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A dozen people speak at Intercounty Connector toll hearing

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By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009

If motorists are irked by the fact that the tolls they could pay to drive on the Intercounty Connector would be among the highest in the nation, they're not speaking up.

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About a dozen people testified Wednesday night at a public hearing on the proposed toll rates for the 18.8-mile highway under construction between Gaithersburg and Laurel.

The Maryland Transportation Authority's board has proposed rush-hour tolls of 25 to 35 cents a mile for two-axle vehicles from 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Off-peak rates for two-axle vehicles would range from 20 to 30 cents a mile. The largest trucks would pay as much as $2.63 a mile during peak hours, according to the proposal.

"This is an anti-working-family proposal," Thomas E. Dernoga, vice chairman of the Prince George's County Council, said at the hearing at High Point High School in Beltsville. "It is an anti-working-family road."

Dernoga said lower-income motorists from Prince George's "will be stuck on the Beltway while people coming down from Howard County and Anne Arundel County in their Lexuses are on the Intercounty Connector."

Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's) asked the board to offer discount tolls to motorists who live near the highway.

"My constituents can't afford this road," Frush said. "Quite frankly, we find that this road is beyond our means."

A round trip between interstates 370 and 95 during the peak commute times would cost $8 to $11.20 daily, according to the proposal. State officials said they predict the average ICC trip would be 6.6 miles, which, for a two-axle vehicle, would cost $1.65 to $2.35 each way during the peak and $1.35 to $2 each way during non-peak hours.

The proposed rates would be among the highest tolls charged in the country. Toll rates across the United States typically vary from 2 to 25 cents a mile, according to AAA. Washington area motorists pay 9 cents a mile on the Dulles Toll Road and 10 cents a mile on Maryland's tolled portion of Interstate 95 north of Baltimore. The next-most-expensive in the region would be the Dulles Greenway's peak toll, which amounts to 28.5 cents a mile.

State transportation officials say the proposed ICC tolls are comparable to those on newer roads, including two toll highways in Colorado and three in California, whose maximum peak rates vary from 27 to 37 cents a mile.

Some longtime ICC critics say the toll rates illustrate that the $2.56 billion highway is too expensive. Maryland financed $1.23 billion of the ICC's construction costs by issuing bonds that must be paid back -- with interest and on time. A consultant's report from September found that toll rates of 30 cents a mile during peak times and 25 cents a mile at non-peak times resulted in "near maximum toll revenue potential" from passenger vehicles in 2012.

State officials have said the tolls will be collected electronically -- there will be no stopping at toll booths -- via EZ-Pass transponders. Vehicles that don't have transponders will be mailed a toll bill, plus a $3 surcharge, based on a video image of the license plate.


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