Review of controversial Maryland highway in the fast lane

| 2/28/2003

The U.S. Department of Transportation has brought a controversial Washington, DC, area highway plan a step closer to reality.

According to local media reports, the department has approved an expedited environmental review for the Intercounty Connector, an 18-mile, east-west road in Montgomery County, MD, that would link Interstates 270 and 95, running from Rockville east to Laurel. The highway, which officials estimate will cost roughly $1.3 billion, was twice rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency. The route would carry traffic through natural land saved from development rather than through developed areas, requiring removal of homes and businesses, as some alternative routes would.

The chief objections to the highway have come from environmental groups and their supporters, who claim it will case pollution of streams and possibly harm the local trout population.

In a December letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta quoted by The Washington Post, Montgomery Council member Philip Andrews of Rockville said the road would cause too much environmental harm for it to be the subject of an expedited study.

On the same day that Andrews’ letter was sent, 13 environmental groups also sent a letter to Mineta, saying President Bush's executive order calling for streamlined environmental reviews was not intended for such a controversial proposal, The Post reported.

However, despite those objections, the new administration in Maryland is giving clear signals it intends to move forward.The Baltimore Sun reported Jan. 27 that officials working for Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich indicated they were determined to build the highway.

The highway has been under discussion for four decades. It is one of 13 projects targeted for streamlined environmental reviews under an order from President Bush designed to save money and time. The results of the expedited review will be sent to the federal government once it is completed; the feds must approve the project at that point before construction can begin.