Fast-tracking Puts Inter-county Connector Consensus Process at Risk
Contact: David Dunmire
Eyes of Paint Branch today expressed strong objections to the decision by federal transportation officials to expedite the environmental review process for the Inter-county Connector (ICC) project. Eyes of Paint Branch members have participated in all three previous ICC studies, and thus have first-hand knowledge that public participation has been essential to ensure a fair, open, and honest assessment of the facts. Expediting the environmental review process can only reduce public participation, decrease the disclosure information, and limit the evaluation of the facts, and thus puts the ICC consensus process at risk.
The results from the 1997 ICC study showed that the ICC would not significantly reduce traffic congestion on I495 and I270, would be exorbitantly expensive (currently estimated to be at least $1.5 billion), would actually increase traffic congestion on local roads, and would result in unavoidable and severe environmental impacts. Consequently, Governor Glendening, who initially tried hard to build the ICC, eventually decided that the facts indicated that the ICC should not be built. The Maryland State Highway Administration stated that "the Master Plan Alignment would have adversely impacted large portions of the Paint Branch and Northwest Branch parks. Proceeding with this option would simply not reflect the Administration's commitment to environmental preservation."
The purpose of the NEPA process (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) is to develop consensus for what needs to be done. All three previous ICC studies failed to do this. The only way to achieve consensus is to include all affected parties and evaluate all valid alternatives. Expediting the environmental review process, as stated in Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan's letter of November 8, would only disenfranchise the public and reduce the likelihood of reaching a consensus. For example, other options need to be evaluated such as improved travel models that incorporate the Transit-Balanced Land Use scenario, an alternative of HOV lanes on the Beltway/I-95/I-270, and other strategies that could better satisfy the purpose and need, with less cost and fewer adverse impacts.
The Achilles heal of the ICC Master Plan Alignment has always been its severe and unavoidable environmental impacts. If the State Highway Administration has new or improved construction and mitigation techniques, then there needs to be fair, open, and honest evaluation of their approach. An evaluation of mitigation strategies and technologies is detailed work, and it is absolutely critical that this be done properly. A thorough review of all valid options by the participating agencies and the public is the only way to achieve consensus.
The Eyes of Paint Branch is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and restoring the Paint Branch and its watershed. Paint Branch is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife, including the metropolitan Washington area's only long-term, wild brown trout population.
P.O. Box 272, Burtonsville, Maryland 20866 www.eopb.org