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Posted at 11:26 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011

How the ICC will change Maryland

By Dan Malouff

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 of federal funds that may never come for the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway and 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 is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Dan Malouff  | February 8, 2011; 11:26 AM ET
Categories:  Baltimore, HotTopic, Local blog network, Maryland, Montgomery County, traffic, transportation  
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I welcome the ICC-it is long over due,and will help many . I wish a light rail that would connect to Metor could be built along side of the road.

Posted by: soccerhead | February 8, 2011 1:03 PM | Report abuse

The problem with your argument on induced growth is that, of course, it would lead one to conclude no roads are, or were, ever justifiable. Therefore your formulation is incorrect.
A road can serve to reduce the strains on already grossly over-capacity road segments, such as we have here. Some induced growth may result, but the greatest effect will be on restoring functionality to road segments that currently earn failing grades on a daily basis.
And growth will occur anyway. Roads "induce" it to go to one place or another, but it would come anyway.

Posted by: krickey7 | February 8, 2011 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Krickey, That's right. Roads don't induce "growth", they induce "traffic". The growth is coming to the region one way or another, but infrastructure investments (among other things) direct where and how that growth happens.

Posted by: Cirrus42 | February 8, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

What this will do is take some of the strain off the Beltway. The stretch between 270 and 95 is so overtaxed that delays there caused by the big merge can back up as far as Tysons. A lot of the traffic now will take the ICC and merge safely onto I-95 north of Greenbelt rather than have to deal with the traffic coungealing curves of the Beltway.

What other commenters have stated is true. Growth happens anyway. People want to live around here. Not building infrastructure to discourage them is no answer. Perhaps we should decide to build no further sewer lines? That will stop people, right? right?

We are not going back to cowpaths, Mr. Malouff. What we need to do is fast-track such projects. If someone wants to file suit to block a project for four or five years, which is the reason why the ICC is so expensive, make them file a bond for any cost increases, which they forfeit if they lose. My guess is we'll see a lot fewer lawsuits.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 9, 2011 6:19 AM | Report abuse

Nemo24601 has it wrong. Even the Ehrlich administration never claimed that the ICC would reduce traffic on the Beltway. This is a common misconception. In fact, the ICC is too far north to make a dent in Beltway traffic. The official studies claimed instead that it would reduce traffic on local east-west roads; this reduction is of little value, however, because the majority of intersections studied would still have failing grades, and some north-south traffic (still the majority of commuting routes) are predicted to get worse.

Importantly, the studies stated that vehicle miles traveled in the area are expected to increase, meaning more people will be driving more miles once the ICC is finished than would have driven if it were not. The state actually considered this a benefit!

Anyway, it's easy to make blanket assertions about the ICC, but statements based on studies and facts carry more weight.

Posted by: thefrog5 | February 9, 2011 8:17 AM | Report abuse

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