Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ICC Battle Impacts District 4 Race

The battle over whether the Intercounty Connector (ICC) should be built has been decided. But a battle over how to rout traffic along Georgia Avenue has been raging for more than a year and it just might impact the District 4 race - and perhaps more contests beyond.

The $2.6 billion ICC is being built in five phases. Phase A, which began construction in November 2007, connects I-370 to Georgia Avenue. Phase C, which began construction in April 2008, connects US-29 to I-95. Phase B, which will connect Phases A and C, started construction in January. At the moment, Phase A is 40% complete, Phase C is 30% complete and Phase B is 5% complete.

Phase A is due to be completed in the fall of 2010, at least a full year before Phase B’s completion. During that period of time, ICC traffic would empty onto Georgia Avenue just north of its congested intersection with Norbeck Road, a fact that was revealed in 2007. According to the Gazette, Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) and his sister, Senator Rona Kramer (D-14) presented a plan by SHA to mitigate the interim impact on the Georgia-Norbeck intersection by constructing a bypass spur around its northeast corner to the Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA) in September 2007. The SHA plan would allow ICC-related traffic to get onto Norbeck Road without going through the Georgia-Norbeck intersection. But the spur would have dumped the ICC traffic very close to the northern entrance of Leisure World. That prompted both GOCA and the Leisure World Board of Directors to oppose SHA’s plan, with many in both communities arguing that the ICC should not be opened until it was entirely complete.

The interim traffic routing posed a difficult problem for the Kramers, both of whom were longtime ICC supporters. Senator Rona Kramer initially defended SHA’s bypass plan to GOCA according to the Gazette:

“The new road doesn’t affect any homes or businesses, as the majority of the area is SHA-controlled property,” Kramer said. ‘‘This will allow traffic to avoid the Georgia Avenue⁄Norbeck Road intersection and doesn’t impact Georgia Avenue traffic, which was our goal.”

A portion of Norbeck Road will be widened from the access point of the new road to as far east as SHA owns the property.

“This should all be completed by the time that the ICC opens,” Kramer said. “I’ve asked SHA to see if it could be done sooner, because we could use it now. They said they would try, but it involves moving a lot of utilities, which takes time.”

Kramer said she presented the plan to GOCA members for their feedback, saying this is not the end of the discussion, but the beginning.

“This affects both my and Ben’s districts, him on the west and me on the east of Georgia Avenue,” she said. “We are very concerned about traffic, especially if there is any gap at all between phases one and two. We don’t want this to impact our community, and it’s our job to see that it doesn’t.”

She added that SHA has been “very responsive.”

“I was impressed that we didn’t have to fight with them,” she said.
But after intense pressure from the community, the Kramers wrote the letter below to MDOT Secretary John Porcari calling SHA’s bypass proposal “convoluted” and requesting that the ICC not open until it was completed in its entirety.

SHA ultimately ditched its bypass proposal in favor of a plan to open temporary ramps from the ICC onto Norbeck Road about a half-mile east of the Leisure World entrance. GOCA President Sharon Dooley said:

“It appears we got half a loaf,” Greater Olney Civic Association President Sharon Dooley said. “We wanted them to keep the road closed until it was all completed, but we did get these improvements, which should help Georgia Avenue, and that was our intent.”

“I think our voices were heard, and we appreciate all the work of our elected officials on this issue,” she added.
But others were displeased.

Harry Cohen, a Leisure World resident and vice president of INFORCE, a group that was formed by six Leisure World residents concerned about the ICC’s proximity to their homes, called the decision “the lesser of two evils.”

“We’re very disappointed,” he said. “While this plan is better than the spur road because the traffic enters Norbeck Road east of the Leisure World gate, it’s not going to be good. Norbeck Road can’t handle the 12,000 cars a day. It is already clogged.”

Cohen said INFORCE’s preference was to keep the first segment of the ICC closed until the other segments were completed.

“We don’t like this at all,” he said. “The governor and the SHA have heard our pleas, but have not responded in any way.”
Some of Ben Kramer’s opponents argue that he and County Executive Ike Leggett were the “joint architects” of SHA’s now-rejected bypass plan. I find that hard to believe. As a civic activist near the awful Georgia Avenue-Forest Glen Road intersection, I have found SHA to be resistant to control by any politician. SHA’s planners and engineers do as they will at the pace they prefer. While state and county politicians have supported a new Metro entrance at the Intersection of Death, SHA still has not implemented ANY interim improvements there from a plan they proposed in late 2007. The Kramers can complain endlessly about ICC traffic mitigation but no one should have any illusions that SHA serves at their beck and call.

But there is a larger question at issue here. While the Kramers cannot dictate to SHA, both of them have supported the ICC throughout their political careers. If SHA is now running amok during its construction, they are doing so because of the approval of a project the Kramers both desired.

In this life, sometimes you get what you want – and then you regret it!