Opponents of an east-west highway proposed for the Maryland suburbs urged the region's Transportation Planning Board yesterday to delay a decision on whether to add the project to its long-range plans.
They argued that a decision on the status of the intercounty connector should be delayed until after a federal environmental review is released next month.
"There may be even more reasons to oppose" the highway after the review, said Andrea Arnold of Solutions Not Sprawl, after contending that the road would hurt the environment and the state's ability to build other roads. "There is no reason to rush such a huge project when its transportation, environmental and quality of life impacts would affect the entire region."
Yesterday's comments from several dozen people were added to the 330 e-mails, faxes and letters that were forwarded to the planning body by homeowners, business interests, commuters, environmentalists, political leaders and community activists over the last few weeks. Of those, 125 were opposed to the project, 184 were in favor and a handful made general comments.
The regional panel is scheduled to vote Nov. 18 on whether the road would be added to its long-range plans, a necessary step in a lengthy approval process that comes days before an environmental impact statement is expected to be made public.
The proposed eight-lane highway, which would traverse 18 miles between Interstate 95 in Prince George's County and Interstate 270 in Montgomery County, has been pushed by backers as a way to link Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the I-95 corridor to business centers in Rockville and Gaithersburg. State officials predict that it would relieve some traffic on secondary roads.
Opponents say it would not solve any traffic problems, largely because it would spur suburban sprawl. They also say it would drain the state's transportation resources and damage the environment. They have accused the administrations of President Bush and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) of whipping the project through the review process, which was put on a federal fast track after Ehrlich took office last year.
Some road opponents said a sound decision could not be made until the state released all the data it compiled in an economic impact report. Last month, state officials released a summary finding that the highway would create nearly 17,000 jobs, but they have not released the underlying information or methodology used to reach such conclusions.
"Without complete reports, including methodology and supporting data, it is impossible to determine whether the selective conclusions are valid," said Stephen Caflisch, transportation chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.
State officials now say the full report will not be ready until about the time the environmental impact statement is released.
Three supporters of the connector also spoke before the planning board, touting its traffic and economic development benefits. They also said the merits of the road have been reviewed repeatedly for the better part of four decades and see the fast-track process as a welcome development.
"After decades of discussion, planning and study, the need for and the benefits to be derived from the ICC are clearly established," said Ron Resh of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. "The time has come to move forward with the building of the ICC."