Maryland residents resist highway construction (Intercounty Connector/MD 200), 1980-2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Some people may consider the start of the anti-ICC campaign to be earlier (the highway proposal has been in planning records since 1950), but this case file treats 1980 as the starting point, when opposition efforts began to intensify.
1980
to
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Montgomery & Prince George's Counties, Maryland
Goals: 
The goal was to prevent the State of Maryland from constructing a proposed six-lane highway, thereby avoiding the environmental degradation that would immediately result from the construction (loss of forests, wetlands, and animal habitat), as well as the long-term consequences (air pollution and carbon emissions from additional driving, more sprawl development, less money to fund mass transit projects, etc.).
 

Maryland Route 200, also called the Intercounty Connector or simply the ICC by locals, is an 18.8-mile six-lane toll highway meant to provide an express road connection between the neighboring Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s, both of which are suburbs of Washington, DC. Initially conceived as a section of the proposed Outer Beltway that would fully encircle Washington, the ICC appeared on the master plans of both counties starting in 1950, at that time proposed as 32 miles. Although the local governments eventually dropped the Outer Beltway project, the ICC remained on the counties’ infrastructure agenda. Widely considered to be one of the most controversial Maryland road projects in living memory, opposition to the highway stalled the project for decades, with construction getting underway sixty years after the highway’s initial approval.

The opposition to the ICC historically has not been coordinated through a single entity or campaign leader, but rather has been taken as the collective protests of many small, autonomous organizations such as homeowners’ associations and civic associations, as well as numerous private citizens individually and independently voicing their disapproval to their politicians. The region’s residents have a history of being highly preoccupied with issues of town planning and development policy, with the local general public taking a great interest in what is elsewhere dismissed as the most mundane aspect of governance. As neighbors spoke with one another about the potential impact on their communities and the highway developed into a popular topic of everyday conversation, the issue became highly politicized (what the Washington Post named the single most divisive political issue in the state) and public opposition grew. In Montgomery County, where elections frequently revolved around candidates’ development platforms, the county’s entire delegation of state legislators (the state’s largest bloc) declared its opposition to the ICC project in 1980. The declining political support, coupled with the difficulties state highway administrators faced during the 1980’s in writing an environmental impact statement satisfactory to federal regulators, caused the first ICC study to be formally abandoned in 1989.

Public resistance to the project largely consisted of individuals choosing to express their opposition through traditional systems of communication established by the government and the media: residents wrote letters to newspapers, testified at public hearings, called their legislators, signed petitions, etc. In an unconventional twist on a traditional method, anti-highway campaigners attended a public hearing at a Greenbelt, MD, high school in June 1997, but instead of following the usual format of individually speaking at a microphone, the group performed a musical skit at the hearing, titled “Development Sucks.” According to the ensemble’s four-page script, the first act consisted of cast members dramatizing the history of suburbanization and urban decline in the Washington region since World War II, utilizing props that included a shopping cart, vacuum cleaner, and cardboard facades of Washington landmarks and suburbs. The second act focused on the collusion between the characters Developer and Board of Trade, who together rolled a black mat (a road) out through the audience, causing environmental and community destruction as they go. The governor was represented by a Ken doll, which Developer carried in his pocket. At the end, the Developer or Board of Trade sang a parody of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” replacing the lyrics “I did it my way” with “I built a highway.”

Aside from private citizens working individually or forming ad-hoc opposition groups, it is also important to acknowledge the role of civic and homeowners associations in spreading the sense of discontent among the public. Many residents learned of the details of the highway proposal through attending neighborhood association meetings and reading the association newsletters. Through these highly localized communication forums, people were made aware of how the highway would impact their immediate communities and also of the environmental impacts in their area, which intensified their opposition. Furthermore, people’s negative attitudes toward the project were reinforced upon seeing the shared sentiment of their neighbors in these neighborhood meetings and newsletters, and they were reminded of the issue on a monthly basis.

In addition to their role in stoking anti-highway sentiment among their own members, homeowners and civic associations also were important in generating media attention through protest events. One particularly creative event occurred in April 2008, when the Shady Grove Woods Homeowners Association organized a mock Irish wake to “mourn” the loss of forest cut down as part of the highway construction. Nearly 100 people attended the event in Derwood, MD, where a Scottish bagpiper played and attendees wore green t-shirts (in solidarity with the trees) reading “A Wake for MoCo” (MoCo being a nickname for Montgomery County). Aimed to influence Governor Martin O’Malley to cancel the project, the event was titled “O’Malley’s March” to use the name of the governor’s former rock band.

The Audubon Naturalist Society and the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter were also important participants in the opposition camp, as these larger organizations had certain resources, such as money, reputation, expertise, political clout, and large membership, that enabled them to be particularly effective challengers to the project. The Audubon Naturalist Society coordinated a loose coalition of over fifty civic and environmental organizations, dubbing it the Save Our Communities coalition and setting up a special website for the group. Around June 2007, the Save Our Communities coalition debuted a new campaign image, the “ICC is a lemon” logo, overlaying the highway sign on the citrus fruit, with the term “lemon” being a colloquialism for a defective car; the logo served as visual branding for the campaign after that. Similarly, an unnamed coalition of environmental groups utilized their collective expertise by submitting extensive comments on the state’s draft environmental impact statement.

In June 2004, the Save Our Communities coalition held a press conference and rally at a Silver Spring, MD high school, where the State Highway Administration was simultaneously conducting a public ICC workshop onsite. According to the organizers, over two hundred people came to this alternative event, where attendees picketed and listened to speeches from fellow highway opponents, including political elites such as Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews.

Due to the highly educated backgrounds that characterized most of the opposition campaigners, the campaign had numerous experts in a variety of fields at its disposal. The campaign drew heavily on these human resources, utilizing sympathizers’ technical expertise to more competently challenge the government’s assertions about the economic, environmental, and community impact of the highway, to more effectively negotiate changes to routes and engineering features, to carry more clout when lobbying politicians, and to gain more credibility when trying to turn public opinion against the highway project. In an example of the last use, highway opponents held a rally in June 2008 where a doctor – a pediatrician who specialized in environmental health – spoke about the impact of increased air pollution on people near the proposed highway route, particularly students at a local elementary school. The organizers hoped that the speaker’s medical credentials would attach authority to his statement that “the vulnerability of children to air pollution cannot be overstated.” At the protest, the doctor was flanked by children as he spoke at the podium, at least one of whom visibly suffered from a respiratory ailment.

The opposition campaign achieved an initial victory in September 1999, when formerly pro-ICC Governor Parris N. Glendening announced he was withdrawing his support for the highway on environmental grounds, declaring it did not comport with the Smart Growth development policy that he championed. Subsequent elections brought a number of pro-growth politicians to local and state offices, shifting the political balance in favor of ICC construction, and Governor Glendening’s successor, Governor Robert Ehrlich, revived the project in 2003.

In the view of the Washington Post, the loss of political allies hampered highway opponents’ ability to effectively communicate their message, with the newspaper citing the events of a July 2005 press conference as an example. At the outdoor press conference in Rockville, MD, where the governor would announce the planned route for the ICC, approximately 30 protestors from the Sierra Club, the Audubon Naturalist Society, and neighborhood associations hoped to use the state’s media event as an opportunity to counter the governor’s advocacy of the project. After the state police cordoned off the boundaries of the designated protest zone, which the demonstrators had negotiated to be located directly behind the governor, the governor’s staff rotated his podium and platform 90 degrees, thereby adding twenty feet of separation from the assembled picketers and excluding them from the view of the television news cameras. Lacking the political clout to renegotiate with state police, the protestors were not permitted to adjust their location (though a few seemed to defy the restrictions and get within camera shot nonetheless, as two placards are partially visible behind the governor in the photo on the state’s official press release). Despite their disadvantageous siting, which prevented them from achieving the visual impact they had planned, the picketers managed to disrupt the press conference with their loud booing and chanting, forcing the governor to pause his remarks to acknowledge them. "We'll listen to the voices of the past here for a minute," he said. After a brief silence, he continued, "The vocal minority has won for too long. Today, the view of the vast majority finally wins."

The federal government also expressed support for the highway, approving the project in 2006 after an expedited environmental review, made possible by President George W. Bush’s 2002 executive order that authorized fast-track approval of select transportation projects. In response, a number of homeowners and environmental groups sued in a last-ditch effort to cancel or delay construction. In 2006, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense filed a federal lawsuit challenging the highway on air pollution and public health grounds. Calling upon its vast membership in the local area, Sierra Club solicited donations toward legal fees, providing the general public with a way to support the opposition campaign despite the inherently technocratic nature of lawsuits. Also in 2006, the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Maryland Native Plant Society joined local residents in seeking a federal injunction against highway construction due to its environmental impact. The next year, in March 2007, the Shady Grove Woods Homeowners Association filed a lawsuit in state court asserting the highway project was not economically feasible.

The two federal lawsuits were consolidated, then dismissed, and ultimately settled on appeal in 2008. The state lawsuit was also settled in 2008. The opposition campaign secured significant concessions related to mitigating or compensating for the environmental impact of the highway, including construction redesigns, additional restoration work, reductions in exhaust pollution from school buses, airborne soot monitors, and other items. However, the ICC opposition proved unsuccessful in their ultimate goal of canceling the project. Construction began in November 2007, and the complete 18.8-mile road opened for public use on 22 November 2011.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Brachfeld, Melissa J. "Neighborhood ‘wake’ in Derwood Will Highlight Impact of ICC." Gazette.net. Post-Newsweek Media, Inc., 23 Apr. 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://ww2.gazette.net/stories/042308/burtnew210519_32363.shtml>.

Brachfeld, Melissa J. "Residents and Others Lament Loss of Trees." Gazette.net. Post-Newsweek Media, Inc., 30 Apr. 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://ww2.gazette.net/stories/043008/gaitnew204749_32367.shtml>.

"Council District Four: Inteview [sic] with Nancy Navarro." Progressive Neighbors MD. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.progressiveneighborsmd.org/Navarro_interview.php>. Note that the very first question on this 2008 PAC questionnaire asks the candidate's position on the ICC.

“Ehrlich touts ICC option.” Washington Times. 12 July 2005. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2005/jul/12/20050712-120020-5127r/>.

Environmental Defense Fund. Group Wins Public Health Benefits in ICC Suit: Maryland Agrees to Invest in New Pollution Controls, Monitoring. 17 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.edf.org/news/group-wins-public-health-benefits-icc-suit-settlement>.

Environmental Defense Fund. Transportation. Maryland's Intercounty Connector: Failing to Consider the Environment. 30 Oct. 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://apps.edf.org/article.cfm?contentID=6834>.

Ford, C. Benjamin. "ICC Neighbors Decry Ruling That Allows Road to Proceed." Gazette.net. Post-Newsweek Media, Inc., 14 Nov. 2007. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <http://ww2.gazette.net/stories/111407/montnew63504_32356.shtml>.

"ICC Action Alert." Sierra Club Maryland Chapter. 23 May 2007. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://maryland.sierraclub.org/action/p0049.asp>.

ICC Paintbranch Video. Prod. Audubon Naturalist Society. YouTube. 11 May 2009. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdiUihRBhb4>.

"The Intercounty Connector: A Great Deal for Developers and Highway Builders, A Lousy Deal for the Rest of Us." Progressive Neighbors MD. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.progressiveneighborsmd.org/icc.php>.

"InterCounty Connector." Coalition for Smarter Growth. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://smartergrowth.net/anx/index.cfm/1,137,html/InterCounty-Connector>.

Kiehl, Stephen. "Ehrlich Meets with Officials to Jump-start Plans for ICC; Environmentalists Protest Proposed 18-mile Highway for Washington Suburbs." Baltimore Sun. 12 June 2003. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2003-06-12/news/0306120119_1_intercounty-connector-icc-ehrlich>.

Mabeus, Courtney. "Environmental Groups Get Day in Court to Oppose Intercounty Connector." Washington Examiner. 1 Oct. 2007. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/environmental-groups-get-day-court-oppose-intercounty-connector>.

Maryland Department of Transportation. Governor Ehrlich Announces Preferred Route for Intercounty Connector. 11 July 2005. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.msa.md.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc5300/sc5339/000113/002000/002414/unrestricted/20063984e.pdf>.

Maryland Judiciary. Maryland Judiciary Case Search. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. <http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/inquiry/>. Search parameters: case no. 281200V; plaintiff (company): Shady Grove Woods Homeowners Association Inc; civil case filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court on 28 March 2007.

"Maryland Pike: Big Battle Rages North of DC over Intercounty Connector (ICC)." Tollroads Newsletter 16 (June 1997): 8. TOLLROADSnews. Peter Samuel, 22 June 1997. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://tollroadsnews.com/node/1878>.

Mizeur, Heather. "Scrap the ICC." Editorial. Gazette.net. Post-Newsweek Media, Inc., 25 Sept. 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://ww2.gazette.net/stories/09252008/princol144746_32471.shtml>.

Mosk, Matthew. "Once Politically Divisive, ICC Slowly Gained Favor." Washington Post. 12 July 2005. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/11/AR2005071101469.html>.

Pressley, Sue Anne. "Highway Could Be Fatal To Fish - Md. Conservationists Say Building Road Link Would Kill Trout." Washington Post. 15 Feb. 1987, FINAL, METRO: b3. NewsBank. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Robinowitz, Mark. "Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement 2005 edition: Inter County Connector, Outer Beltway, Interstate 370." 2005. Permatopia.com. Web. 15 Oct. 2011. <http://permatopia.com/icc/icc-deis-2005-comments.pdf>. Skit script begins on page 158.

SaveCommunities.org. "It's a Lemon!" Audubon Naturalist Society, 2007. Flickr. 27 June 2007. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/8211178@N03/640494695/>.

Shaver, Katherine. "As State Praises the Green Amid the ICC's Blacktop, Skeptics Still See Red." Washington Post. 30 Aug. 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/29/AR2009082902008.html>.

Shaver, Katherine. "Highway a Health Risk, Protesters Say." Washington Post. 25 June 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/24/AR2008062401150.html>.

Shaver, Katherine. "Judge Paves the Way For Long-Delayed ICC." Washington Post. 9 Nov. 2007. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/08/AR2007110801537.html>.

Shaver, Katherine. "Maryland Intercounty Connector Opens to Laurel." Washington Post. 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/post/maryland-intercounty-connector-opens-to-laurel/2011/11/22/gIQAEmkUkN_blog.html>.

"Smart Growth: Intercounty Connector." Audubon Naturalist Society. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.audubonnaturalist.org/default.asp?page=518>.

St. George, Donna. "Derwood Residents Rally Against Highway." Washington Post. 27 Apr. 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/26/AR2008042601983.html>.

"Successful Rally To Stop The ICC." Save Our Communities. 2004. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://web.archive.org/web/20080720183942/http://www.savecommunities.org/iccrallyphotos.html>.

Tolbert, Kathryn. "Delegates To Join Highway Protest." Washington Post. 23 Oct. 1980, Final Edition, Maryland Weekly; Md. 3: NewsBank. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Vick, Karl. "Md. Tollway Remains a Road Not Taken." Washington Post. 3 Feb. 1997. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/growth/transport/icc.htm>.

Wagner, John, and Eric Weiss. "O'Malley Is Asked to Reconsider Intercounty Connector." Web log post. Maryland Politics. Washingtonpost.com, 29 Mar. 2007. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/28/AR2007032802315_2.html>. Within blog post "Senate Honors Long Service Of Curran and Schaefer" (page 2).

Wake for Trees Killed by ICC. YouTube. 26 Apr. 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhnKzLtjq9g>.

Weiss, Eric M. "Maryland, Environmental Groups Settle Last Lawsuit." Washington Post. 18 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/17/AR2008111701312.html>.

Wheeler, Timothy B. "Two Lawsuits Filed against ICC." Baltimore Sun. 21 Dec. 2006. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2006-12-21/news/0612210140_1_icc-environmental-agencies-gaithersburg>.

Additional Notes: 
Wikipedia has an incredibly comprehensive (and well-sourced) article on the Intercounty Connector, providing both an excellent overview of the history of the project as well as detailing the political wrangling, legal actions, and protests that occurred. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland_Route_200>
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Alexander Blocker, 23/11/2011