What does the Intercounty Connector, a proposed 18-mile road connecting Interstates 270 and 95, have to do with blue crabs? More than you might think.
Throughout hundreds of square miles of Bay waters, blue crabs, along with all of the other aquatic animals, have perilously little oxygen to breathe. Scientists predict that record numbers of blue crabs may suffocate and die this year long before they reach the picnic table. Perch and striped bass, also unable to breathe, won’t make it to be hooked on anyone’s fishing line.
Rarely do scientists uniformly agree, but on what’s causing the Bay’s gigantic “dead zone,” there is no doubt—nitrogen, specifically too much of it. This overabundance of nitrogen creates an overabundance of algae. The algae consume high levels of oxygen and cloud the water, leaving little oxygen and light—and in some areas, none—for worms, crabs, fish and grasses.
So, what does this have to do with the ICC? Plenty.
Cars give off nitrogen. And every time it rains, these nitrogen particles find their way into the Bay.
The ICC, the proposed six-lane, toll-highway, is a take-no-prisoners kind of road that, according to the state’s own study, will add more cars to the burdened D.C. area beltway. Specifically, the government’s report states that building the ICC “will put 3,000 to 7,000 more vehicles on the Beltway at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue on weekdays by 2030.”
Secondary roads won’t fare any better. The EPA, in a report released earlier this year, said that neither of the proposed ICC alignments “will significantly relieve traffic on local roads, the expected time savings (especially for shorter trips) is low, and the projected cost of building the highway is high.”
The report goes on to state what most traffic engineers already know: More highways generate more traffic and more sprawling development. Because the ICC will spawn more than 5,000 acres of new, currently unplanned development in its environs, it can’t help but increase both the numbers of cars and the amount of impervious surfaces in our area. Even if we continue to increase our use of cleaner-burning engines and fuels, these gains will be more than offset by the expected rapid growth in vehicle miles traveled in our region according to Rebecca Hanmer, director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office, in her column, “Every little bit adds up, even more so when it’s multiplied,” Bay Journal, June 2005.
What’s equally troubling about the ICC is that, if built, it will cut through wetlands, forests and watersheds, adding hard surfaces where once there were filtering open spaces. The Paint Branch, Rock Creek and Northwest Branch currently deliver relatively unpolluted water to the Bay. That would all change with the ICC.
Another troubling aspect of the ICC is that it is the first segment of the 1960s plan to ring the metro area with both an inner and an outer beltway.
Almost 15 years ago, Tom Horton presented the case against the ICC/bypass in the first edition of “Turning the Tide.” Horton then cited a Chesapeake Bay Foundation analysis showing that more than 1 million acres now designated as open space in the growth plans of the counties along the bypass routes would be at risk of developing.
The Bay is in trouble, and its watersheds need to be protected, not degraded. Consider what recently transpired regarding the 176-square-mile Anacostia watershed five-sixths of which falls in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in the ICC vicinity.
On June 8, the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Committee approved a forest management and protection strategy. The AWRC includes the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, the Maryland Department of the Environment, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments—jurisdictions that have been working to restore Anacostia River water quality for 18 years.
Key recommendations from the report are “to protect the existing remaining upland and riparian forest in the Anacostia River watershed.” These recommendations reflect the AWRC’s keen understanding of the link between the protection and restoration of forests and the goal of improving water quality.
But, there is an elephant pretending to be invisible in the Anacostia Watershed Protection Strategy. According to the state’s own study, the proposed ICC would destroy hundreds of acres of critically important upland and riparian forests and scores of Anacostia wetlands—just the type of forest lands that need to be protected. According to the latest environmental impact statement, more than six miles of Anacostia River headwater streams (more than 32,000 linear feet) would be affected.
It is impossible for me to accept a forest protection strategy that ignores the greatest threat to the Anacostia River watershed’s “Great Green Filter.”
Without a doubt, the proposed ICC contradicts existing Chesapeake Bay restoration and Anacostia River restoration agreements. It also will not improve mobility in our area. It’s clearly wrong, and building it would be a tragic waste of scarce public funds. It’s time for the state to do what so far it has refused to do: Examine the alternatives.