Talk about getting the attention of voters in the Maryland suburbs: The two candidates for Maryland governor told The Washington Post this week that they would reconsider the toll rates on the Intercounty Connector, the 3-year-old highway between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties that has drawn motorist complaints for high tolls.
Some critics attribute the road’s relatively empty feel to the fact that many motorists don’t want to pay, or can’t afford, the tolls. Those who don’t want to pay remain stuck on the Capital Beltway and crowded side roads.
But don’t get too excited yet. Lowering ICC tolls would be costly — both financially and politically — for any future governor.
Passenger vehicles pay $4 each way to drive the entire length between I-370 and I-95 during the morning or evening rush, while the largest trucks are charged up to $30 one-way for rush-hour tolls.
“I think [the toll rate structure] is worth reviewing because we certainly want to ensure we’re getting optimal utilization of the ICC,” said Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor.
Republican Larry Hogan declined an interview about his transportation platform, but a campaign spokeswoman said lowering ICC toll rates would allow more motorists to use it.
“By reducing tolls during peak hours, we will increase usage and reduce congestion on other roads,” Hogan spokewoman Hannah Marr wrote in an e-mail. “Increased usage will enable the state to meet its bond obligations” to pay off the highway’s construction debt.
Campaign chatter aside, however, lowering tolls would be financially and politically difficult for any governor.
A 2013 study by a consultant for the Maryland Transportation Authority found that lowering the ICC tolls would increase traffic but not enough to offset the overall toll revenue losses. The ICC’s toll revenues are critical because they help pay off massive debt that the authority took on to finance construction of the $2.5 billion highway, the most expensive road ever built in the state.
Lowering tolls on the ICC also could anger motorists on Maryland’s other toll facilities because their toll revenues also subsidize those ICC debt payments. Maryland motorists statewide have faced two toll increases in the past three years — tolls on some facilities have doubled — after state officials said they needed money to repair aging roads, tunnels and bridges and to help pay off construction debt on the ICC and $1 billion worth of express toll lanes on I-95 north of Baltimore.
Bottom line: Lowering tolls for ICC motorists would end up costing other drivers statewide more — not exactly a voter-rich idea beyond the Washington suburbs.