The Post should be applauded for highlighting the ill health of the Anacostia River and the entire region's obligation to rescue the river [front page, Jan. 9; editorial, Jan. 23].

Contrary to assertions made in recent letters [Jan. 27], the intercounty connector between Interstates 270 and 95 in Maryland will serve as a catalyst for improving the river's water quality, not degrading it, through an unprecedented focus on environmental protection and restoration. Indeed, the ICC's environmental program will contribute to a larger Anacostia watershed restoration plan being carried out by a host of partners, including the Maryland State Highway Administration.

To fulfill this and other environmental objectives, more than 15 percent of the ICC project's total cost is dedicated to environmental initiatives. The ICC's $370 million environmental program is designed not only to fully compensate for the highway's impact but also to correct a range of man-made environmental problems that are entirely unrelated to the project and that otherwise would remain unaddressed.

Among these above-and-beyond initiatives is one to significantly upgrade facilities to treat and slow the flow of storm water that courses off the roofs and other hard surfaces of homes and businesses built in the Anacostia watershed over past decades. Currently, substandard storm water treatment across thousands of acres results in silt and pollution flowing into Paint Branch, Little Paint Branch, Indian Creek and Northwest Branch -- the headwaters of the Anacostia River. In addition to reducing storm water's impact on the Anacostia, these initiatives will improve water quality in local streams and stream valleys.

Specifically, the ICC environmental stewardship initiatives include significantly improving the effectiveness of nine storm water management facilities, building 21 water quality improvement projects and restoring streams in 21 locations.

Furthermore, the ICC itself will lie as lightly on land and over water as possible. Where the highway crosses streams and wetlands, the footprint is narrower and includes longer-than-typical bridges, lessening impact on these sensitive natural resources.

These efforts are complemented by a robust environmental mitigation package that will compensate for the impact of the ICC. Developed jointly with 16 federal, state and local environmental regulatory agencies, the mitigation program will create scores of acres of wetlands, restore miles of streams, remove or otherwise bridge numerous man-made blockages that prevent fish from reaching upriver spawning areas, and reforest hundreds of acres. The State Highway Administration will replace parkland that unavoidably will be impacted by construction, at a ratio of nearly 8 to 1.

A series of checks and balances will ensure that these environmental commitments are carefully carried out. An environmental management team will confirm full implementation of the commitments, and an independent environmental monitoring team will track the ICC's progress in environmentally sensitive areas and report problems, should they occur, directly to agencies responsible for protecting the environment, not to those responsible for building highways.

Beyond the ICC's environmental program, the state of Maryland's embrace of the Anacostia watershed restoration effort is focused on reducing pollution in the river, restoring its ecological balance, improving habitat for fish and other aquatic life, increasing wetland acreage, and expanding forest coverage. The State Highway Administration has coordinated with Anacostia River watershed restoration partners for more than a decade, resulting in many environmental projects and more environmentally sensitive roads.

While the ICC has been planned for more than 50 years, one silver lining in the delay is that these and other major environmental protections are now embedded in the project.

-- Neil J. PedersenBaltimore

The writer is the Maryland state highway administrator. His e-mail address is