Friday, September 25, 2009

No Free Ride On ICC

If it's not soaring gas prices, it's something else. WaPo warned of big tolls ahead for those of us who hoped to take advantage of Montgomery County's east-west Intercounty Connector now under construction.

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Drivers using the Intercounty Connector could pay toll rates of up to 35 cents per mile during peak commuting times, amounting to a maximum toll of $2.35 for the projected average trip on the new highway in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, according to a state proposal released Wednesday.

Those who drive the entire 18.8 miles of the six-lane highway between Gaithersburg and Laurel would pay up to $6.15 during peak times -- from 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. -- according to the plan issued by the board of the Maryland Transportation Authority, which will operate the ICC.

Tolls for two-axle vehicles would vary from 20 cents to 35 cents a mile, depending on the time of day. Those driving outside peak commute times would pay up to $2 to travel the projected average of six miles and as much as $5.30 for the entire route.

Larger trucks and tractor-trailers, which are projected to make up about 7 percent of all ICC traffic, would pay 60 cents to $2.63 a mile, depending on the time of day. A five-axle truck would pay a maximum toll of $36.85 to drive the entire highway during peak times.

The ICC will be the first toll road in Maryland to collect all fees electronically at regular highway speeds and the first to vary charges by the time of day, state officials said. It will have no tollbooths. Officials said they expect 95 percent of ICC users will be charged via electronic E-ZPass transponders. Vehicles without an E-ZPass will be photographed, and their owners will be mailed a bill for the toll plus a $3 surcharge.

Montgomery County Council President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), a longtime ICC opponent, said he thinks that his constituents will be shocked at the proposed toll rates. Those who commute between interstates 370 and 95 -- an estimated one-quarter of all ICC users, according to the state's analysis -- could be charged up to $11.20 round-trip daily. That could amount to more than $2,400 a year, he said.

"For many workers, that would be unaffordable," Andrews said. "These tolls are so high they would create an exclusionary road for people whose taxes were used to pay for it."

Louis Campion, a spokesman for the state's trucking industry, said many truck drivers would welcome the option of paying a toll to avoid the Capital Beltway, which many prefer to smaller local roads.

"The Beltway provides the safest alternative for truck traffic, but the congestion is dramatic," said Campion, senior vice president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association. "The ICC will provide a safe alternative" to the Beltway.

The proposed toll range is now subject to a 60-day public comment period. The authority's board is scheduled to vote on a final plan Dec. 17.

The east-west highway, which is estimated to cost $2.56 billion to build, is expected to fully open between the Interstate 270 and Route 1 corridors in spring 2012. The first 7.2-mile segment, between I-270 and Georgia Avenue, is scheduled to open next fall.

Although some toll rates on other highways throughout the country can change from minute to minute to keep traffic free-flowing by raising prices during congested periods, for example if backups occur from a crash, the ICC toll rates will not have that flexibility.

If the highway becomes too crowded, Maryland officials said, they would increase the toll rates within the approved range. However, they said, they would issue a 10-day notice to the public before doing so. If they decide the road has become so jammed that they need to increase rates beyond the maximum in the range, they would propose a toll range that would then go out for a new 60-day public comment period, and the board would have to approve any changes.

"We will be monitoring that very closely," said Ronald L. Freeland, the authority's executive secretary.

Freeland said the authority also will monitor whether the times for peak tolls need to be adjusted to combat commuter congestion. Electronic signs will alert drivers to the per-mile rate being charged at the time they enter the highway, he said.

Toll revenues are key to the state's federally approved financial plan to cover the highway's $2.56 billion construction costs. Of that, $1.23 billion is being financed with 30-year bonds backed by tolls collected on the ICC, Maryland's portion of I-95 and six toll bridges and tunnels throughout the state.

Public comments are being accepted until 5 p.m. Nov. 23. The state will hold two public information meetings and two public hearings on the toll proposal in October. Information is available at

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