ANNAPOLIS – The time has come to build the Inter-county Connector, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. at the State House Friday.
A stalled environmental impact study for the controversial road planned to connect Interstates 95 and 270 should be reinstated, they said.
“No more delays, no more excuses,” Miller said. “It’s time to jump-start the environmental impact statement and . . . get the ICC moving forward.”
The move was the latest in more than 40 years of disputes over whether to build the road.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening withdrew support for the ICC in 1999, saying all proposed routes would damage natural resources and local communities, without easing traffic enough to justify the estimated $1.5 billion cost.
Politicians and special interest groups have been trying to resurrect the ICC since, with support coming primarily from the business community. Environmentalists have consistently opposed it.
The General Assembly Friday presented a joint resolution to reinstate the study, which Miller said has the support of about four-fifths of the House and Senate. More than a dozen lawmakers from both parties attended the announcement.
The governor’s office was unimpressed. “The governor has been very clear that the ICC would be an environmental disaster. He does not support this effort,” said Michelle Byrnie, Glendening’s press secretary. Glendening will be out of office in January and is barred from running again. His lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, is the favored Democrat to take his place. ICC backers may be banking that the road will find more favor with a new governor. Townsend was at a funeral and could not be reached for comment. The last Draft Environmental Impact Study on the ICC was abandoned in 1997, leaving many key questions unanswered.
The study concluded that the ICC would “substantially reduce congestion,” diverting up to 15,000 cars per day from the Capital Beltway and nearly 80,000 per day from congested neighborhood roads and arterial highways, according to the resolution.
The Maryland Department of Transportation has projected that the periods of severe congestion on the Beltway will expand from the current average of five hours per day to more than 14 hours per day by 2020, according to the resolution.
This could force hundreds of thousands of drivers to endure longer delays and divert many cars onto already overwhelmed secondary and arterial roads. That will impact the safety and quality of life of those areas, an issue which Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, said is too often overlooked.
“Those back roads that were built as farm roads are just not safe, and they’re used now as commuter routes,” Forehand said. “Transportation is the number one issue for (Montgomery County’s) constituency . . . we’re looking for a concrete solution – or asphalt.”
The Montgomery County Council voted in November 1999 to designate as parkland a central part of the right-of-way set aside for the ICC. The five council members who opposed the ICC said continuing the battle would delay new lanes and transit projects to ease congestion.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, an ardent ICC supporter, is “extremely pleased” at the new resolution.
Montgomery County’s planning board recently voted to restart the ICC, said David Weaver, spokesman for the county executive. The matter is set to go before the County Council, and Weaver said there is optimism that they will vote in support of the ICC.
“We’re drowning in traffic over here,” Weaver said. “The time for talk is over.”
Nearly 75 percent of Montgomery County voters want to build an east-west transportation corridor, said Delegate Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery.
Glendening backs mass transit as a solution, saying a mostly underground rail line could be built along the connector route without much environmental damage.
Though the ICC has existed in theory for more than 50 years, Miller described the joint resolution as “planting the seed in the ground.”
“It’s going to be a while before it gets built,” he said.
Taylor agreed: “We’re not standing here exactly saying where and how the ICC gets built . . . What we’re saying is we can no longer delay the ultimate decision to make a corridor work.”