Would You Travel on a Road that Cost Over $166M/Mile to Build?

Commentary by State Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)

The Intercounty Connector (ICC) has three distinctions. It is the most expensive public works project in the state's history that we will be paying for until 2020. It will have tolls among the highest in the nation. And more than 60% of Marylanders will never travel on it.

The ICC is a $2.56 billion, 6-lane 18.8 mile toll highway between Montgomery and Prince George's County (I-270 and I-95). Nearly half of the cost is financed by borrowed money, which includes $1.2 billion in Maryland Transportation Administration (MdTA) revenue bonds Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans, which will be paid off with toll revenue from the ICC and other MdTA facilities. The ICC exceeds the state legal limit of $1.9 billion on outstanding MdTA revenue bonds. By 2012, the outstanding bonds will total $2.9 billion, exceeding the limit by $1 billion.

The ICC funding includes $750 Million worth of GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds. GARVEE bonds are backed by an agreement to deduct money from future federal payments to pay bondholders. In short, by relying on GARVEEs, the state is relinquishing future federal transportation dollars. While a few other states have issued GARVEEs, no state has issued them for such a large amount and not for a single project.

The ICC combines a reckless degree of borrowing and irresponsible fiscal planning which will cripple our ability to pay for Maryland's statewide transportation needs, such as replacement of the Calvert and St. Mary's County's Thomas Johnson Bridge and Charles County's Nice Bridge. I have opposed the ICC and voted against its construction.

However, the ICC is here - or almost here. The first 7.2 mile segment will open in fall 2010, and the full 18.8 mile highway will open in spring 2012.

With this upscale highway will come upscale tolls, which low and many middle-income people will be strained to pay. Rates proposed in September will have motorists traveling round trip between interstates 270 and 95 during rush hours pay up to $11.20. According to the recommendations, state officials say trips are expected to average 6.6 miles, amounting to a maximum toll of $2.35 for passenger vehicles in peak hours and $2 during non-peak hours. Fewer than 5% are expected to drive the entire highway between the I-370 and Route 1, which would amount to a maximum of $6.15 each way during peak hours. About 25% of ICC users will travel between I-270 and I-95 corridors paying a maximum of $5.60 each way during rush hours. After a 60-day public comment period, the Maryland Transportation Authority board is slated to vote on the final toll plan on December 17.

As I see it, the ICC, at a construction cost of $133 million a mile, will probably prove to be Maryland's monumental boondoggle. Adding insult to injury, according to traffic studies, the ICC will not solve Montgomery County's traffic congestion woes. It will not unclog the capital Beltway nor will it empty I-270. We know that the ICC will do. It will make it impossible for the State to fund the urgent transportation and bridge needs of rural Maryland, especially Southern Maryland.

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