- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Environmental groups filed two court challenges yesterday aimed at blocking construction of Maryland’s Intercounty Connector, a highway that officials say will ease commutes and take vehicles off local streets.

The 18-mile, six-lane highway connecting Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County has long been championed by regional business groups, but faced stiff opposition from environmentalists as well as concerns over its cost. It finally won federal approval in May.

In one lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the District, Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club say the air quality analysis conducted by federal and regional officials was inadequate because it gauged the potential pollution from the ICC by using monitors that were more than 1 miles from major highways.

The second lawsuit — filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, by the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Maryland Native Plant Society and a family whose property is on the proposed route for the ICC — says federal officials failed to consider reasonable alternatives to the road and the full environmental impact of the project.

The ICC “would bring 125,000 vehicles per day into quiet residential neighborhoods and scenic parks and in close proximity to five schools where children … will be exposed to dangerous levels of toxic and particulate matter air pollution,” the groups said in the suit filed in the District.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the environmental impact studies “exceed the requirements of state and federal regulations.”

“Now and until the ICC is built there will be congestion on neighborhood roads in Montgomery County that is more harmful than any emissions emanating from the ICC in the future,” Mr. Flanagan said. He noted that studies indicate that moving traffic onto the ICC would reduce the number of serious accidents by 340 a year.

AAA Mid-Atlantic was quick to condemn the lawsuit, as was the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

“The environmental work was very carefully put together in anticipation of these lawsuits,” said Bob Grow, director of government relations at the board. “I’d be surprised if they have any traction whatsoever.”

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