WASHINGTON – The proposed Inter-county Connector inched closer to reality Wednesday when the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board voted to include the project in regional plans.
Amid back-and-forth discussions focusing on funding and the road’s economic impact, the board ultimately approved four items that make the ICC eligible for federal dollars.
Most importantly, the members of the board approved the addition of the ICC to the 2004 Constrained Long Range Plan as one of 10 total amendments. Additionally, the project was added to the 2005-2010 Transportation Improvement Program, which is essentially a detailed six-year subset of the long-range plan that covers 2004-2030, according to the board.
The ICC – an 18-mile highway planned to run between Gaithersburg and Laurel – also had to pass an air quality analysis showing the emissions on the road would meet certain limits. The board approved that air quality assessment and included public comments received in October, the final two actions needed for the road to claim federal money.
Of the approximately 28 board members present, eight voted for a failed amendment to exclude the ICC from the long-range plan and five voted against the entire improvement program, including Prince George’s County Councilman David C. Harrington.
“I’m deeply concerned about the so-called creation of jobs,” said Harrington.
Some of the jobs officials counted among those to be created include a project in Laurel that is already happening, said Harrington. He said the job projections are “flawed.”
Harrington said he voted for the amendments to the long-range plan, even though he did not support the ICC.
Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter also said she had concerns about the road, particularly whether there is adequate funding.
Funding plans for the project will not be changed until a Draft Environmental Impact Statement — expected to be released later this month — is completed, said Marsha Kaiser, Maryland Department of Transportation director of planning and capital programming.
Ultimately, the vote Wednesday makes it possible for transportation officials to move forward with the ICC and makes it eligible for federal funding, said Kaiser.
“We realize it was a difficult decision for many members,” said Kaiser. “We feel it’s a very important piece of infrastructure for the region’s transportation system.”
Most of the public comments at Wednesday’s meeting favored the ICC. Opponents argued the board should delay the vote until the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is released.
“Can you in good conscience vote for the ICC when more detailed information is to be released in a matter of weeks?” asked Dolores Milmoe from the Audubon Naturalist Society.
The vote was not unexpected, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. He said opponents now will focus their efforts on challenging the environmental report, arguing it did not study a fair range of alternatives.
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