Tears of disbelief filled Monika Mahabare's eyes as she sat in a small, plastic chair that usually holds one of the children in her northern Silver Spring preschool.
"They're really going to do it?" she asked.
She said she had written to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Her students' parents signed a petition. She attended the Maryland State Highway Administration's public meetings, showing officials how the southern route for the six-lane intercounty connector would slice right through her preschool and its large playground surrounded by thick, quiet woods.
"I saw the master plan, and my property was sitting in the way of the highway," Mahabare, 32, said. "My God, I almost started crying. It hurts so bad. It's really sad what they're doing. It affects all the children. They grow up here."
Few communities would be torn apart as utterly as Mahabare's. Longmead Crossing, off Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road, is that increasingly rare place in Montgomery County, a mix of houses, condominiums and townhouses for about 5,000 middle-income residents. People feel safe enough here to let their children roam the large network of sidewalks, on streets with names like Park Vista and Snow Mass Court, on their way to the playground and the community clubhouse.
The connector would plow through a wide swath of woods that runs through the middle of the subdivision, where residents walk their dogs or cut through to the swimming pool, tennis courts or soccer fields.
As Ehrlich and state transportation officials announced their choice of the master-plan alignment for the 18-mile highway they hope to begin building next year, Longmead residents and others in its path tried to absorb the news.
Those with homes or businesses not directly in the right of way are pondering their options, none of them attractive. Some plan to move before the road comes but fear plummeting home values. Others say they can't afford to leave but also can't fathom life with a six-lane highway running past their back fences -- and all the noise, lights, pollution and construction dust that will come with it.
"We watch TV there," said Rina Claytor, 47, pointing to her family room, where the windows that now afford a view of the woods could soon face a highway. "We might as well live along a railroad track if that happens."
Plans for the connector were on the books long before Longmead Crossing was built. But as studies languished and elected officials dithered, it was easy, residents say, to convince themselves that the road would never be built.
"We asked the previous owner if there was ever going to be building back there, and he said as far as he knew there were no plans because this had been in the works for 40 years or something," said Emily Black, 56. The route announced yesterday would run within 30 yards or so of Black's kitchen window, just beyond a small hill adjoining her back fence.
Black and her husband, Charles, say moving is out of the question -- they are saving for their two teenage children to attend college. Even if they wanted to leave, she doubts they could find a decent single family home in Montgomery for less than a half-million. Moving out of Longmead, she said, would mean leaving Montgomery, and she doesn't want to take her children out of their schools.
"We'll stay," said Black, a part-time teacher's assistant. "Our son has two more years of high school, and then he's going to college, so there's just no way financially to move. Houses are just so expensive."
Black said she loves the wooded view from her kitchen and dining room windows, especially in winter when the snow and ice cling to the trees. She wonders what will happen to the deer, rabbits and foxes she sees scampering about.
"I was hoping [state highway officials] would choose the other route, but I'm sure people up there were hoping they'd pick this one," Black said. "There were only two alternatives -- us or them."
Black's next-door neighbor, Beth Gatti, 35, said she hasn't been politically active in the connector debate. But now that Ehrlich has announced that it will run just beyond her back yard, she said she plans to join environmental and other community groups who will fight the decision.
Gatti, who is on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, said she worries how the traffic pollution would affect her asthma and her 21/2-year-old son's breathing problems.
"If lawsuits have to be filed, I'm more than happy to be part of that," said Gatti, a stay-at-home mother and freelance writer. "I don't like the concept of lawsuits, but I also don't like being run over by a governor and his cronies who have no regard for the people in this neighborhood."