Chamber, council member lobby for ICC toll reduction -- Gazette.Net


Sometimes when Montgomery County Councilman Philip M. Andrews drives on the Intercounty Connector, he feels like he is on a private highway.

“There are times when I don’t see any cars,” he said. “It’s almost like a private road or airport runway.”

Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg and some others want to see ICC tolls substantially reduced to help increase use and thus provide more traffic relief for commuters who don’t use the tollway.

The 18-mile ICC opened from Interstate 370 in Montgomery County to Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County roughly two years ago.

The cost for a two-axle vehicle, including most cars and light trucks, between I-370 and I-95 is $8 for a round trip during the peak period, which is from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.

The off-peak round-trip price is $6.40. The round-trip cost between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. goes down to $3.20.

For tractor-trailers that have five axles, the round-trip peak cost escalates to $48, or $38.40 for non-peak times. If a vehicle has six or more axles, the round-trip peak cost goes up to $60.

The Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce is among those lobbying to see tolls reduced.

“The road was not built to raise revenue,” said Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the chamber. “The road was built to alleviate traffic and help mobility. If we can increase the number of people using the ICC, the better mobility we can have.”

Regular commuters on the Bay Bridge now can get a discount to use that bridge, but there are no similar discounts in place for the ICC, Andrews noted. He said he has asked the state transportation authority to cut toll rates in about half.

“We’re losing folks who could be commuting on the ICC every day,” said Andrews, who is running for county executive next year.

A study by Cambridge, Mass., engineering firm CDM Smith released by the Maryland Transportation Authority, the state agency that manages the ICC, concluded that reducing toll rates across-the-board by 50 percent would increase expected traffic volume by 21 percent in 2015.

But anticipated revenue would decline by 33 percent in 2015, to $43.7 million, from the expected $65.1 million in 2015.

The ICC is designed to provide “relatively congestion-free travel” for years and not designed to reach capacity until 2030, said James T. Smith Jr., MTA chairman. The tollway is in a “ramping up” period, but average weekday traffic volumes have still grown about 75 percent since the ICC opened all the way to I-95, he said.

Between July 2012 and June 2013, about 17.2 million trips were made on the tollway, up almost 50 percent from the 11.6 million trips made during fiscal 2012, according to the MTA.

Total revenue reached $39.59 million in fiscal 2013, slightly more than the revised projection of $39.56 million, according to the MDTA. In fiscal 2012, some $19.7 million was collected, better than the projected $18.7 million.

The projections are significantly below the ones given to state legislators in 2005, when they agreed to increase debt to build the ICC, Andrews said.

“They set the bar so low, they can step over it,” he said.

Construction on the ICC began in 2007 and the leg to Route 28 opened in February 2011. The portion to I-95 opened in November 2011.

An extension to U.S. 1 is slated to be completed by next spring.