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ICC tolls spark local debate

Sunday - 12/16/2012, 2:12pm  ET

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Since the ICC opened from I-270/I-370 in Shady Grove to I- 95 in Laurel in November 2011, it has been a lightly traveled toll road. Most times of the day, commuters can zip across the 18.8 mile roadway without any traffic.

Earlier this month, Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews wrote a letter to the Maryland Transportation Authority, saying that it was being underused and calling for a trial period with tolls cut in half.

"The high tolls to use the ICC are the major barrier to achieving greater use of the ICC, not a lack of awareness that the road exists," Andrews wrote in the Dec. 5 letter.

During rush hour, drivers pay a maximum of $8 round trip, while trucks pay $36.

According to the Maryland Transportation Authority, 35,000 drivers used the ICC on the I-270/370 end and 26,000 used it on the I-95 side in September.

"The ICC feels more like driving on a runway at an airport than it does on a major highway," Andrews told ABC7.

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin agrees with Andrews on the matter.

"When you make the tolls as much as they are, it becomes a factor on using that road," Cardin told a group of Montgomery County lawmakers at a lunch event last week.

Cardin also recommended a study on the tolls versus the use on the ICC.

However, the Maryland Transportation Authority says the traffic volume is consistent with where they projected it would be.

In October, the Transportation Authority announced it was $1 million ahead of toll revenue projections and was adding about 3 percent more drivers per month.

Gus Bauman, who chaired a Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding last year, also disagrees with Andrews.

"I did notice his letter was signed by none of his colleagues," says Bauman. "The councilman has always been opposed to the InterCounty Connector."

He points out, like the Transportation Authority, that the ICC was built to handle traffic flow in 2030, meaning it was built bigger than necessary for 2012.

"People forget that when the interstates opened, like the Beltway, they were wide open for years. The Capital Beltway in the 1960s and 1970s were wide open, you could whip around that thing at day or night and it was no big deal. It was built for the future, like the ICC," says Bauman, who likens the ICC to WMATA.

So when will people be convinced to use the ICC?

"When they realize that they can save 30 minutes and pay $3 for it. It's a question of how they price their time," says Bauman.

The likelihood of tolls being cut in half appears unlikely.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it carefully made the calculation based on bond requirements that they used to build the roadway and any change to the tolls cannot jeopardize that obligation.

Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, tells WTOP that Leggett is not really involved in Andrews' proposal.

Lacefield would not comment on whether Leggett endorses it, but questions any plan to eliminate ICC tolls altogether.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Tags: icctollsmarylandtraffic