Gov. Larry Hogan (R) plans to name the Intercounty Connector highway after former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) on Thursday, Ehrlich confirmed to Maryland Matters late Wednesday afternoon.
“Obviously, it’s a very nice gesture,” Ehrlich said. “I really appreciate it. It takes you back to a lot of battles.”
Ehrlich revived the long-debated highway linking Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg to U.S. 1 in Laurel after his predecessor, former Gov. Parris Glendening (D), killed the project in 1999. The first section of the 17.5-mile tollway opened in 2011, and it was fully completed in 2014.
Hogan’s office announced Wednesday that the governor would be appearing at an ICC dedication ceremony Thursday morning on Muncaster Mill Road in Rockville, near the highway, but was mum on the details. Ehrlich said he didn’t know what to expect.
“I know nothing,” he said. “I’m showing up at 9:45.”
The ICC, versions of which were first proposed in the 1950’s, was the topic of hot political debate in Maryland for decades, ensnaring most of the state and region’s government leaders at one time or another.
Advocates believed it would ease traffic on the Capital Beltway and other clogged suburban arteries. Opponents argued that it would be environmentally ruinous.
Ehrlich’s support for the ICC became a major part of his successful 2002 campaign against Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), who broke with Glendening on the future of the road as her campaign against Ehrlich heated up. Ehrlich used to joke that the road signs touting state studies of the project were so old they may as well have said, “Vote for Ike.”
The highway has become broadly popular in the Washington, D.C., region and in Central Maryland, and by honoring Ehrlich, his longtime friend and former boss, Hogan is clearly trying to remind voters that Republicans can get major projects built. Hogan’s identification with the ICC dovetails nicely with his support for the Purple Line, the major transit project in the D.C. suburbs, which broke ground last week.
Del. Kumar Barve (D), the chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee in Annapolis whose district includes some of the ICC, said he was disappointed that the road would be solely named after Ehrlich, even though the former governor had a major role in building it. He said he would like to have seen one of his ex-colleagues, former Sen. Jennie Forehand (D) or former Del. Carol Petzold (D), get “equal billing,” because they were steadfast supporters of the highway who took a lot of political heat for their advocacy.
“It’s hard for liberal Democrats to fight for a road, and they did for decades,” Barve said.
Ehrlich said he has been thinking lately of the other elected officials who stuck their necks out for the ICC, and said he suggested that Hogan invite some of them to Thursday’s ceremony. He singled out former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan (D): “A champion from day one,” Ehrlich said – “and he was thinking of running against me at the time.”