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"The idea of a roadway linking I-270 and I-95 was first proposed in 1950, when I was about 8-years-old. Who could have imagined, certainly not I, that nearly 50 years and $60 million of studies later, I would become Governor of Maryland and have to decide the fate of what STILL remains ONLY a proposal. A proposal that has fractured our communities, pitted neighbor against neighbor, and created political gridlock while traffic gridlock has only worsened. A proposal that has been alive through 8 Governors. Just think, this was first proposed under Governor Lane! Additionally, every transportation secretary in the history of this state has debated this proposal. A proposal that is still just that...a proposal."1

- Parris Glendenning

Why should you, in Dnepropetrovsk or elsewhere, care about a proposed 20-mile (32 km) stretch of Maryland highway that may never be built?  Because it makes such a good soap opera!   Think of the politics, the polemics, the mudslinging, the sheer spectacle of shrill screaming hyperbole! Maryland politics are more fun to follow than the Jerry Springer Show!

In the early years following World War II, development in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. proceeded at a rapid pace.   So rapid, that planners could see real traffic nightmares on the horizon.  So in 1950, the National Capital Planning Commision drew lines on a map showing where new roads could be built.   One of these lines depicted an "outer beltway" or "cross county loop" that circled Washington from a distance of 20 miles or so.

That of course was in the era of the US Highway System, where little motels, gas stations, and attractions such as the world's biggest ball of twine lined every highway, and there was a traffic light at major intersections, if you were lucky.  The Cross County Loop was most likely such a surface road.

But in 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act into existence, and all of a sudden some of those lines on a map were turned into superhighways.   At first, there were more important highways to build, such as the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95.

In 1975, Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel built one mile of highway in the gap between Rockville and Gaithersburg, extending east from an interchange with Interstate 270 to the northern terminus of the Red Metro line.  Interstate 370 is probably the silliest Interstate Highway ever built2.   But the impetus for building big highways was meeting resistance in Maryland: Several Interstates in Baltimore were canceled because of public resistance3; more importantly for this story, a section of Interstate 95 that was to be built through Washington, DC was canceled; the rump section of this highway, Interstate 395, ends half a mile from Interstate 295 across the Anacostia River. The only alternative is the Capital Beltway, which crosses the Potomac River on two infamous bridges4.

In the late 1970's Maryland dropped the idea of extending I-370 west through the 5 million dollar houses in Potomac, Maryland into Virginia, and the idea of an "outer beltway" vanished. The new plan retained the segment connecting Laurel and Rockville, and got a new name: "Inter county Connector".

Then came the 1980's. Ronald Reagan's vast expansion of the Federal Government turned the Washington, DC area from a traffic nightmare into a traffic hell like no other on Earth.5  Seeking relief from the freeways, people6 traveling from Baltimore (and points north) or Howard County to DC, Rockville, or Northern Virginia and points south would take surface roads instead of the I-95, I-495, I-270 jaunt, impossible except at 2 AM on Tuesday morning.   And so the section of the Outer Beltway through Montgomery County, now called the "Intercounty Connector",  began to gain support.

Through the 80's, the highway was still a political third rail.  But traffic around DC kept getting worse and worse.

When Parris Glendenning was running for election in 1994, one of his promises was to build the Intercounty Connector. This won him the support of the powerful developer and contractor lobbies.   But in 1997, he dropped all support for the highway, stating that the Federal government would never approve the highway, because of the environmental destruction it would create.   Glendenning, despite his bland appearance and manner, is a polarizing figure, and no mater how sensible it might have been7, his policy switch inflamed the matter.  All eyes turned toward the 2002 election, from which Mr. Glendenning was barred by law.

Since then, various groups have formed, variously backing or rejecting the highway.

  • Environmental groups seeking to protect the rural Montgomery County from development. This bird has already flown, but there are still scraps to save.
  • Developers and contractors, who see more money to make, and who still fume from the Governor's snookering them.
  • The people who have moved into the $250,000-$1,000,000 houses those developers built. These are a mixed group, depending upon who thinks protecting property values is more important than protecting sanity during the morning commute, or vice versa.  It is this group who will decide the issue.
  • Commuters from Baltimore and Columbia. Most of them are all for it.

All sides seem to enjoy slinging mud and inflating their claims, such as the spectre of a 20-lane superhighway through pristine countryside, or claims that Glendenning criminally violated Montgomery County's general plan when he killed funding for purchasing land for the highway, and turning some of the land already acquired into a state park.  Or that highway opponents want school children to die in bus accidents.

In September, 2002, the final section of Maryland 28 (Norbeck Road) opened, connecting the western end of Maryland 198 to the existing road from Rockville.  This "stealth ICC" follows the route of the proposed superhighway for most of its length. Despite (or perhaps to accentuate) the entire mess of the previous 50 years, a continuous 2-lane surface road now connects I-95 in Laurel with I-270 in Rockville.

(As of this writing, both principal candidates for Governor, as well as comptroller William Donald Schaefer, support building the highway.  Naturally, most Montgomery County politicans are running on one side or the other of the issue).

Update, October 2003: Robert Ehrlich was elected governor in late 2002. One of the promises that got him over the top was a vow to build the ICC. However, his high-handedness with the General Assembly, especially proposals for slot machines, ensured that nothing would happen this year. Also, he tried to put forth the position that Baltimore didn't need any funding for transit, which stymied all progress on transportation initiatives. We'll see how it goes in the 2004 legislative session.

Against: http://www.igc.org/icc370/ or http://www.iccfacts.com/
For: http://www.iccyes.org/

1Remarks by Governor Parris Glendenning, Intercounty Connector and Transportation Improvements, Wednesday, September 22, 1999,

2Interstate 170 in Baltimore would be far sillier if it weren't so tragic.

3The successful cancellation of an extension of Interstate 83 through East Baltimore started the career of Senator Barbara Mikulski.

4the Woordow Wilson Bridge and the Cabin John Bridge, now renamed the American Legion Bridge.

5All right, this is hyperbole on my part. But Montgomery County is still in the class of Beijing, Mexico City, and Lagos for traffic mayhem.

6This author included, notwithstanding the beautiful young lady from Clean Water Action who appeared on my doorstep and convinced me to write Governor Glandenning a letter ofo thanks.

7I betray my bias here.  There are better ways to solve Washington's traffic problems:

  • More rapid transit.
  • Connecting I-295 and I-395 across the Anacostia River (over the protests of the Defense Department).
  • Replacing the 2-lane Harry W. Nice Bridge (carrying US Highway 301) in Southern Maryland with a 4-lane version. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge fiasco makes building bridges across the Potomac River... well... very difficult.
  • The Intercounty Connector will be useless without another bridge across the Potomac into Northern Virginia.  See above. Also, you go from making enemies of the million-dollar house owners east of 270 to making enemies of the 5 million dollar house owners west of 270.
  • As long as we're dreaming, we should also bring up the notion of abandoning suburban sprawl for building closer to the city center.

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