By John O’Connor
ANNAPOLIS – Inter-county Connector supporters reveled in Tuesday’sprimary results, after nominating a pro-ICC majority to the MontgomeryCounty Council and gaining strength in the State House.
Voters in Montgomery County dramatically changed the balance of powerin county government on the transportation issue.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan easily won re-nomination andDemocrat Council Member Blair G. Ewing, the county’s leading ICCopponent, lost his at- large seat.
“The county executive is very pleased with the results,” said David Weaver, Montgomery County spokesman. “We’re going to have a majority offolks fighting for transportation and not being an impediment” if theDemocrat winners prevail in November.
The shift on the County Council will be important in future debate ofthe road, which would connect Interstate 270 with Interstate 95 and runthrough Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, said Sen. Ida G. Ruben,D-Montgomery.
“Now that we have a County Council that may have a majority in favorof the ICC, we can go forward,” she said.
In the past, Ruben said, state legislators pointed to the CountyCouncil as proof that there was not enough support for the project. Thecouncil adopted an alternative transportation plan that excluded the roadand repeatedly rejected ICC measures.
After Tuesday, she said, ICC supporters feel confident pushing for anew federal study and, eventually, seeking out federal sources to pay forthe road.
State House races also provided victories for ICC backers.
Sen. Arthur Dorman, D-Prince George’s, and Delegates Leon Billings, D-Montgomery, and Tod D. Sher, D-Montgomery, all ICC opponents, lostelection bids in State House races.
Voters made traffic their top issue, said a county delegate, and theICC is part of the solution.
“I think it’s obvious that public opinion has been building for transportation solutions to end gridlock,” said Delegate William Bronrott,D- Montgomery. “We saw some significant outcomes in Tuesday’s election.”
A “balanced transportation system,” including expanded mass transit,more Metrorail parking and the ICC, must be a top state priority,Bronrott said.
“We have to find the resources and revenues to do this,” he said.
With both gubernatorial candidates — Democrat Kathleen KennedyTownsend and Republican Robert Ehrlich — on the record supporting a newstudy of the proposed freeway there may be enough support in Annapolisfor the decades-old project.
ICC opponents saw a different message in the election.
“It doesn’t change anything,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executivedirector of 1,000 Friends of Maryland. “The ICC simply can not be builtfiscally or environmentally.
“What the elections say is that people are really frustrated withtraffic and we’ve got to do something about it.”
Voters only worsened the situation, said Schmidt-Perkins, because candidates working to solve the problem lost their offices. The ICC isyears in the future, will not relieve traffic and is a distraction fromreal solutions, she said.
Montgomery’s prospective council members, said Betsy Johnson,chairwoman of the Montgomery group of the Sierra Club, were supported bydevelopers. If the county is rezoned for more growth, it might becomeimpossible to solve gridlock in the county, ICC or not, she said.
The 1,000 Friends of Maryland supports better land-use planning – including placement of jobs nearer residential areas – and improved use of existing transportation and transit systems.
The road’s cost, at least $1 billion, is also an issue.
“Already we can’t pay for things that need to be done,” said Schmidt-Perkins. “If you take a $1.5 billion highway and you add it to the list,it’s now at the point of absurdity. Once again this road gets in the wayof things that need to be done now.”
Opponents cite the cost of the road as a significant impediment.
Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari said Thursday the statemust find new revenue sources or MDOT might not be able to pay forexisting construction and maintenance needs.