Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Montgomery County leaders backed a proposal yesterday to put an environmental study of the Inter-County Connector on the fast track, rebuking a County Council member who urged federal authorities to move slowly on the highway project.
A study of the long-debated east-west road likely will be on Maryland’s list of projects submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation for federal funding. County officials stress unity is necessary to win federal support.
Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan want to expedite the study, saying the county’s traffic woes mean the road should be built soon.
But council member Philip Andrews wrote to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta last month, urging him not to give the project fast-track status for fear it would dismiss environmental concerns.
Council President Michael Subin said Mr. Andrews’ views did not represent those of the council.
“An expedited review is simply a matter of getting this in front of all the federal agencies involved,” he said. “We are not talking about a truncated review that would overlook environmental issues.”
Also yesterday, Mr. Duncan released his transportation budget for the 2003 and 2004 fiscal years, the first pieces of his $1 billion, 10-year “Go Montgomery” blueprint.
The $44 million plan over two years will fund road construction, bus-system upgrades and improved pedestrian-safety measures.
Mr. Duncan wants to pay for his plan in part with a 3-cent property tax increase and money from special taxing districts. He also wants the state to raise the gas tax by 10 cents and raise car-registration fees.
However, Mr. Ehrlich has been lukewarm to the proposal, and says he would only back a 5-cent gas tax increase, if any, this year.

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