ANNAPOLIS – The Inter-county Connector, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s top transportation priority, stepped closer to construction Tuesday with a vote from the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board to include it in a regional air quality study.
The vote is a preliminary step in a long process toward final approval. A negative vote would have dealt a tremendous setback to the $1.7 billion, 17-mile highway, which has been on the books for decades.
Some board members outside of Maryland did not embrace the ICC, which is planned to connect Interstates 270 and 95, saying it would draw away funds from local transit projects.
But Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan has said he did not understand why a regional board would block a project that would be built in Maryland with state funds.
Environmental advocates also opposed the ICC and favored more transit projects to combat traffic. Opponents also have said the ICC could produce more sprawl along its proposed corridor.
In February, Ehrlich’s administration presented a funding plan that would borrow against future state and federal funds and toll revenues to pay for the project.
Robert Harris of the Greater Washington Board of Trade submitted testimony at a March 17 hearing in favor of the roadway.
“The (ICC) will provide more transportation choices, safer trips and a better quality of life for residents and businesses in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and throughout the region,” the testimony said.
Testimony from ICC opponents not only favored transit, but also requested that the Transportation Planning Board leverage its power to block the ICC so that Ehrlich would commit more funding to transit.
At the same hearing, testimony from Prince George’s Advocates for Community-Based Transit said, “We question the unbalanced transportation plan presented by Maryland: It is not an equitable approach to regional transportation planning.”
Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, one of the ICC’s biggest supporters, praised the Transportation Planning Board’s decision.
“Commuters in the Washington metropolitan area have some of the longest commute times in the nation and they deserve better,” he said in a written statement. “That’s why we need to move forward on critical projects like the ICC that hold so much promise for a better quality of life.”
Ehrlich, who vowed to build the ICC during his campaign for governor in 2002, promised construction of the highway would begin in fall 2006.