He chose the road untaken


NO ACTION in Parris N. Glendening's five years as governor has been so controversial -- and so harmful to Maryland's future -- as his decision to cancel the Intercounty Connector roadway in suburban Washington. It was a giant step backward in efforts to create a unified, thriving state.

It boiled down to politics. Mr. Glendening is positioning himself as a candidate for a Cabinet-level job in a possible Gore presidency. Axing the ICC won him brownie points with the environmental community, a core constituency of Vice President Al Gore. The ICC announcement made front-page headlines in Washington newspapers. Mr. Gore had to take notice.

It might have been a good political move for the governor, but it was a bad one for Maryland. Montgomery County's isolation from two million people in the Baltimore area will persist. Getting from here to there already is a nightmare. Without an east-west connecting road, the next two decades could witness horrendous highway congestion in the state's most populous county.

Road to understanding

Without a roadway making it easier to commute from Baltimore to Rockville and Gaithersburg, misunderstandings between the regions will persist.

The rest of the state already has difficulty comprehending why rich Montgomery County continually needs more state financial aid. The more isolated Montgomery remains, the harder it will be to open the eyes of other Marylanders to that county's problems.

It means businesses in Montgomery will find it easier to use airports in Northern Virginia than Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It means companies may flee from Montgomery across the Potomac because of the worsening traffic mess.

The governor's decision dims hope for a "One Maryland" strategy that forward-looking leaders like House Speaker Casper R. Taylor advocate. The ICC would be more than a roadway, it would serve as a communications bridge of enormous importance.

Too often in Annapolis, Montgomery politicians clash with their Baltimore-area counterparts. Too often, this breeds deep antagonisms. Too often, Montgomery County winds up at odds with the majority of state legislators, more isolated and embittered than ever.

An east-west roadway could help change that, allowing the state's eastern and western population centers to forge stronger ties. That's especially true for burgeoning high-tech and medical-related companies in both regions.

The governor's opposition struck a raw nerve.

Suddenly, an anti-Glendening alliance emerged, led by Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, House Speaker Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller.

Add to this opposition group Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and you have a potent force that could buck the governor on other issues, too.

Environmental concerns

The governor is right that finding an environmentally acceptable east-west route would be difficult. But not impossible. Montgomery's traffic gridlock cannot be dismissed so cavalierly.

When it looked like a winning issue, Mr. Glendening made the ICC his "No. 1 priority" as Prince George's county executive. When the ICC became a liability in last year's election, the governor axed the ICC. Then, to placate a furious business community, Mr. Glendening named a study group to find ways -- long after the election -- to build a modified ICC.

Now it once again is in the governor's political interest to be an ICC foe. So he ignored his study group's recommendations, put on his "Mr. Environment" mask and castigated the ICC.

His transparency is shockingly obvious. Opinion polls show strong support for an east-west roadway. He also has placed his lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in a precarious position as she gears up to run for governor in 2002.

Two of her likely opponents, Mr. Ruppersberger and Mr. Duncan, champion the east-west highway. Ms. Townsend had avoided taking a stand. Now she's been forced to support her governor. That could cost her dearly in the 2002 election.

This issue will loom over Annapolis for a long time to come. The ICC may have been shelved by Mr. Glendening but it certainly isn't dead.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 10/17/99

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