Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Battle of I-270, Part Three

Yesterday, we looked at the significant challenges faced by I-270 widening supporters in realizing their goal. Today, we look at the equally significant problems faced by opponents.

Widening opponents consist of smart growth advocates, environmentalists, anti-growth activists and a smattering of residents who will be adversely impacted by the project. They have been stoked by the D.C.-based pro-transit blog Greater Greater Washington, which has waged a relentless campaign against the project and politicians who support it. Opponents scored a victory in getting the Montgomery County Council to delay a vote on the project. That demonstrated their potential. But they have challenges too.

1. Leadership
At the height of the ICC battle, some of the most prominent politicians in Montgomery County fought the project, including County Council Members Blair Ewing, Phil Andrews, Marilyn Praisner, Derick Berlage, Nancy Dacek and Betty Ann Krahnke, Senator Idamae Garrott (D-19) and numerous Delegates. Former County Executive Neal Potter changed his position from support to oppose. The Prince George’s County Council voted to oppose the ICC in 2003 and 2007. Governor Parris Glendening tried unsuccessfully to kill the project. At the moment, Senator Brian Frosh (D-16) and Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) are the only avowed opponents of I-270 widening. That’s not enough.

2. Non-indigenous
The anti-ICC coalition included residents who lived near the road aided by smart growth and environmentalist sympathizers who lived elsewhere. So far, the anti-I-270 coalition does not have comparable strength among residents who actually live near its alignment.

When Greater Greater Washington launched its petition drive to block the project, our sources informed us that about sixty emails were received by the County Council. (That’s a tiny number by MoCo standards. Consider that the Purple Line dispute has repeatedly attracted many hundreds of emails from both sides.) Some of the anti-I-270 emails were from D.C., most of them were from Downcounty (Bethesda, Silver Spring and Takoma Park) and only about ten were from north of Rockville, where the project is located. Council Member Mike Knapp noted the geographic distribution of the emails in the July 21 council work session:

I understand once the committee took its action last week, that there was a flurry of emails, many of which came from the District of Columbia, which I was intrigued by, with concerns about the road widening of -- clearly a road that not many of them actually do anything on.
As long as the opposition to the I-270 project comes mainly from D.C., Downcounty and Baltimore, the politicians who represent constituents impacted by the project will have little reason to oppose it. In fact, most of them already support widening. And politicians from other parts of the state will be too busy lobbying for their own priorities to devote much political capital to killing another area’s priorities. The opposition must find a way to thrive in the very areas affected by the project itself or it will fade into irrelevance over time.

The I-270 conflict took an interesting turn in July that escaped the attention of almost everyone. We’ll examine that in Part Four.