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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Some of the region's best bloggers share work on the All Opinions Are Local blog. Below, one of last week's posts.

How the ICC will change Maryland

The first phase of Maryland's newest superhighway, the intercounty connector, will open to traffic on Feb. 22, running between Gaithersburg and Georgia Avenue. Once that happens, Montgomery County will never quite be the same.

On one hand, it's clear that east-west trips will be a lot easier for drivers. The Interstate 270 and Georgia Avenue corridors are close geographically, but worlds apart psychologically. By stitching them together, the ICC will make Montgomery County a more coherent whole. It will divert some of the development pressure along the fast-growing I-270 corridor to the east, which will lead to more equitable development around the county and probably reduce sprawl in the Clarksburg/Urbana area.

On the other hand, there are costs. Oh, there are costs. And not just monetary, although the money is substantial. The ICC has been so expensive to build that Maryland is almost totally reliant on federal funds that may never come for the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway and the Baltimore Red Line. By prioritizing the ICC, Maryland put all three of those projects in danger, not to mention a lot of smaller highway projects around the state.

And then there's the traffic. All new highways induce more driving, which is ultimately the cause of traffic congestion. With the ICC in place, more people will drive more often over longer distances. Eventually, congestion will be worse rather than better.

So at the end of the day, the ICC is a really expensive way to slow down sprawl a little bit but to increase traffic while doing so. It's far from the worst highway that's ever been built, but it's also far from the most efficient way for Maryland to have spent its limited dollars. Other projects in other places could have slowed down sprawl and reduced traffic, at less cost.

But it sure will be fun to cruise that new asphalt the first time.

Dan Malouff, BeyondDC

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