Thursday, October 16, 2008

stop the ICC? not after what the ICC already started

These are hard times for the InterCounty Connector, as evidenced in the State Highway Administration's Neil Pedersen writing an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun and a letter to the Gazette defending the toll road between Gaithersburg and Laurel currently under construction between and its many cost overruns. Meanwhile, Greater Greater Washington calls the highway "dangerous thinking for Maryland," and Matt Dernoga in the Diamondback says it's time to kill the ICC in favor of other transportation projects in Prince George's County that have been cut.

You know, it's hard to stand in front of this project, fifty years in the making and mired in so much controversy you wonder why they give Sarah Palin so much trouble over the "Bridge to Nowhere." But it's also hard for me to have any opinion about the ICC, having gone over both sides so many times I can no longer bring myself to care. Just Up The Pike generally doesn't talk about the ICC, and for good reason.

They've already cleared all of the trees around Route 29, at the sixty-foot-tall interchange I'll be able to walk to from my parents' house. They've already fucked-up a neighborhood in Derwood, taken one of my old teacher's houses - though all of my high school friends whose families lived along Route 198 were saved. Pedersen says "the ICC project is well beyond the point where it could be canceled," and he's right. I don't want to see my neighborhood torn up in vain.

The InterCounty Connector doesn't get more people on transit, nor it doesn't encourage more compact development. Then again, nor does the Randolph-Georgia interchange, and unlike most of the ICC route, it doesn't sit in the middle of a potential transit district. The communities the ICC will bring new growth and development to - Burtonsville, Colesville, Olney - are car-oriented places, and there are no real plans to change that any time soon. So do we not build the ICC and leave them exactly the same, or build the ICC and bring amenities that might actually keep people in Olney from driving to Gaithersburg for a pair of underpants?

For what it's worth, I'd much rather see this thing get finished and for East County to get the economic growth it'll bring - and I don't doubt that it's coming, either - than to have a bunch of half-cleared forests and unfinished ramps and nothing to show for it.


Matt' said...

I can certainly understand your feelings. Having one's neighborhood torn up in vain is certainly not optimal. But it doesn't necessarily have to be in vain, nor does the ICC have to get built.

I grew up outside Atlanta. One of the nicer parks in the central city is the Freedom Park. Home to President Carter's Presidential Library and Museum, it is a four-pronged greenway cleared in the 1970s for the North/East Tollway and the Stone Mountain Tollway.

After houses were cleared, Atlanta had its freeway revolt. It was an event which led to a reorganization of the way the City Council got input. It also led to the creation of Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs).

And eventually, it led to the construction of bikeways, playgrounds, and parks stretching through several neighborhoods.

It is true that these neighborhoods were harmed by the destruction wreaked by the highways, but they recovered and grew stronger without it. Had the freeways been constructed, they would have been a physical barrier, and making commuting easier, they would have helped further depopulate the central city.

The ICC will do many of the same things. Certainly, there will be a scar on the land for many years. But trees can be regrown if the highway is cancelled. If it is built, it will be there for a long time. Automobile pollution will linger in these neighborhoods, and the induced demand will bring the kinds of sprawling development which has led to so much environmental degredation.

Maryland has become a national leader by being a smart growth state. Montgomery County is nationally known for its transit-oriented developments and quality of life.

Is this highway really the way we want to express our policy perogatives?

Thomas Hardman said...

Outside of the rare exception such as Derwood, most of the homes taken by the ICC were bought with a notification in the deed that the ICC was likely to come through someday. and that there would be traffic noise or loss of property due to eminent domain for public works projects.

People knew this was likely to come, and knew it for 50 years or so.

Some neighborhoods grew up around it; and some neighborhoods arguably will be divided one from the other in terms of easy pedestrian access. The Longmeade Crossing neighborhood, for example, has long enjoyed the greenspace running through the middle of the neighborhood. That greenspace is the right-of-way for the Intercounty Connector.

The work for the intersection of the ICC with Georgia Avenue progresses apace. They've been digging out the underpass and piling up the foundation soils for the overpass for some months now.

I've driven out to such intersections (or overpass points) as Emory Lane, Redland Road, Georgia Avenue, etc. The big digs are all west of Georgia, of course, as that's the first segment set to be completed.

Yet not on anyone's "radar" but clearly "in the works" is a massive rebuilding and widening of Bowie Mill Road at least from the intersection with Cashell Road westwards towards the ICC. And furthermore, suspicions continue to rise that the Montrose Parkway East will eventually come to be built beyond the presently planned terminus at Viers Mill Road, and will eventually run up the stream valley of the Turkey Branch of Rock Creek and through the Matthew Henson Greenway to the obvious intersection with the ICC near the present site of the Trolley Museum.

Even if population growth were to cease and begin declining in MoCo even at this instant, MoCo and to some degree northern Prince George's and Howard Counties desperately need a combination of freeways and transit -- whether mixes of light rail or bus trains or as-yet undeveloped modes -- because the amenities aren't where people need them, and so far as I can determine, the vast majority of workers in all of these counties commute at least ten or more miles from home to work.

Personally, I am not looking forward to the completion of the old "Rockville Facility" but at least we'd be getting some use out of the old "Cloverleaf to nowhere" bridging Connecticut Avenue over the Turkey Branch. I could get on the freeway in Aspen Hill, more or less, and not have to leave limited-access roads to struggle through signal-controlled traffic of the sort that paralyzes the county at rush-hour. That this freeway would cyclicly and predictably be a massive parking lot doesn't matter to the planners; the route was set aside long ago, and segment by segment it's being built, and will probably be completed about the time that the world runs out of fossil fuels.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan, some of us made home purchase decisions because we wanted to be near the ICC (or highway F-9, as
shown in Montgomery County's Master
Plan of Highways).

Speaking from a personal perspective, I made a home purchase 23 years ago in anticipation of the ICC being built.

On a more global perspective, Montgomery County's planning process has been approving development assuming that the ICC would be built, since the 1970's.

So if the demands of Montgomery County's ICC opponents were to be heeded, would the county cancel all of that approved development and demand that all of those residential units be torn down?

Douglas A. Willinger said...

Concerning such things as the "Rockville Facility":

Build them in a trench, and if feasible realign to spare woods and recycle existing adjacent industrial properties rebuilt denser/taller.

Design the trench to be covered over, either at the same time or later.

I am amazed that I have heard nothing about the Longmeade segment of the ICC as a cut and cover tunnel.

Perhaps one day the Montrose Parkway will be rebuilt as a full freeway, BELOW GRADE in a like manner.

Thomas Hardman said...

Mr Willinger:

Let's just say that it might not be the most reasonable idea, ever, to dig a trench in a stream valley, put a road in the trench, cover it over, and then maybe you would want to put the stream into the cover over the tunnel created by cut-and-cover?

Maybe where a potential extension of Montrose Parkway East crosses the ridge dividing the Turkey Branch of Rock Creek watershed from the Bel Pre Creek watershed, or the ridge separating that from the main branch Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River watershed, maybe that is where a cut-and-cover trench tunnel option might make sense.

But cut-and-cover trench tunnels in the bottom of a stream branch notorious for flooding? Ah, that's pretty close to madness, and could double the cost compared to a surface or even elevated grade, when you take into account the engineering of the active systems needed to keep water out of the tunnel. See also the engineering challenges of the Green Line deep tunnels. Tunneling into a subterranean river is bad news, even when it's accidental. Building a tunnel in a stream bed makes no sense.