Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday announced that he wants the Intercounty Connector (ICC) to be built in five years along a southern route similar to the one in Montgomery County’s 40-year-old master plans.
The toll road would stretch from where Interstates 270/370 meet Route 355 in Gaithersburg to U.S. Route 1 in Laurel, north of Muirkirk Road. It would include interchanges with several major roadways, including Georgia Avenue, Columbia Pike and Interstate 95.
“We have reached a major milestone in transportation planning in this state. … We are one step closer to this road being built,” Mr. Ehrlich said during a press conference with state and county officials at the intersection of Veirs Mill and Norbeck roads.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said the intersection was one of 39 that would improve because of the ICC — the proposed east-west highway that has been debated, studied, planned, reviewed, revised and challenged for 40 years. Officials have pushed for the ICC to ease traffic congestion on the Capital Beltway.
About 30 protesters waved signs, booed and chanted loudly as the governor spoke about 20 feet away. State troopers prevented them from standing behind the governor.
“The vocal minority has won for too long, and today the vocal majority wins,” Mr. Ehrlich said.
The 18-mile road is projected to cost $2.1 billion.
About $750 million in “Garvey bonds,” which allow states to borrow against federal transportation funds they anticipate receiving, and tort bonds will fund the ICC’s construction, state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday.
Construction is expected to begin next year and be finished by 2010, according to the governor’s office. County and state governments already have bought parcels of land along the proposed route.
The ICC has been halted for years over environmental concerns.
Yesterday’s protesters were from the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Sierra Club and citizens groups. They say the ICC will not improve congestion and will destroy land, waterways and animal populations, particularly brown trout.
“Most of us are opposed to it because of the damage to the environment,” said Ernst Benjamin, 68, a member of a citizens association from Layhill Road.
Environmental groups are expected to file lawsuits after the state releases it Final Environmental Impact Statement to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) later this year.
The FHWA will make a final determination on the project in a “record of decision” by the end of the year, the governor’s office said.
“I would be surprised if it didn’t end up in a suit because, from the beginning, they’ve been determined to build it, regardless of the environmental impact,” said Steve Caflisch, the Sierra Club’s transportation chairman.
After the environmental study is completed, the federal government will decide whether to approve the project. Mr. Ehrlich said planning could begin while that approval process is under way.
The Environmental Protection Agency has expressed concern about the ICC in the past, but “the EPA doesn’t have to approve it,” Mr. Caflisch said.
“The EPA’s views are taken into consideration by the Army Corps of Engineers and by the Federal Highway [Administration],” Mr. Caflisch said. “The only ones who have final determination are Federal Highway on a host of issues and the Army Corp [of Engineers] on the wetlands permits.”
Mr. Ehrlich and other ICC supporters said the highway proposal includes plans to restore environmentally sensitive areas, noting that the majority of residents have said they want the ICC.
Planned since the 1960s, the ICC was stalled for 10 years until the Montgomery County Council commissioned the environmental impact study in 2002.
A previous environmental impact study, started by the Maryland State Highway Administration in 1992, was halted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, in 1998 during his re-election campaign.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who is considering a run for governor next year, was one of several officials who appeared with Mr. Ehrlich yesterday.
“As someone who was born and raised in Montgomery County, I have been aware and part of the ICC debates practically my entire life,” Mr. Duncan said. “Today’s announcement is not an end, but only the beginning.”
He called for a “comprehensive transportation plan,” saying “one road alone will not solve the problem.”