In Montgomery County, Maryland things are getting totally out of hand according to many people I am hearing from. The county apparently wants to be perceived as forward thinking in terms of pedestrian safety and environmental concerns. Heck, for years the county would not allow any advertisements to be placed on its transit buses because of the "visual pollution" that would create. Of course, the latest downturn in the economy and the need to raise revenue from an ever-decreasing tax base has changed their collective minds on that. One of the biggest complaints I hear is that the County Council keeps approving development even though it means adding more children to schools that are surrounded by trailers because the money to repair, replace or expand just isn't available.
The latest travesty involves a road or a highway that has been on the planning books for something like 50 years and construction on it just recently got underway. Anyone living in this region would have to be hiding under a rock to have not heard about all of the controversy the Intercounty Connector (ICC) has brought. State officials say they went above and beyond to make sure that the highway used all of the latest construction innovations to minimize the impact on the surrounding environment. Yet, the current group of planners and elected nincompoops is now planning to eliminate the hiker/biker trail that was one of the centerpieces of the "green" aspect of this highway. They now say that the inclusion of six to eight feet of hiker/biker path will require them to do bad things to the environment. What a crock of box turtle dung. They can build a highway that is 75 or so feet wide but can't build an extra couple feet of paved space for self-powered, two-wheeled vehicles we tend to call "bicycles?" Talk about another bait and switch.
I have supported the building of the ICC because the county and the region just don't have enough east/west arteries. I felt like the state had done a good job to mitigate many if not every single one of the environmental concerns. I also felt like they were using many of the new construction techniques in areas of environmental concern. But actions such as the proposal to eliminate promised accoutrements make me very suspicious about the sincerity of the intentions from the start.
On the subject of the ICC, I got the following note from Chuck: "Have you driven by any of the entrances to the construction of the [ICC]? I have never seen so much legal notices posted. Do you think there is something going on here?"
I have noticed that there are many more security cars parked near the entrances in addition to the trespass notices. The notices themselves are not all that unusual in that there is equipment to be protected as well as the wish to not have kids riding dirt bikes and ATV over these newly-created moguls and hills and trails. That is more of an insurance issue.
The security forces are not something I think I have seen before. My first thought was that since this project had dragged on for so long and since there was so much animosity surrounding it by residents and environmental hired guns that the people at the state transportation department were concerned about environmental sabotage groups like the Earth Liberation Front or others. I have not heard that they have received any specific threats but this is not something that is normally made public unless someone does some digging. For example, what is the cost of this security when compared to other major construction projects in the region like the Wilson Bridge construction or the Springfield Interchange Project? If it's significantly higher then I think that someone needs to explain why.
Steve Eldridge is a long-time reporter, observer and commentator on the Washington region's transportation issues. You can contact him directly by writing to: Steve@SprawlandCrawl.com. Unless otherwise requested, letters or portions of letters can be used within future columns. Letter writers will be identified by their first name and city/neighborhood.