they plan to leave the area because of the proposed project. One of them, Karen F. Kuker-Kihl, is embroiled in a dispute with the county. She wants the county to buy her house, which is next to the parkway's planned path. "I'm ground zero," she said.
The county has spent $31 million to buy property along the parkway's path. The county purchased seven homes and has demolished several, said Dennis Robinson, real estate analyst for the county Department of Public Works and Transportation.
But the county was not able to reach agreement with Kuker-Kihl. "We didn't need her property," Robinson said.
The houses next to Kuker-Kihl's are now demolished. A red-and-white swing set and bent lamppost are the only evidence of her former neighbors.
"It's so sad," she said, "when your neighborhood is destroyed."