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Editorial: The ICC conundrum

The long-debated, long-awaited, long-constructed Intercounty Connector opened in its 18.8-mile entirety just in time for the annual Thanksgiving traffic scrum.

On the drawing boards for decades, the six-lane toll road links Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County.

In terms of traffic, proponents of the ICC say it will help relieve congestion on the Capital Beltway, although officials say that local roads leading to the new highway may become jammed as drivers try to take advantage of the ICC.

In terms of economic development, the ICC could be a missing catalytic link as it connects Maryland’s technology-rich I-270 corridor and the burgeoning I-95 corridor near Konterra, a long-planned development that, along with National Harbor (see accompanying editorial), could give Prince George’s County two mega-centers.

That’s the good-news potential of the ICC. But there is also a sobering side.

At $2.56 billion, the ICC is the most expensive road ever built in Maryland. Although it will be financed largely by tolls — and hefty ones at that — building this road and the $1 billion worth of express toll lanes on I-95 north of Baltimore means that the Maryland Transportation Authority is on course to nearly reach the limit of its borrowing capacity in fiscal 2017.

Also, a sizable amount of anticipated federal highway funding has already been allocated to help pay for the ICC.

The decision to build the ICC as a toll road reflects a change in philosophy for Maryland, which has long kept its tolls relatively low because they were used mainly to operate existing bridges, tunnels and highways.

“The state has mortgaged its transportation future to the ICC in many ways,” Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews, a critic of the highway, told The Washington Post. “The opportunity cost of the ICC has been huge because it has foreclosed improving many other roads.”

State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who formerly represented Montgomery County in the House of Delegates, disagrees. “The road, from an economic standpoint, will pay for itself many times over,” he said.

The implications of the impact of the ICC and the new I-95 toll lanes on Maryland’s ability to pay for other urgent transportation needs, such as the Red and Purple lines, need to be considered carefully as part of any financing plan the O’Malley administration submits to the 2012 General Assembly. Otherwise, we’ll be kicking the fiscal can down the potholed road once again.

6 comments

  1. If the ICC auto-finances its debt service through tolls, it should be easy to get the debt limit for the state raised without much harm. Peter Franchot’s view seems better founded in this instance.

  2. A lot more people will use the ICC if the sticker that collect the tolls automatically was not an accomodation with a monthly charge attach to it.I am in agreement with the tolls however paying a monthly charge for just the sticker whether we use the highway or not is not right.

  3. How about delaying either the Red or the Purple line or both until the recession is over?

    Buy some more of Maryland’s current environmentally friendly buses to run on these routes in the interim period.

  4. With respect to Bruce Godfrey’s comment, that’s a mighty big “if”.

    If the ICC were able to self-finance its debt through tolls any time soon, the state would not have committed 1 billion federal dollars and 445 million state dollars to the project, and it would not be tapping and increasing tolls on every other state-owned toll facility to pay for it.

    In fact, the state’s willingness and ability to tap revenues from those other facilities is one of the main points boosting the ratings of the ICC debt.

    The real cost of the ICC may exceed $3 billion in current dollars and $4 billion in unadjusted dollars.

    Take a guess when the state hopes the tolls from the ICC will equal that amount.

    The $2.56 million figure and other similar figures pushed by the state and dutifully reported by the media never has included interest on the roughly $2 billion in principal debt that the O’Malley administration has issued for the ICC. Interest on that debt could exceed $1.4 billion.

    Franchot’s statement may be based on a pretty questionable analysis, and it probably assumes that whatever economic benefits the ICC may help generate could not be generated through less expensive, less damaging investments.

  5. I drove the toll road, the entire lenght, the first week it was opened. The road saved me about 20 minutes of travel time. But now that the tolls are being collected, I can’t afford or justify paying $8/day to ride the road. I simply do not have that kind of money in my budget. The case savings from not traveling back roads (stop and go) is not close to $8/day. If discounts or a reduction in tolls was offered, I’d travel it every day. As a WTOP study shows, the traffic flow has dropped by more than half since the tolls started today.

    Good job MD, another failure at the starting gate. $8/day to the right politicians doesn’t mean a thing, but to use working class, it’s a killer… find another $160/month just to drive to work.

  6. response to Marcos, regarding the monthly ezpass charge:

    Isn’t it true that the fee is waived if you use the pass 3 times a month?

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