Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer stepped up his criticism yesterday of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plan to abandon the proposed Intercounty Connector to link Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
During a meeting of the Board of Public Works, Schaefer attacked Glendening's "erroneous decision" to kill the 17-mile, $1.5 billion highway and sell some of the land the state purchased for its construction.
In an unusual upstaging of the governor, who heads the three-member board, Schaefer and state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon voted to pass a resolution supporting the connector, known as the ICC.
"I move that the consensus of the Board of Public Works is that the ICC has not been abandoned, and that any action that would change the land from its present use be brought before the Board of Public Works for discussion," Schaefer said.
Glendening declared the vote meaningless. But while the resolution was largely symbolic, it was a pointed reminder of the political furor that Glendening's decision has caused.
The governor startled many state officials last week by declaring not only that he would refuse to build the ICC, but that he would move to sell the land to prevent future governors from resurrecting the road.
At the time, Glendening boldly predicted he would "drive a stake through the heart" of the long-debated highway. But his announcement has prompted more controversy.
"The governor was proclaiming once and for all last week that the ICC was dead, that a plague was removed from the landscape," said Bethesda pollster Keith Haller, a close observer of Maryland politics. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
The legislature's two presiding officers have warned Glendening that selling land for the roadway would be a serious mistake that would handicap future governors, and they have predicted the matter could surface during the General Assembly session next year.
Glendening may have made the ICC the first issue of the 2002 governor's race, which could pit a number of supporters of the road against Glendening's preferred candidate, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a key proponent of the road and a possible gubernatorial contender, predicted that the failure of Glendening -- and his lieutenant governor -- to build the ICC will be on voters' minds in 2002.
"By then, people are going to be so frustrated with gridlock and the actions of the governor that the [ICC] will be a major issue in the election," said Duncan. "People will remember in 2002 what the governor and lieutenant governor did."
Townsend was not available for comment yesterday, but Alan H. Fleischmann, her chief of staff, said the lieutenant governor supports Glendening's "pragmatic" decision.
Fleischmann declined to say if Townsend would seek to build the ICC if she were elected governor, saying she was focused on Glendening's plans for other major road improvements in traffic-clogged Montgomery County.
"She's saying, 'Let's deal with the issues at hand,' " Fleischmann said.
The ICC would link the Interstate 270 corridor near Rockville with Interstate 95 at the western edge of Prince George's County.
Glendening's plan calls for two small stretches of highway to be built at the eastern and western ends of the proposed ICC route.
He appears to be unfazed by the widespread negative reaction to his announcement and has refused to be drawn into a public debate with his opponents.
"The governor is still absolutely convinced that we should build what he has proposed building, and we should not retain the land otherwise," said spokesman Michael Morrill.
A quick examination by the attorney general's office of Glendening's authority to sell the land found this week that different rules apply, depending on how the state acquired a parcel.
It's clear in some cases that Glendening must bring the land sales to the Board of Public Works, said Robert Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general who advises the legislature.
Even if Schaefer and Dixon follow through on their threat to block any land sales at the board, Glendening said yesterday he can effectively deliver a lethal blow to the ICC in the next three years by refusing to continue to buy land for the project.
"All we have to do is stop buying land and stop reserving land in the right of way," he said. "As a result, the right of way will be gone."
As more land is developed in the road's possible alignments, the price of the project would soar, making it less likely to be constructed, the governor's reasoning goes.
Sun staff writer Candus Thomson contributed to this article.