Thursday, March 3, 2011

will the ICC keep the status quo in east county?

The State Highway Administration is running radio ads for the InterCounty Connector, presumably because a half-century of debating whether to build the highway had most people convinced it would never open. In the ad, a woman says the ICC will allow her to sleep in later and spend more time at home with her family because she'll spend less time in traffic.

ICC eastbound, approaching Georgia Ave
Going east on the ICC towards Georgia Avenue. Photo courtesy of Dan Malouff at BeyondDC.

I was thinking about this when one of my old friends from high school who currently lives in Olney, sent me this tweet: "Do you think Olney will become more popular because of the ICC?" she asked.

Before the ICC, Olney was a relatively isolated part of Montgomery County. It was seven miles from the nearest Metro station and nine miles from the nearest highway exit. Back in 2009, I wrote that the ICC would drag Olney "kicking and screaming" into the rest of the county and the D.C. area.

That doesn't mean people will start flocking to Olney now that they can get there from Gaithersburg in eight seven minutes. Really, it's the other way around: people in Olney, or Colesville, or Burtonsville will leave (or continue leaving) East County for the things they want or need: jobs in Gaithersburg, shopping in Rockville, restaurants in Bethesda.

If you follow the ICC to I-370 (as far as I'm concerned, they're the same highway), you'll end up at Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg, where big-box stores and white-tablecloth eateries alike huddle around a little Main Street and an artificial lake. Developed by the Peterson Companies, the same folks who brought us Downtown Silver Spring, Washingtonian taught Montgomery County how to walk around outside after decades cooped up in shopping malls. I remember going there when I was thirteen and being mesmerized by it.

Washingtonian Center used to be an hour's drive from my parents' house in Calverton. Last Friday, I got there in twenty-five minutes. Will East County still be interested in fixing up Burtonsville when it's just as easy to spend your time and money elsewhere? I mean, it's not like the last highway we built here did anything for local businesses.

The ICC has opened up a lot of opportunities for Montgomery County, as I wrote last week. Yet there's a potential danger. Highways make it easier to go from one place to another, but they don't automatically make those places better. The woman in the ad wants more time with her family, but couldn't she also save time if her daily needs didn't require a trip by highway?


Douglas A. Willinger said...

All sorts of intellectual contortionisms to attempt to deny the great beneifits of good roads.

Given how the ICC route bends to avoid Knights of Columbus headquarted in Derwood, how DC I-95 was not built to avoid the Masonic Eastern Star Home at 6000 New Hampshire Avenue NE, and the USNCPC Extending the Legacy South Capitol Mall was squahed in silence with all of the 'progressive' bloggers ignoring it, it's clear what runs the show politically:

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan, thanks for getting back to Burtonsville. As you know, I've made countless replies to various posts, on the subject of what might "bring back Burtonsville" and most of those centered around a need to straighten and widen MD-198 ("Spencerville Road") through Burtonsville west of US-29. Simply stated, it's so congested there that it's effectively a deathtrap for pedestrians and nearly a deathtrap for traffic just passing through... to say nothing of the risks drivers take trying to get on and off of the road, especially if a left turn is involved at any point. Burtonsville as a destination is deeply damaged by Burtonsville as a point one has to pass through along the way to and from other places.

That being said, if the ICC siphons off significant east-west traffic, Burtonsville might actually become a better destination, if only because it's less of an utter traffic hell. If this happens, it might be one of the few recorded instances of business improving because the government built a bypass. Most people think of what happened to all of the little towns along US-66 when it was bypassed coast-to-coast by the Interstates... yet probably a lot of those businesses that went under simply started up again in new places, at the Interstate on- and off-ramps.

As for Olney, well, personally I harbor the opinion that Olney does not want to be a Destination; rather, almost every time I visit there, I get the impression that most of the folks out that way just wish to hell that everyone else would just go away. (Or probably more accurately, that I would just go away.) That sort of exclusivity, of elitism -- not to mention that huge jump in prices for everything as soon as you get near the place -- does not a Destination make. More likely than the ICC, to make Olney a Destination, would be the completion and tenanting of that shopping center currently under rebuild. If they can manage to find room for another cinema multiplex in there somewhere, so much the better.

In closing, I should add that if massive connectivity -- by road or transit or bother -- were the defining factor about whether or not a place becomes a Destination, Aspen Hill should be the most profitable and sought-after community for storefront development and office siting.

Instead, even with -- or some might say, because of -- all of that connectivity, our biggest employer just bailed out, taking about 500 lunches and ancillary shoppers with them as they went. The former BAE (Vitro) building is such a potential danger at the heart of the community that the County Police are using it for operations training, specifically the canine unit. Look at it this way, if you have to fill a building with the force's entire contingent of nice police and mean dogs to keep the riffraff out, that says a lot about the character of a neighborhood. But to the astute observer, there's something less obvious but far more daunting. And that would be the fact that most of the local shopping centers seem to have "security" comprised mostly of imported gangsta types pretending to respectability because they're not "sagging" with their hats on sideways, as they pick and choose which potential customers will be allowed to frequent the merchants.

All of the connectivity in the world won't help a place that has inadequate security, inappropriate security, or merchants staffing up with hateful people who work with "outside elements" to try to impose a racialist overlay on the shopping experience.

Hopefully some of the nice policemen in the canine unit practicing in the BAE building will take some time to dress like sketchy white folks and go shopping at the stores across the street, to get a better picture of what needs to be done to allow Aspen Hill's excellent connectivity win out over the really sketchy element playing private dick and gangsta games in the heart of our business district.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan, the ICC is not a new road, at least in terms of master plans.

What would have severely damaged Burtonsville (and many of its residents) would have been the so-called "Northern Alignment" of the ICC, promoted by federal environmental regulators and Aspen Hill NIMBYs.

What would have continued to damage Burtonsville would have been the so-called "No Build" option.

But the State of Maryland ultimately declined to play along with the Northern Alignment, and now the road is coming where plans since the 1970's (and earlier) have assumed it would run.

You wrote:

That doesn't mean people will start flocking to Olney now that they can get there from Gaithersburg in eight seven minutes. Really, it's the other way around: people in Olney, or Colesville, or Burtonsville will leave (or continue leaving) East County for the things they want or need: jobs in Gaithersburg, shopping in Rockville, restaurants in Bethesda.

I disagree with the above.

The ICC is, like nearly all other roads, a two-way road, and will be beneficial for all of the communities it will serve. In Montgomery County, it will support the development that's already in place (you may recall that in the wake of Parris Glendening's little effort to cancel the ICC, the Montgomery County Council asked the M-NCP&PC Montgomery County Planning Department to re-do master plans along the length of the ICC in Montgomery County, and the report that came back from the planners was that it would take years of effort by planning staff to accomplish that).

Some residents of the I-270 Corridor, previously so isolated from the East County, will come the other direction, especially to jobs at the new FDA complex in White Oak.

The ICC will make commercial property along U.S. 29 (think especially the south side of Cherry Hill Road) more attractive to developers, and that happens to be a good thing.

It will also make it easier for residents of the East County to get to I-95 (the only access before was through Calverton to Md. 212 or via Md. 198).

And speaking of Md. 198, which is now a de-facto ICC (and will remain that way until the Contract B and Contract C segments of the ICC are complete), with the coming of the ICC, a fair amount of the "through" trips (including heavy commercial vehicles) should divert to the ICC for a faster, easier and safer trip east-west trip. That will benefit Burtonsville by removing traffic that doesn't want to be there.

Then there's the matter of Konterra, mostly in Prince George's County. Konterra was repeatedly cited by anti-ICC NIMBYs (including the now-defunct M-ICC group) as a reason not to build the ICC. I vividly recall the late Barney Evans of M-ICC raging at the public hearing on the ICC (about 1997 or 1998) against Konterra, claiming it would "drain investment" from Montgomery County in general, and from the Silver Spring CBD (e.g. City Place, I seem to recall) in particular. Curiously, some other anti-ICC groups claimed that the ICC would "drain investment" from Prince George's County into Montgomery County. I suppose they never tried to get their stories straight.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

The ICC is good for Eastern Montgomery County for an assortment of reasons (full disclosure: I own real property near the new interchange of the ICC and U.S. 29):

1. Development (since about 1970) has been approved by the Montgomery County Council and the M-NCP&PC Montgomery County Planning Board with the understanding that the road (F-9 on Montgomery's planning maps) would get built. Even the otherwise catastrophic (and transit-obsessed) 1981 Eastern Montgomery County Master Plan included the ICC.

2. It will make vacant commercial land more attractive to developers (and that's a good thing) especially along Cherry Hill Road.

3. It will greatly improve highway access to I-95 to the east and I-370 and I-270 to the west.

4. It will remove lots of automobile and commercial vehicle traffic from Md. 198 and other east-west roads, making Burtonsville a more-attractive place for people (and traffic) that wants to be there.

Patrick said...

The alternative to sprawl due to ICC construction was not maintaining a semi-rural glade less than 20 miles from the center of Washington, DC.

Rather it was the same people (or people dislocated by their arrival) being housed 50 or 60 miles from DC in Frederick County and even West Virginia.