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Montgomery, Md., council opposes highway toll plan

County Council President Phil Andrews
County Council President Phil Andrews (Katherine Frey - The Washington Post)
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By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend against toll rates proposed for the Intercounty Connector, saying the tolls would be too expensive for many motorists and would leave the highway with too few users to justify its costs.

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The council's letter to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which will operate the ICC, also will suggest that toll rates be phased in for motorists using the first segment, which is scheduled to open between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue in fall 2010. Frequent users of the six-lane highway should be offered a discount, the council said.

"Now that it's being built, I want it to be used," said County Council President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), a longtime ICC opponent. "We want all people to have access to it. It's a public highway, not a private road."

The vote came during the authority's public comment period on the toll plan. The authority board is scheduled to vote on the proposal Dec. 17.

Under the plan, drivers of two-axle vehicles would pay 25 to 35 cents a mile during peak morning and evening commute times and 20 to 30 cents a mile during non-peak times. A one-way rush-hour trip between Gaithersburg and Laurel would cost as much as $6.15. The ICC toll rates would be the highest in the region. State officials say they would be in line with tolls on newer toll roads across the country.

David W. Chapin, a senior policy analyst for the authority, told the council that tolls should be low enough to attract enough vehicles to generate sufficient revenue but high enough to ensure that the highway remains a reliable, free-flowing alternative to jammed local roads.

Toll revenue is critical because almost half of the 18.8-mile highway's $2.56 billion in construction costs is being financed through 30-year bonds whose debt service will be paid for with that income. Because the ICC's tolls are not expected to generate enough money to cover both the road's operating costs and its debt service, toll revenue from other Maryland highways and bridges will help pay for the ICC, Chapin said.

Public comments on the proposed toll rates will be accepted in writing until 5 p.m. Nov. 23. Comments can be mailed to ICC Project Management Office, ATTN: ICC Tolls, 11710 Beltsville Dr., Suite 200, Beltsville, Md. 20705, or e-mailed to tolls@iccproject.com. Information is available at http://www.iccproject.com.


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