Md. board expected to back Intercounty Connector toll plan

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Toll rates for the Intercounty Connector of up to 35 cents per mile for two-axle vehicles are likely to become final Thursday morning, when the board of the Maryland Transportation Authority is scheduled to vote on the road's proposed toll plan.

Authority officials said late Wednesday that the board is expected to approve the plan.

The rates, which would vary between 20 and 35 cents a mile for two-axle vehicles depending on the time of day, would be the highest in the Washington region and among the most expensive in the country.

Reaction to the plan has been relatively muted, with only a couple of dozen people turning up at each of the two public hearings. Most said the rates were too high and would discourage them from using the six-lane, 18.8-mile highway under construction between Gaithersburg and Laurel.

Of the 380 public comments that the authority received during the 60-day comment period that ended Nov. 23, 74 percent said the rates were too high, said Cheryl Sparks, a spokeswoman for the authority. The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously last month to object to the toll plan, saying the rates were too expensive. Authority officials have said the proposed rates are comparable to other recently built toll roads across the country.

The authority's nine-member board, which is appointed by the governor, might not have much choice but to pass the plan. The authority, which will operate the highway after its first segment opens -- scheduled for fall 2010 -- must charge rates low enough to attract motorists but high enough to keep the ICC a free-flowing alternative to congested local roads.

A consultant's report from September found that the proposed rates would strike that balance and result in "near maximum toll revenue potential," which the authority needs to pay off $1.23 billion in bonds that it sold to help build the $2.56 billion road. Even so, authority officials have said, the ICC's toll revenue is not expected to be enough to cover those costs, requiring collections from other Maryland toll bridges and tunnels to help cover the bonds' debt service.

Peak rates, which would be charged from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m., would be 25 to 35 cents per mile for two-axle vehicles.

The maximum one-way cost to travel the full length of the highway would be $6.15. The estimated average trip of 6.6 miles would cost up to $2.35. Off-peak rates would range from 20 to 30 cents per mile, making a full-length trip up to $5.30 each way.

Five-axle trucks would be charged up to $2.10 per mile during peak times, costing their drivers up to $36.85 to travel the highway's full length each way during rush hours.

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