- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Montgomery County officials clashed on solutions, but they all agreed yesterday that rush-hour traffic in the area is going to get worse no matter which transportation projects are approved.

Washington-area traffic congestion ranked as the nation's third-worst will be a top issue for many commuters when they vote in the fall.

And County Executive Douglas M. Duncan vowed to force a showdown over the issue after the County Council's 5-3 vote yesterday against the Intercounty Connector highway, proposed decades ago to link Interstates 95 and 270 north of the Capital Beltway.

"If you oppose the ICC, you are not serious about the problem," said Mr. Duncan, a Democrat who is heavily favored in his bid for a third term and is working to elect pro-ICC Democrats to the council.

"I am confident that after this election, we are going to have a majority council that will support the ICC," Mr. Duncan said.

Recent studies suggest that the length of rush hour could increase from 5 hours to almost 14 hours per day by 2015.

The council approved a slimmed-down transportation package that, at $5.7 billion over 10 years, is far smaller than the $9.5 billion Duncan plan.

But, as Mr. Duncan said, "The tough votes come next year when we have to decide how to pay for this."

He particularly denounced fellow Democrats Blair Ewing and Phil Andrews for voting for the council package while signaling they would continue to fight the ICC and other individual projects even those in the package approved yesterday.

Mr. Duncan wants to raise taxes in both Montgomery County and across the state to fund the projects.

The leading candidates for governor, Democrat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., both say they back the ICC, but Mrs. Townsend said she opposes Mr. Duncan's proposed increase in the gas tax.

"I think we are indeed assuming that the state will pay far more than the state is prepared to pay," said Mr. Ewing, at-large Democrat.

"We need [the ICC]. We've needed it for years. It's tipping our quality of life. we have to get moving soon," said council member Howard Denis, Bethesda-Chevy Chase Republican.

Money is not the only obstacle to the ICC.

The state still has to complete an environmental study showing that the project meets federal environmental criteria to receive crucial federal funds.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening stopped that study when he withdrew support for the road under pressure from environmental groups and groups opposed to the ICC disrupting neighborhoods during his 1998 re-election bid.

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