- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday announced $19.1 million in additional funding for the proposed Intercounty Connector, paving the way for construction to start as early as 2006, officials said.The funds — part of $440 million in federal money the state received for transportation projects this year — will be spent on planning, preliminary engineering work and buying right of way for the proposed east-west highway, which has been debated, studied and planned for 40 years.Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican and a strong supporter of the Intercounty Connector (ICC), had placed the project at the top of a list of transportation priorities he submitted to Congress for federal funding.State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan yesterday said construction on the highway could begin in fall 2006, after the completion of an environmental impact study, which is expected to take two years.”The additional funding is part of the Ehrlich administration’s commitment to doing whatever it takes to move ICC construction at the earliest,” Mr. Flanagan said.The highway’s construction carries a $1.5 billion price tag. It will connect Interstate 270 in Montgomery County and Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County, and is expected to ease congestion along these two major thoroughfares.Recent studies show the length of rush hours in the Washington area could increase from five hours now to almost 14 hours per day by 2015.”Bob Ehrlich is 100 percent committed to building that highway, even if he has to shovel the dirt himself,” said Henry Fawell, the governor’s spokesman, saying Mr. Ehrlich has made more progress on the ICC in three months than anyone has in several years.In February, Mr. Ehrlich met with President Bush to discuss the ICC, after which U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta placed the highway on a select list of projects for an accelerated environmental study.Late last year, the Montgomery County Council voted to reopen the study that was put on hold by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, after protests from environmentalists who said it would damage wetlands and encourage sprawl.County officials welcomed the news but said the money Mr. Ehrlich took out of the Transportation Trust Fund to balance the budget could endanger the ICC.”I appreciate the steps the Ehrlich administration is taking to keep the Intercounty Connector moving forward. … My concern, however, is that without sufficient state money available, our congestion-relief program will be in jeopardy,” Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat and staunch supporter of the ICC, said in a prepared statement.Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Duncan have clashed in recent weeks over transportation priorities, including a vehicle fee for county residents that Mr. Duncan is backing to help start projects like the ICC, but which Mr. Ehrlich has threatened to veto.Duncan spokesman David Weaver said the governor also had taken $300 million out of the transportation fund and $200 million from local transportation projects. “This is like taking a step forward and two steps back,” he said.”There is a real question about whether or not there will be sufficient money in the state’s coffers to ever build the road,” Mr. Weaver said.Mr. Flanagan said the state had a two-year window of opportunity before the end of the study to address the issue of putting money back into the trust fund. “We are taking appropriate steps on all fronts to address that problem,” he said.Transportation advocates greeted the news with cautious optimism, saying there were several other priorities the government was not funding adequately.”It is clearly good news. It is not unmitigated good news because there are serious issues we are grappling with in terms of maintaining a safe system in Maryland. This is a candle in the darkness, and we would rather be in a well-lit room,” said Brian Holmes of Marylanders for Better Transportation.He said the state had not been adequately funding road repair and maintenance, among other things. “We should be servicing more lane miles. We should be spending more on bridges. We are just not getting the job done,” he said.


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