Eve Burton and Roger Metcalf had planned to raise their family in the Derwood home they've shared for 23 years. They've added on to the house as new children arrived, and they love its surroundings: an acre full of mature trees, blueberry bushes and woodpeckers.
Burton said she never dreamed of leaving a place that is so full of memories, including the planting of crape myrtle trees as a Mother's Day gift 10 years ago.
Soon, however, their piece of quiet country life may be paved over with six lanes of asphalt. If it is built along the path preferred by the Maryland State Highway Administration, an intercounty connector would carry thousands of trucks and cars through what is now Burton and Metcalf's living room.
State highway officials have promised that people living in the highway's path will be fairly compensated to allow them to find comparable housing elsewhere. Burton and some of her neighbors in the Cashell Estates neighborhood say that's impossible.
"There is no comparable housing," said Burton, 52, who runs children's programs at Twinbrook Library. "Our home is two blocks from a bus stop, two miles from a Metro station, three miles from where my husband works and five miles from where I work. We've lived here 23 years. Everything we do is in this area."
One month after Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced the state's preferred route for an intercounty connector, many Montgomery County residents are taking a closer look at exactly where it would go. For many who drive, thoughts of a new highway conjure hopeful images of a faster crossing of the county's midsection. For some residents, however, plans for the toll road would send bulldozers through their front doors or leave them with a potentially noisy, smelly highway next door.
The 18-mile intercounty connector is estimated to cost $2.4 billion, not including financing costs. It would be the most expensive new highway project in the Washington area. Most of Maryland's preferred southern route has been on planning maps for decades. The highway would connect Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg with U.S. Route 1 in Laurel.
Neil J. Pedersen, Maryland's highway administrator, said that the state tries to avoid taking homes when designing a new road but that the task of sparing homes is difficult in densely populated areas, such as Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The state's chosen route for a connector would require taking as many as 58 homes, with the vast majority in Montgomery, Pedersen said.
"In terms of roadways of this magnitude, there are many that have numbers [of displaced homes] that are far higher than this," Pedersen said. "I think that's really a tribute to the planning processes of both counties having proactively preserved the area" where most of the connector would be built.
Pedersen noted that building a wider and higher Woodrow Wilson Bridge required condemning an Alexandria apartment community with 300 units.
Few Montgomery neighborhoods would be affected as much as Cashell Estates off Redland Road, about three miles east of Interstate 270 and just south of Muncaster Mill Road. By Metcalf's count, 16 of the estimated 58 homes that the state wants to take would come from Cashell Estates or the adjacent Winters Run neighborhood. If homes that are vacant or already state-owned are excluded, he said, 44 homes would be taken, with one-third of them in Cashell Estates and Winters Run.
Some residents who face displacement are putting their hopes in the fact that the highway isn't a done deal. The federal government must still agree to the state's preferred route this fall as well as the connector's financing plan, which the Maryland General Assembly has approved. Environmental groups have said they are considering filing lawsuits, which could delay construction. Ehrlich has said he wants to get bulldozers moving next year, so that the highway can be opened by 2010.
Still, residents have seen enough to make them plenty worried. While no one has been officially notified of whose homes would stay and whose would go, residents have seen the detailed plans, with the letter "R" linked to their homes. The "R" stands for "displaced residence."
Those whose homes would be spared said they're wondering whether that's actually good news. They are contemplating life next to a highway and whether their homes are now nearly impossible to sell without huge losses.
"See that field there?" said Dorothy Kent, 77, as she pointed out the front window where she sits much of the day, reading or watching television from a soft rocking chair. The highway "would go right there, and I'll just be sitting here listening to it." The "field" is actually a neighbor's yard across the street. That house would go. While Kent would be able to stay in her home, the proposed highway would cut her off from a nearby park and two shopping centers, including a post office and pharmacy, to which she enjoys walking.
"If I have to move, where would I go?" said Kent, a retired secretary who raised four children in the home that her late husband, Bill, helped to build. "If I don't move, am I going to live the rest of my life next to a six-lane highway that I never planned on?"
Like Kent, some Cashell Estates residents have lived there almost 50 years. All say they were drawn to the peaceful, country feel of a community that is a short drive to a Metro station and Rockville Pike's stores and restaurants. Unlike many newer homes in Montgomery, which seem to be built from lot line to lot line, homes in Cashell Estates are more modest, many of them ranch-style. The trade-off: They are surrounded by acres and acres of grassland and woods -- the lots are all one to five acres -- that residents fill with gardens, swings and decks.
The neighborhood has about 25 homes, mostly along two roads. Neighbors know each other well enough that an unfamiliar vehicle passing through draws attention.
Residents say they have known for almost 50 years -- as long as an intercounty connector has appeared on Montgomery planning documents -- that a highway might one day run near their homes. The county's master plan had always called for the highway to go about a half-mile to the southwest, a distance that many said they could have lived with.
But as the state's latest highway study took shape, Cashell Estates residents said, they began to get a bad feeling. First, they saw lines on a map showing various routes the state was considering. For the first time, they said, one of the lines went through their neighborhood. As the state's public maps grew more detailed, they said, the picture became even clearer. In January, residents said, they saw the "R" symbols showing which of their homes would be cleared.
When Ehrlich announced the state's preferred route for a connector last month, the path he touted as being in Montgomery's master plan actually included a slight deviation near Redland Road. The state's draft environmental impact study referred to it simply as "Rock Creek Option C." To the residents of Cashell Estates, that meant the highway would run through some of their homes.
"The thing that upsets us is that originally it was supposed to go in the park," said Bruce Kosian, 72, whose home of 46 years would be condemned for the state's preferred route. "It wasn't supposed to go up here."
"They changed some of [the route] to appease the Environmental Protection Agency," said his wife, Dorothy Kosian, 72.
Pedersen said state officials have considered Option C since the mid-1990s. He said they "acquiesced" to federal environmental officials' concerns about the impact that the initial master plan alignment near Cashell Estates would have had on Rock Creek. Sending the highway through that area would affect much more parkland and one of the creek's tributaries, Pedersen said.
The U.S. Department of the Interior and the EPA "made very strong statements in terms of their concern" with a route that would have more environmental impacts, Pedersen said.
The master plan alignment would have required taking three homes in or near Cashell Estates. The chosen route would take 17.
For now, Cashell Estates residents are left to wonder: Will their house definitely go? If so, when? And what will the state consider "just compensation"? Most important, many say, they wonder where they would go. In a county where townhouses regularly sell for $500,000, where would they be able to afford, or even find, a single-family home surrounded by so much open land?
Ben and Christy Graybeal said they are upset that the state chose a route different from the one they researched before buying the 60-year-old home that they have spent six years painstakingly refurbishing. The work -- stripping paint and wallpaper, tearing down walls, replacing windows, putting in tile and painting -- took up every weekend and many late weeknights. They estimate that the kitchen addition that Ben Graybeal finished in March, complete with a mudroom and laundry room designed exactly as he and his wife wanted them, would be just about in the center line of an intercounty connector.
For now, the Graybeals are holding off on their original plans to build a deck, renovate the basement and add a garage. Instead, they are doing only small jobs to make sure their house is in top shape for the real estate appraiser who would decide how much their property is worth for compensation.
"We always thought that maybe eventually we'd move, but someone would be enjoying our labor," said Christy Graybeal, 29, a University of Maryland graduate student. "To have it all bulldozed is very depressing."
The proposed intercounty connector would eliminate as many as 58 homes in bucolic Derwood, where, clockwise from top left, Jules Metcalf-Burton, left, and his brother, Justin, pick blueberries from the bushes that their family planted shortly after moving in 23 years ago; Dorothy Kent, 77, fills her birdbath; and Dorothy Kosian checks on her tomato plants.