MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir, welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're bringing you stories about transformations. Before the break, we heard about the slow creeping changes taking place at an environmentally important marsh. Our next story is about a much speedier transformation, one involving the construction of a major highway, the Inter County Connector. And that's the topic of our weekly transportation segment "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, you've probably remember all the debate surrounding the Inter County Connector back when it was just an idea on paper. Supporters said the highway would relieve some of the traffic in Montgomery and Prince Georges counties. Critics, on the other hand, said the ICC would damage the environment and ruin the quality of life for residents near the road. Well, the ICC has been open for a few months now and we wanted to see whether any of those predictions have come true. Transportation reporter, Martin Di Caro, hit the road to get some answers.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
Picture a pretty suburban street, birds singing and bushes lining lawns just turning green as winter recedes. It's the front yard of Jeff Owrutsky, whose lived on Trebleclef Lane in the Tanglewood subdivision of Silver Spring for nearly 20 years. How are you?
MR. JEFF OWRUTSKY
Okay, nice to meet you.
Jeff was enjoying a glass of wine on his front porch when I met him, one evening. The ambiance is not as relaxing in his backyard anymore.
You can certainly hear it.
That was a truck that just went by.
So I think that my air conditioning bill's probably going to go up because I tend to really try to just leave the windows open. But I suspect that I'll be closing them a little more often this summer just to keep the sound out.
Right behind his backyard fence, about 40 yards from his home, runs a 20 foot high sound barrier. Beyond it lies Maryland's brand new $2.5 billion East-West Highway. Right where a forest full of wildlife used to be.
It was dense, full of trees and you know there's also an auto park over there. So it used to be that the trees would shield us from all the lights of the auto park.
Unlike Owrutsky, Ken Schmidt is relatively new in the neighborhood. Two doors up Trebleclef Lane, he also has a new sound barrier running right behind his backyard and it doesn't block all the noise.
MR. KEN SCHMIDT
There's the old saying not in my backyard and...
...literally, yeah, literally not in my backyard, but here it is. The issue I have when we purchased the house, state website for the ICC spoke of to plans that went -- ran North and South of 198. This plan was not on the main page. So I assumed it wasn't an option.
Schmidt says he spent a lot of money trying to reduce the sound of the highway in his home.
We actually just put windows in, replacement windows to try to mitigate some of that and it's still, we still hear it.
How much did that cost you?
The windows were a better part of $13,000 or so.
If the ICC means noise, dust and a new view for nearby residents, it was supposed to mean something else for commuters, shorter rides and less congestion. I'm standing on Briggs Chaney Road. This is one of the most East-West roads in the county that the Maryland Transportation Authority says should see less traffic in congestion now that the ICC is open. But there are no studies available at this time. Traffic analysis will take months to complete. We can ask residents if they've seen any changes.
MS. ALFIYA AKHMED
I don't see major difference after the ICC has been open.
MR. GLADSTONE BOTSOE
Before we are kind of congestion but now it's lesser traffic on Briggs Chaney.
MR. ROB MC KELLAR
Actually pretty much the same. I think that toll road, either people aren't aware of it or just don't want to pay.
Traffic appears pretty light on the ICC. The Maryland Transportation Authority says traffic volumes are on target and that it takes about three years for volume to ramp up on a new toll road. About six miles southwest of where Briggs Chaney Road runs parallel to the highway, a stream runs through Northwest Branch Park. The howl of traffic cannot be heard there. But environmentalists say the ICC's impact will be felt, nonetheless.
MS. ANNE AMBLER
This is our watershed.
Anne Ambler is President of Neighbors of the Northwest Branch. She says, for years increasing amounts of storm water runoff have flooded the stream which erodes the stream bed and its banks, causing trees to topple. She thinks the ICC will make the problem worse.
It's hard to say whether any particular thing has caused the increased damage. But you have to figure that all those acres of concrete with runoff is going to have an effect.
MR. DAVE O'LEARY
When we have lots of pavement, the storm pours in really quickly, the streams will come up quickly and kind of gouge out the sides of the stream. This water level will bounce right up.
That's Dave O'Leary, the President of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. He says the more trees that fall, the more sunlight breaks through the canopy, the more invasive species grow on the forest bed. Makes it harder for the forest to re-grow itself. It's a cycle.
This whole area will just transform.
In the Tanglewood neighborhood, homeowner, Dave Evans offers an example of ambivalent attitudes toward the new highway. He was against it being built but now that's there, he's learned to live with it. And he drives it once in a while.
MR. DAVE EVANS
I don't even know it's there at this point.
Commuters know the ICC is there but they may be staying away to avoid the transformation of their budgets. The roundtrip toll to drive it, end to end, is $8 during rush hour. That's $40 a week, 160 a month. I'm Martin Di Caro.
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