April 20, 2011

Blog: Better late than never at ICC as I-95 roars by

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Gov. Martin O'Malley at I-95 and the ICC.

Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks at ICC with state and local officials.

We usually wait around at media events for the governor to show while local officials cool their heels. But yesterday, Gov. Martin O’Malley was unusually on time and the cameras, flacks, developers and assorted functionaries waited – and waited– for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker to show.

The wait got so bad that O’Malley called me to the podium to sing a song. I thought it was a passing joke, but he beckoned me up, and I suggested we do a duet of “Wild Rover,” the Irish drinking song. (“No, nay, never, no nay no more will I be a wild rover, no never, no more.)

“Not Irish,” said the gov. “Something Lenten. Like ‘Panis Angelicus’”)

As eight lanes of traffic roar by, one generally does not belt out “Panis Angelicus,” the eucharistic hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. “The bread of angels has become the bread of men,” say the first two lines.

Speaking of bread and waiting, the Gould family and its Konterra 2,500-acre mixed-used development have been waiting for decades to get an interchange off of I-95 to its development. And the state has been waiting to extend the InterCounty Connector to Route 1, and had been trying to take 240 acres from Konterra by “eminent domain” for the last four years.

Instead the developers are swapping those 240 acres, plus 83 acres more for road improvements, in exchange for building a new interchange onto Contee Road between Route 198 and the ICC interchange. This is expected to cost the state less than paying the Goulds for the land east of I-95.

“We gave away the store,” patriarch Kingdon Gould Jr., 87, said in an interview.

“It was not an easy negotiation,” O’Malley said.

“It’s kind of like a matching gift,” said Caleb Gould, one of the sons involved in the project.

The move was touted as an economic development project that will produce 3,500 construction jobs and long-term employment generating $96 million in annual revenues for the state and Prince George’s County.

Forty minutes late, after every one of any importance had spoken, Baker showed up. He had been attending the County Council hearings on his first two cabinet appointees, and he wanted to see them confirmed.

Among the speakers was Del. Barbara Frush, a Prince George’s County Democrat who represents the district and is a long-time foe of the InterCounty Connector.

She recalled sponsoring a bill to get an interchange for Konterra as a freshman delegate 17 years ago. It passed, but the interchange wasn’t built.

“This will be just one more crown jewel,” Frush said. “This will be wonderful for all of us.”

In an interview afterward, she made clear she was speaking about the Konterra development, not the ICC highway from I-95 to I-270 in Rockville she still opposes.

“It was going to be a very expensive road,” Frush said, expensive to build and expensive to ride on. “It’s a Lexus road,” paid for with tolls that will top $6 one-way in rush hour.

It is also being built over “environmentally sensitive areas,” she said.

In the past, she has also objected that it would funnel jobs to Montgomery County.

The ICC is being built with creative financing that includes revenue bonds paid by vehicle tolls and bond debt issued in anticipation of federal highway payments.

“We’re going to be paying forever,” Frush said.

–Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com