At the very least, the InterCounty Connector will be a line on a map. You can use maps to get ideas about a place: gridded lines denote the streets of an older, urban place; squiggles and loops suggest cul-de-sacs in newer suburbs. As a particularly big line, a highway can be used as a spine, forming connections between different and disparate uses, or a datum that separates and organizes them. Since it passes through existing neighborhoods, the ICC will redefine the way we conceive places and the connections between them, whether we like it or not.
Currently, we use phrases like "outside the Beltway" or "I-270 corridor." Will the ICC become a "corridor," defined by one's proximity to it, or a sort of Maginot Line separating the suburbs to the south from the still-rural areas to the north? Or will we start referring to a place "Between the Beltways," home to "a race of clear-thinking individuals untainted by either Inside the Beltway parochialism or Outside the Beltway naivete," as the Post Magazine's Tom McNichol once predicted.
I see Olney, proud of its isolation from the rest of the county, dragged kicking and screaming from its exurban orbit and thrown into the fray. You left the city, the highway says, but now the city's coming to you. Or perhaps, eastern Montgomery County slams into I-270 like shifting tectonic plates, finally able to snag a little of the prosperity so long kept for Rockville and Bethesda. Business executives, seeking to keep home and office no more than eight miles apart as William H. Whyte discovered, find that the ICC's opened up lots of affordable land for new corporate headquarters, with snooty white-tablecloth restaurants to follow.
But in many places, the InterCounty Connector closes more doors than it opens. Some residents in Tanglewood, against the ICC's interchange at Route 29, are happy about the highway because it will block people living in the apartments on Briggs Chaney Road from reaching their community on foot. But in Longmead Crossing, a neighborhood literally built around the ICC right-of-way, it is an unwelcome intrusion dividing friends and neighbors. And it's not surprising that the State Highway Administration has to build little underpasses for the deer and turtles whose habitats are being affected by the construction.
A 2010 U.S. road atlas depicts the InterCounty Connector (the dotted green line at top right).
There will be so much pressure to build at each of the highway's new interchanges that one conservative writer proposed not building any at all to reduce opposition from smart-growth advocates. We've already seen the first of what will be many proposals to build at the on-ramps in places that to most are just names on maps: Norbeck, Bonifant, Layhill. To the outsider, these are all just different ways of saying "Silver Spring," but you can't put that on every exit sign. Does the ICC suddenly make all the rural hamlets that drowned in suburban sprawl relevant again, if only as new marketing tools?
This new world that we're creating brings no good or bad tidings, but simply the anxiety that comes with knowing that change is inevitable. If only it were so simple as drawing a line on a map, my questions could've been answered many, many years ago.