The end of the road for the long-debated ICC

Dec. 19, 2004, midnight | By John Silberholz | 19 years, 5 months ago

Junior Ryan Ly may have to deal with a new highway all too close to his backyard. The Intercounty Connector (ICC), a proposed highway planned to decrease traffic on county roads, will lie within feet of many Blazers' homes, devaluing properties and causing air and noise pollution. Unfortunately, the ICC will solve no traffic problems; instead, it will destroy the environment and cost billions of dollars in the process.

The ICC, which would link I-270 near Gaithersburg with I-95 near Laurel, has been on the County and State governments' agendas for several decades. Stalled by environmental concerns and questions about its effectiveness, the road has yet to become a reality, which has thus far saved the region from a budgetary, environmental and logistical disaster.

No problems solved

The most grievous inborn fallacy of the proposed ICC is that it will not significantly improve the region's traffic congestion. According to a 1997 Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, the ICC will actually increase traffic volume on local roads by nine percent since most traffic will not travel the entire road, but rather exit into communities along the way.

Additionally, the DEIS found that using the ICC will not save any net time for commuters and that traffic volume will significantly increase at the endpoints of the road, where tens of thousands of drivers will merge onto I-270 and I-95 daily. Trucks, not commuters, will make up much of the ICC traffic due to an exorbitant proposed-$5.40 toll to use the road that few residents are willing to pay. Instead of decreasing traffic on surrounding roads, the ICC will attract new vehicles, plaguing communities.

With the ICC in place, Marylanders can also look forward to a boom in urban sprawl. According to Dolores Milmoe, a conservation advocate for the Audubon Naturalist Society, urban sprawl often accompanies new roads, compounding existing traffic problems.

Green space and greenbacks

In addition to increasing the traffic problems that already plague the region, the ICC will devastate the local environment and destroy sensitive ecological areas. According to Milmoe, the route will cross three major watersheds, degrading water quality, harming aquatic habitats and destroying several established ecosystems. Additionally, at least 20 rare, threatened or endangered plant species and 27 migratory songbird species will be adversely affected by the creation of this route, according to the environmental group Green Scissors, who is opposed to the ICC.

Unfortunately, the state government plans to spend an infuriating $3 billion on this ineffective countywide plan that will only increase traffic and pollution. It will have to purchase a $1 billion bond and forgo 20 percent of its federal transportation money for the next 15 years to build the road. The funds for such transportation efforts as regular road maintenance and mass transit expansion will be sucked bone-dry just to give the impression that the government is addressing County traffic congestion.

The financial strain of the ICC doesn't stop at the state and county budget, though. The road will devalue homes that suddenly find themselves adjoining a major highway and will force the removal of over 50 residences, displacing families and splitting up neighborhoods.

Despite the prodding of organizations like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Montgomery Intercounty Connector Coalition, little has been done to address community concerns. According to Joseph Simon, a County resident who may find the ICC adjoining his backyard, planners are not interested in the opinions of their constituents. "They are not listening to community input,” he says. "They study and study the problem, [and] on the surface, they're very compassionate, but they never changed from their original objectives of 25 years ago. The bottom line: Many have fought [the ICC], and we're tired.”

County transportation planners must start doing their jobs by putting forward more effective plans for curbing congestion, like building Metro's purple line to link outer suburbs, developing land around Metro stations to decrease the number of cars on the road and strengthening initiatives to encourage use of mass transit, telecommuting and carpooling. County officials must strike down the ICC and similar road proposals to prevent urban sprawl and protect an already fragile environment. If the ICC is built, County citizens will regret that harmful decision for decades to come.

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John Silberholz. The Chips PRODMAN (and editoral board member), John enjoys basketball, tennis and biking, looks forward to yet another year on Chips. Among other things, he enjoys climbing trees (even though he has a weird tendancy of falling off of them), biking like crazy, playing basketball, … More »

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