Silver Chips Online

Inter-county disconnect

The ICC is not the answer to the county's traffic problems

By Rachita Sood, Online Editor-in-Chief
February 8, 2007
Every workday, thousands of commuters sit through miles of gridlock, crawling along the area's clogged local roads and highways as they face hour long drives to work. The Intercounty Connecter (ICC), a proposed six-lane, 18-mile highway, aims to alleviate this congestion by providing a traffic free east-west route between I-270 in Montgomery County and U.S. Route 1 in Prince George's County. The roadway has been the subject of furious debate since the idea was first conceived in the 1950s, inciting widespread opposition up until the scheduled start of construction this spring. While a need for transportation reform exists, the ICC will fail to effectively reduce congestion, will do irreparable damage to the environment and will eat up billions of dollars that can be spent on better alternatives.

The ICC aims to funnel traffic away from local east-west roads, alleviating congestion and decreasing the number of accidents on these roads. But the ICC will do a poor job of reducing traffic because of the increased development that the highway will spur. According to a 2005 study by the national nonprofit organization Environmental Defense, there will be a 33 to 45 percent increase in expansion, or some 5,000 new acres of development around the ICC, that will bring more cars to the region's already overflowing roadways. Several studies, including the 2004 federally commissioned ICC study conducted by the Maryland State Highway Administration show that the increased development will lead to the ICC having no impact on congestion levels on the Capital Beltway (I-495), I-270 and I-95, three of the area's worst traffic nightmares.

Another flaw in the project is that ICC users will be expected to pay tolls. Although there are thriving tolled highways in the country, the concept will not work for the ICC because only five percent of users are projected to travel the whole length of the highway, according to the Highway Administration study. Many travelers who will only need to use a small portion of the highway may be deterred by the tolls and instead choose to travel on local roads.

The ICC will inflict extensive environmental damage to the region's parks and air quality. Although the highway includes features such as bridges and narrow medians to mitigate environmental damage, the ICC will still pass through six regional parks, destroying hundreds of acres of forests, streams, wetlands and animal habitats along the way. In addition, the vehicles added by development around the ICC will negatively affect the region's air quality by filling the air with harmful greenhouse gases. These gases have been shown to increase the risk of respiratory illnesses in people living close to highways, a relevant problem because the ICC threatens to tear through residential neighborhoods.

Many of the ICC's strongest opponents are the people living in these neighborhoods, who have formed numerous community organizations against the highway. According to social studies teacher Rondai Ravilious, whose neighborhood lies in the path of the ICC, much of the residents' opposition comes from concern over the practicality of the highway. With its detrimental effects on the environment and its likelihood to increase traffic, the ICC is viewed as a foolish solution to the area's traffic problems.

At a cost of $2.4 billion, the largest of any transportation project in Maryland history, the ICC takes money away from several viable alternatives that are cheaper and less harmful to the environment. Such alternatives include making improvements to public transit, planning future development to center around public transit, making improvements to existing roads and converting some highway lanes to toll lanes. A 2005 study commissioned by several environmental agencies and conducted by the independent consulting firm Smart Growth Inc. compared four combinations of such alternatives to the ICC using traffic simulations and found that each package of alternatives led to less traffic in the region.

The ICC is a harmful and costly mistake. The massive highway will create increased growth, adding more cars to our sagging roads and more pollutants to our saturated air. In a time when global warming and limited oil are relevant issues, a sprawling highway is the wrong solution to the region's traffic problems. The state should drop the ICC project and consider the countless viable alternatives that will be cheaper, more effective at reducing congestion and less harmful to the environment.

A study of alternatives
The 2005 study "The Intercounty Connector: Performance and Alternatives" conducted by Smart Growth Inc. compared the following six alternatives:
No Build: The state does not construct the ICC.
ICC Build: The state constructs the ICC as planned.
Transit Oriented Land Use and Investment: The state constructs additional transit, improves local roads and increases transit oriented development.
Add Toll Lanes-Express Bus: The state converts some lanes on I-270, I-495 and I-95 to toll lanes and builds additional toll lanes, allowing express bus service on these lanes.
Convert to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes-Express Bus: The state converts some freeway lanes to toll lanes where vehicles with more than three passengers are not charged and allows for express bus service on these lanes. No new lanes are constructed.
Transit Oriented-HOT Lane-Rail Express Bus The state combines a mix of the previous three alternatives.
The study measured each alternative's effectiveness under several criteria including vehicle miles traveled, amount of traffic on local roads and public health impacts. According to the executive summary of the study, Smart Growth Inc. found that "all of the alternatives to doing nothing performed better than the ICC on most measures." The ICC "consistently ranked at or near the bottom" and was the only alternative that led to increased air pollution.

http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/7213