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Inter-County Divider

Spring is a good time to check in on one of the eternal verities of the Washington area: The fact that in a place where most people insist that traffic is one of the most devilish problems in their lives, there is nothing remotely like consensus over what to do about it.

The congestion conundrum is especially evident in Virginia these days, where the legislature has tied itself up in fruitless negotiations over how to pay for improvements to roads in the two or three most heavily trafficked parts of the state. (The rest of the state is so spread out and traffic-free that they generally don't give a damn about our woes in northern Virginia.)

But it's instructive during the Virginia tie-up to look across the Potomac to Maryland and the never-ending battle over the Inter-County Connector, the four-decade-old plan to build a highway across northern Montgomery and a bit of Prince George's to link I-270 with I-95 and create a second east-west alternative to local streets. In theory, this would relieve the Beltway of some traffic, while also freeing up those local streets.

But study after study have found that the ICC would actually provide next to no relief on the Beltway and precious little on local streets. Still, the state and Gov. Bobby Haircut, who has made getting the highway started his #1 goal for the Washington suburbs, insist that while other roads might not feel relief from the new highway, the ICC would nonetheless be a huge benefit because it would spare those other roads from a good chunk of the future traffic growth that would otherwise turn congestion into paralysis.

Now comes a new poll, conducted by the Mason-Dixon polling operation though commissioned by anti-ICC environmental and smart growth groups, that shows once again that the more people know about the limitations of the ICC, the less inclined they are to pay $3 billion to build a road that is but 18 miles long.

If you tell folks that the ICC won't really do much to relieve congestion--surprise suprise--55 percent of them will say that they think maybe it's not the best idea. But of course if you just say hey, do you want a new highway to ease traffic, most folks say, Sure, we have to do something.

So these polls are of limited value. But the fact that this debate has dragged on for 40 years should tell us something, and the fact that this highway may get going solely because a governor has put everything he has into getting this one big project off the ground on the eve of his reelection campaign is not exactly an encouraging reason to be sanguine about the situation. Never mind that plenty of other politicians have joined Ehrlich in this effort, including the county executive and gubernatorial challenge, Doug Duncan. The fact remains that the ICC has become the classic case of the wildly bloated government project that all pols of all parties should oppose on those grounds alone. When a simple road of just 18 miles is projected to cost more than $3 billion, something has gone terribly wrong, and in this case, it's what happens when you spend four decades studying something and reworking it to fit a thousand different little objections.

So the road has all manner of bridges and overpasses and other protections for every imaginable critter and plant and nearby residential section and so on, all of which add up to obscene price bloat. The project should be killed on those grounds alone.

The ICC is a monument to the idea that it is pretty much impossible to retrofit a densely populated area with a major road. Sufficient or easily expandable roads must be part of planning when communities are built. Montgomery County needs traffic relief, but as the anti-ICC forces argue, that must come in the form of simpler retrofits--the Purple Line light rail for Metro, expansion of some existing roads, and changes in patterns of development to focus more on the areas around Metro stations.

But the governor is intent on breaking ground for the ICC before this fall's election. And there isn't an opposing candidate on the scene who opposes the ICC. Another chapter in the sorry saga of dormant democracy.

By Marc Fisher |  April 10, 2006; 7:58 AM ET
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Comments

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Marc:

Could you fill us in on where things stand re the ICC now? You say that the Guv is eager to get it built, but what, if anything has to happen (bureaucratically, legislatively, or whatever) before that can happen?

Of, taking things from the other direction, what, if anything stands between the Guv and construction of the ICC?

Posted by: THS | April 10, 2006 9:39 AM

Thanks for getting this out there, Marc. You are right, when the results come out that the project will be 3 Billion dollars for 18 miles of road, some sane minds should say: "Stop Right Now, You are Nuts!!" I am not sure what the status is right now for the accompanying hiker-biker trail, but it is worthwhile to point out that that citizen-friendly add-on was taken out of the plan once already on the basis of cost. As Dave Barry would say: "I am not making this up." Does the state have a good track record of accurately predicting the costs of a project this size? I doubt it, and a 10 percent error here would mean 300 Million dollars!! One other thing you forgot to mention in the polling, etc. was that this will be a pretty expensive toll road. Marylanders love toll roads, don't they? I think that it is pretty clear that we need to slow this thing down until at least after the election. If Ehrlich wins again, then it probably cannot be stopped, but to kick off a 3 Billion dollar project on your way out of the State House is almost criminally irresponsible.
peace,
jim

Posted by: jim preston | April 10, 2006 9:42 AM

I'm not buying these study after studies. I live in NOVa, so my dog isn't in this fight, but are you really saying that no one travelling South on 95 wouldn't use the ICC to get to 270? No one?

Face it people, the DC area is going to continue to get more and more congested. And it is all those people coming here who have driven up your property values two and three fold the last couple of years. You can keep screaming no new growth, no new roads, but all you will be left with is new growth without sufficient roads.

The most environmentally responsible way we can respond to the inmigration to the DC area is to develop the inner suburbs as densely as possible, so that fewer people needed to dig up farms in Hartford County or West VA just to live.

Posted by: Marc-fan | April 10, 2006 10:30 AM

Please dry your tears and try to find some other project to obstruct. Anti-road NIMBYs have lost countless rounds but continue to fight. They remind me of the knight in Monty Python who has both legs and both arms chopped off but continues to goad his opponent. You lost. Get over it.

If you're really interested in something to study, look into the racial composition of the areas near the east and west ends of the ICC and the opposition to the road in Montgomery County and decide if there is racial bias involved in fighting the ICC. Who doesn't want who having easy access to good jobs in Gaithersburg and Rockville?

Posted by: Mike from Burtonsville | April 10, 2006 11:04 AM

Mike from Burtonsville: the road is not built yet, so you can't say the anti-road people have lost. Just like the old saying, "its not over till the fat lady sings". But I understand your frustration on the issue. Regarding the racial issue, you should meet with Frankey from a couple of days ago. You two can come up with some real good theories. Let me know how it goes.

Posted by: Mike from DC | April 10, 2006 11:32 AM

Ehrlich is being pressured to support the ICC from Doug Duncan and his supporters. Of course, you won't see any negative reporting on Doug Duncan...the WP's poster child!!!

Posted by: Fred | April 10, 2006 12:06 PM

Mike from Burtonsville, your comments are off the mark. The Prince George's County Council is on record as unanimously opposing the ICC. There are many good reasons to oppose the Intercounty Connector, but racism is not one of them.

In the aim of reducing traffic congestion, one of our goals should be to reduce commutes, both in terms of time and distance. Encouraging commuting from homes in Prince George's County to jobs in Gaithersburg is the wrong approach. We should try to promote the growth of jobs near Prince George's Metro stations, so that people would not have to drive all that distance to work. This is what Marc means by "...changes in patterns of development to focus more on the areas around Metro stations."

The state's study shows that the ICC would increase vehicle miles traveled in the area by 20 percent (versus no ICC). This would be a step in the wrong direction for the region. We need to encourage transit use by making it more convenient and affordable; we need to encourage telecommuting and flexible work schedules; we need to plan development carefully so that fewer people would need to commute long distances; and we need to fund targeted intersection improvements and better traffic signal timing. These are the most sensible ways to reduce traffic congestion, not building a six-lane, $3 billion toll highway.

Posted by: RP | April 10, 2006 12:16 PM

Would that denser urban/suburban development stops the continued development in more rural areas! Unfortunately, development in Maryland occurs seemingly for the sake of development. The rezoning and subdivision of property in Maryland is controlled at the local levels of government, a big reason why Smart Growth in Maryland has failed to make the kind of impacted many folks hoped it would. What logic those local governments consider in a given permit or rezoning application depend upon the circumstance. But is it not a possibility that the local boards responsible don't give nearly the same kind of credence to region-wide needs as much as their counties' own economic development and tax-base needs? Don't think more distant counties want to realize the kind of property tax revenue potential that sprawling McMansions can bring in? As long as they can require the developers to construct the essential non-school infrastructure needed for the new communities (e.g., sewer/septic, roads and nearby improvements, runoff collection areas), the counties get to enjoy claiming to be home to exclusive new communities, and then use that the either entice fine corporate enterprises to relocate to those locales, or to entice the execs who work at those enterprises to live in their wonderful, quiet, serene white-pickett-fenced/3-acred property bedroom communities.

Think they care how people get to or from? Probably just enough to make sure that they come in the first place, not enough to keep them happy with the place 5-10 years out when school overcrowd and 2-lanes roads logjam. At that point though, elected local leaders have already made it through to their next terms, or up the political ladder into state politics, unscathed.

Wasn't there once a time when Gaithersburg, heck even Rockville and definitely Burtonsville, were considered the boondocks? But as long as the DC metro and Baltimore metro areas continue to grow and even overlap, people living will crave the standard of living they once had and will move to more remote places to get it.

Toll road or no, and costs be damned. Ehrlich & Co. are shrewd enough to know that demand the road now may be low, but that their road will accomodate future demand once developers gooble up prime real estate located near the ICC's determined route. And the future residents aren't likely to be ones riding Metro in the 1st place, rather the ones who'll drive their Lexus, Benz, or BMWs into their private garages downtown or their suburban corporate campuses on what, by their standards, would easily affordable, low-congestion, ICC toll-road. Same folks that are working to bring you Lexus lanes are intent on brining you Maryland's 1st Lexus highway.

Posted by: PJS | April 10, 2006 12:19 PM

Marc, I'm dismayed that you're drinking the anti-highway Kool-aid. The anti-ICC folks only pretend to care about traffic and they don’t know squat about it. They certainly don’t understand that mobility is the key to economic vitality and job access in this region. I respect their concern for the environment, but they're ethically challenged and their claims that are full of holes. The road doesn't cost $3 billion, it costs $2.4 billion, half of which will be paid by users by tolls, not taxpayers. Variable tolls will keep congestion down and bring in cash long after the road is paid for. The opponents actually love tolls too (to discourage driving). But they disingenuously complain about ICC tolls to sway public opinion. The opponents insinuate with clever rhetoric that the ICC will increase local road congestion, when it will in fact reduce it a lot (ask them about Georgia Ave). The opponents' push poll, which only polled Democrats, is the worst ethical lapse of all. It made several misleading negative statements about the road (including the $3 billion figure and statements about local traffic relief) while saying nothing positive about the road at all, and then asked "what do you think now?" These same opponents once attacked a poll that only asked "do you support the ICC?" as biased. In fact the ICC will help unite the region by allowing more people to drive from Montgomery to Prince George's and vice versa for jobs, shopping, and other purposeful trips. It will add capacity, improve travel speeds, provide job access, help the economy, and greatly improve local road congestion. What if we'd applied the same logic to the Beltway or I-270 and canceled those roads? We'd have no mobility at all. Maryland would just be a snarled suburb of Fairfax.

Posted by: Gecko | April 10, 2006 12:23 PM

Forget the ICC what is TRUELY need to releive beltway congestion is a third major bridge across the Potomac around Leesburg.

Most of the beltway traffic is made up people that will eventually use 270 in MD or the Toll Rd and Rte 28 in VA.

Posted by: Nick | April 10, 2006 12:30 PM

If the ICC runs from Gaithersburg to PG how on earth does Gecko expect that to help Georgia Ave? I hope he doesn't mind paying at least $14/day plus gas and wear and tear on his car to use it - most of us won't be able to afford it.

Posted by: Kat, Silver Spring | April 10, 2006 12:40 PM

Gecko is fundamentally wrong in many ways. There are many of us who just don't like toll roads. It may not fit with his worldview, but it is true. There are also many of us who realize that 2.4 Billion can turn into 3 Billion pretty quickly, and pretty soon you're talking about real money, as Groucho might say. Does Gecko think that what the DC area needs is "more people driving from PG to Montgomery County for jobs, shopping, etc." ? Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid!

Posted by: jim preston | April 10, 2006 1:37 PM

I'm ambivalent about the ICC, but it's criminal that it's being cited as a replacement for the Purple Line, an entirely different (and needed) endeavor. None of the state or Montgomery County politicians have the cojones to back the Purple Line -- which will vastly improve suburb-to-suburb mobility -- because the line would go through a country club in Bethesda whose members include many big-money donors of both parties who don't want their privileged life to be interfered with. As usual in life, you can't beat the elite.

Posted by: Vincent | April 10, 2006 1:52 PM

The last election for county council was, at least in part, a referendum on whether new roads--especially the ICC-- should be built. The slate supporting the new roads won. Governor Ehrlich also took a strong position favoring the ICC, and he won. Doesn't the electoral process count for something?

Also, what makes you think that the Purple Line will be a "simpler retrofit?" It will generate the same NIMBY responses that the ICC has generated.

Posted by: Richard from Olney | April 10, 2006 2:03 PM

ICC? Metro? Potomac Bridge? Pathetic jokes. Try five bridges over the Potomac. And Metro to Gettysburg,Hagerstown, Annapolis, Baltimore, Manassas, Leesburg. Plus Metro loops, one around the beltway and two more further out. We need an outer beltway and a middle beltway. The Washington DC commuter infrastructure is a gaping wound from head to toe and the politicians sit around wondering to do with their single band-aid. When leaders start looking past their noses we can move forward. When you compare what our fathers did to build infrastructure and make this country great, it's embarrasing to call yourself an American. Build the ICC and don't stop there!

Posted by: hoodmeister | April 10, 2006 2:23 PM

Anyone that just accepts the idea that this (or any road) will simply "ease congestion" is being intellectually lazy.

If the ICC is a successful road (i.e. actually siphons some traffic from 495), it will only make the east-west trip more viable for MORE existing people.

The road will attract developers seeking to sell MORE to those commuters and will eventually attract MORE people to live along the corridor.

Let's drop the facade... this road is about GROWTH, not traffic reduction. The county, state and certain landowners stand to profit more from this road than focused growth around Metro so that's why this is being pushed.

As long as this area is growing, new and existing roads will only get more congested. Investing more in public transportations seems wiser to me but there's alot of money to be made in continued sprawl plus people actually actually seem to prefer more traffic (since they often support traffic-causing projects like this one).

Posted by: Tola from Longmead | April 10, 2006 2:32 PM

ICC? Big waste if you ask me. More highways=more traffic, and global warming.

Metro to BWI is a better investment if you ask me. Or that matter, a new tunnel under the river dedicated to the Orange line. But that would require regional cooperation.

www.dcbubble.blogspot.com

Posted by: dc bubble | April 10, 2006 3:32 PM

Let us be clear about a number of things:

1. The I.C.C. is being built SOLELY for developers. It is NOT being built to aleviate any traffic congestion (local or highway).

2. It is literally impossible to build enough roads to ease congestion. Those who imply that mass transit has failed to eliminate congestion are being disenguous. Mass transit can only minimize the percentage of people who are affected by congestion; it cannot eliminate congestion.

3. To promote smart growth, no further roads should be built -- or expanded -- until there are bus lines on all existing roads that suffer from congestion. Any new roads that are built must have a mass transit component.

4. To aleviate congestion, roads that are gridlocked must have two lanes reserved solely for buses during rush hour.

Posted by: Nat | April 10, 2006 3:32 PM

T. from Longmead - Adding road capacity doesn't make congesetion worse any more than adding checkout lines at the grocery store makes the lines longer. Adding capacity initially makes trips a lot faster, which in turn attracts more drivers (either new drivers or new residents who drive). But it doesn't attract so many drivers that congestion reaches prior levels, or else there'd be nothing to attract the extra drivers and residents in the first place. Don't take my word for it -- read Cervero, etc. So adding capacity lets more people go where they need to go while simultaneously easing congestion. Sure, other factors like global population growth might make congestion get worse, but you can't blame that on new roads.

Of course growth is part of the reason to build the ICC -- economic growth, in particular. Suburban mobility and congestion relief are huge reasons too. I can't imagine anyone living as far out as Longmeade embracing the car-free, anti-sprawl lifestyle many ICC opponents espouse.

Posted by: Gecko | April 10, 2006 4:14 PM

Gecko, your argument seems logical, but experts differ. See "Why are the roads so congested?" at this link:
http://www.transact.org/report.asp?id=63

Basically, the Surface Transportation Policy Project found that new roads encourage additional development and that traffic congestion results from sprawl.

In the case of the ICC, the state admits that vehicle miles traveled would be higher with the ICC than without it. More people driving more miles is bound to increase congestion in the long run.

Posted by: RP | April 10, 2006 4:36 PM

Nothing grinds me more than when you call Erlich "Gov. Bobby Haircut." He has attained a certain position in life, and whether or not you care for him, you should have some respect. You can write whatever you want about the good, bad, stupid, and even more stupid things he does, but this is a respectable paper and as a journalist you should never be name calling. Grow up.

Posted by: SS | April 10, 2006 5:22 PM

Since when is calling him "Bobby Haircut" name-calling? It's not like he's calling him "Bobby Moronface."

Posted by: Lindemann | April 10, 2006 6:47 PM

Go to Konterra.com if you want to see the real reason for the ICC Toll Road. Konterra is a planned new city with thousands of new homes, endless office buildings and a new regional mega-mall. Notice the map on the home page already showing the ICC Toll Road? So much development is planned for Konterra that, even with I-95 running right through, they can't build it without also having the ICC Toll Road. See the pictures of the ribbon cutting ceremony on the news page with Ehrlich and the other local politicians grinning from ear to ear? Bought and paid for by campaign contributions from Kingdon Gould, the Konterra developer, and his cronies.

ICC = IKC (Inter-Konterra Connector) = ICK!

Posted by: Dave | April 10, 2006 9:07 PM

Jim Preston, the point of Georgia Avenue is that anti-ICC groups are making erroneous statements about it. On the anti-ICC poll, one of the push questions claims SHA says the ICC will significantly increase congestion on Georgia Avenue, when in fact the FEIS says the ICC will reduce traffic on Georgia by a modest amount. Of course east-west roads will see a much greater congestion reduction. Overall, many more roads and intersections will see a decrease in congestion rather than an increase due to the ICC. But to hear the opponents talk you'd think the ICC was actually going to make local congestion worse.

The loss of the parallel bike trail is indeed very disappointing. SHA is planning to build only about 40% of the master-planned trail, leaving the rest for the counties to build along a horrid detour route. The trail is almost non-existent east of New Hampshire Avenue. Montgomery County has asked SHA to at least leave room right next to the highway for the trail to be built by the county later, but SHA isn't planning to do that.

P.S. for RP: STPP is an advocacy group, so their studies have no credibility. Try reading Robert Cervero, who is certainly no pro-road zealot.

Posted by: Gecko | April 10, 2006 11:33 PM

Marc is entitled to his name-calling, but his personal dislike of Ehrlich underscores the partisan element lurking in his traffic views. In the past, I've suggested in his chats that maybe Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (Democrats) don't need to continue to run up billion-dollar surpluses in Virginia -- supposedly for traffic relief -- when no one there has any actual plans for road improvements or any idea of what sorts of road construction might actually succeed in relieving traffic, and he's denounced me as a penny-pincher uninterested in smooth traffic flow. But when Ehrlich (Republican) proposes spending on traffic, Marc is all over him to justify exactly how every dollar will benefit the state. In other words, Marc's views are: Virginia Democrats taxing heavily for unspecified traffic spending --> load it on! Ehrlich spending money on traffic relief --> Bobby Haircut is a jerk!

Posted by: Tom T. | April 11, 2006 12:36 AM

"So the road has all manner of bridges and overpasses and other protections for every imaginable critter and plant and nearby residential section and so on, all of which add up to obscene price bloat. The project should be killed on those grounds alone"

You're right that the ICC Toll Road project should be killed. But the above statement is incorrect. The Cashell Estates neighborhood where my family and I have lived for over 23 years would be destroyed if the ICC were built.

Go to http://home.comcast.net/~realpeople/index.html

and check it out. Real People would lose their homes and neighborhoods.

ttfn
eve burton

Posted by: eve burton | April 11, 2006 6:31 AM

Twenty five years ago when I bought a house in Colesville, the ICC was on the books and I had to sign a disclosure statement that I knew about the road. Fifteen years ago, when I moved to Burtonsville, I went through the same drill. My guess is that Eve did the same 23 years ago. Sometimes when you roll the dice you lose, even if it takes a while.

I also spent 14 years driving from the east county to Rockville and Gaithersburg along 2 lane country roads, hoping someday there would be an ICC. I now own a small business in Anne Arundel County, enjoying the new roads like Routes 100, 97, 10 and 32. It shows what can be done absent the NIMBY elite and their Nanny-State government.

Posted by: Mike from Burtonsville | April 11, 2006 10:10 AM

Eve is in the one neighborhood where the ICC was not master-planned, so they didn't know about the road when they bought their homes. Federal agencies forced a change in the intended ICC alignment there to avoid environmental areas near Lake Needwood, at the expense of Cashell Estates. This also added $50 million in cost. Blame environmental concerns for this (it's not like we live in Yellowstone)... The state was forced into this. Of course all the NIMBYs everywhere else along the ICC certainly should've known the ICC was coming. Cashell Estates is a small but unfortunate exception.

Posted by: Gecko | April 11, 2006 12:54 PM

Gecko-

Actually I left Longmead a couple months ago and semi-embraced the "car free, anti sprwal" lifestyle you mentioned. I live within a quarter mile of the Branch Avenue metro station now and can easily commute to my job in Arlington by train or by car.

Unfortunately there isn't much retail within walking distance (yet) so I find myself driving farther than I once did for entertainment and the basic necessities.

I actually have no problem with development. Heck, it's a good thing. It means I'm living in a growing and vibrant community. I wasn't very keen on living in a construction zone for several years (with supposed blasting into local hills) so I made th ejump.

Posted by: Tola no longer in Longmead | April 11, 2006 5:40 PM

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, even after the Army Corps of Engineers proposed northern alternative because the master plan route was determined to be impossible to build without destroying unique natural resources?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, even after Governor Glendening promised that the ICC would not and could not ever be built along the central portion of the master plan route?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, even though the EPA in their 2005 comment letter expressed unequivical environmental objections to the master plan route and instructed the state to reexamine the northern route?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, complete with tractor trailer trucks, even after being promised a four lane parkway design years ago?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, without a complete hiker-biker path, even after this was repeatedly promised by the state?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, even after the state's own study showed little or no reduction of traffic congestion on I-95, I-270, or the Beltway?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, even though the state will have to borrow against over 10 years of future payments from the federal government (with no guarantee that President Bush's record deficits won't prevent this money from ever being paid)?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, even though mass transit makes much more sense given record high energy prices that are still rising with no end in site?

Should have known the ICC Toll Road was coming, even though President Bush says we need to break our addiction to foreign oil imports?

Oh yeah, I forgot, Bush will have his incompetent, political hack appointees rubber stamp the ICC Toll Road to ensure that the developers and Chamber of Commerce types keep Ehrlich and Steele's campaign cash flowing. What was I thinking?

Posted by: Dave | April 11, 2006 6:02 PM

The emotion surrounding this issue is easy to understand -- but good transportation policy is driven by hard cold numbers and sound engineering solutions to what is essentially a simple equation between travel demand and available capacity.

Traffic congestion is a very real result of an imbalance between those hard cold numbers, and has never to my knowledge been solved through wishful thinking, scapegoating or emotional venting. Still, it must be addressed, and the reality is that a growing population requires more capacity. Just be thankful our region is growing. Having grown up in a town with 20% unemployment and seeing the havoc that brings makes it easy to keep that in perspective.

Anyway, the problem with the ICC debate is that almost everyone, from Marc Fisher to half the comments in this blog, have not bothered to put in the time and do their homework. By that I don't just mean casually skimming the headlines, which everyone here has done a reasonable job of doing. I mean, read the actual study data on the ICC (it is all on-line now at www.iccstudy.org), not just the ridiculously one-sided crud spun out by the various anti-ICC lobbying groups.

When you take the time to do that you will see a couple of things:

1. The ICC does have only a small impact on beltway traffic (a net reduction of 2,000 cars/day -- paltry in comparison to the 200,000-plus daily trips on 495, but probably better than nothing).

2. The impact of the ICC in reducing traffic on surrounding local roads is anything but small. It is huge. Some highly congested roads, like Muncaster Mill, drop by almost 50% in daily volume with the ICC in place. Others by 30%, 40%, etc. Average travel speeds moving east-to-west across Rock Creek Park (a MAJOR bottleneck everywhere from the Beltway north) nearly triple during peak rush hour. The length of rush hour itself shrinks by 27%. A total of 34 major intersections get significantly better according to the study, while only a handful get worse. And here is the clincher for me, because I often have to travel from Rockville to Olney, or BWI or Baltimore at all times during the day: That trip from 270 to I-95 takes 33 minutes less, each way, with the ICC than without.

All of these facts are right there in the study. So, Marc Fisher, you got it half right and half WAY-wrong in your description of the ICC's impacts on the Beltway and local roads. To say it has "precious little" impact on local streets is just flat-out untrue. The information sources you link to are from some of the most strident anti-ICC lobbying groups and are also notoriously unreliable and one-sided. Again, take the time to read the source documents themselves, don't just skim and blindly accept what someone else says they say.

Here are some other facts:

1. The discussion about the ICC vs. the Purple Line is interesting but totally misses the point. The ICC is needed to address congestion north of the Beltway, which it does exceedingly well. The Purple Line and other transit alternatives that have been studied ad nauseum in this corridor do not have any significant impact on traffic volumes or travel times, either on the Beltway or local roads to the North. We are talking traffic impacts so low that they cannot even be measured. It's right there in the reports.

Conversely, the ICC does nothing at all to address the need for the Purple Line, which serves communities inside the Beltway that also have crowding on their local roads and lousy service from a Red Line that only runs north-south. You have serious densities in this corridor - enough to serve mass transit riders at a level that justifies the expenditure. Not so in the more suburban area the ICC goes through where the only real transit option is putting express busses on the ICC.

Even a cursory review of the studies done by the State and our own Park & Planning are enough to show we need both the ICC and the Purple Line, and the one has little to do with the other.

2. There is no one simplistic solution out there. I love it when people say just stop development. Well, what about all of us who already live here? The ICC corridor in Montgomery County is already almost totally built-out. The one area where there will be growth -- Konterra -- is currently covered with a bunch of abandoned gravel pits -- a stupid waste of valuable land in the heart of Prince George's County's "smart growth" area, with immediate access to I-95 and a MARC station. Hey all you "smart growthers," if not growth there in Prince George's, where they need the jobs and the housing to build their tax base and fund their schools, where? Also, stopping growth does nothing about all the through-traffic that will continue to move through our area whether we grow or not. Aren't we still on the I-95 corridor? Finally, how exactly are you going to stop growth anyway, as it is driven in this region by two things: immigration and the rising birthrates among our minority communities. Are these things we even have the right to try to stop? What happened to the notion of opportunity and openness that used to be part of the American Dream? Or does "not in my back yard" trump everything our country stands for? Just think about it for a second and this whole argument falls apart under its own weight.

One of the previous contributors said "build the ICC and keep on going." That is about the size of it. Montgomery County is about 20 years behind in carrying out its approved road and transit projects. Prince George's has not done much better. If you want traffic relief, look at the millions we have spent analyzing all these projects, and get behind the ones that do the most good.

Build the ICC, build the Purple Line, Build the new bridges, the bike paths, and the interchange improvements -- and keep on going. Sorry to ramble so much, but the lack of thought behind many of these postings is truly sad.

Posted by: JustTheFacts | April 11, 2006 8:14 PM

JustTheFacts,

You left out the environment and all the promises made and now about to be broken.

Speaking of doing your homework, have you even read the 2005 EPA letter? Read that and then come back and tell me how this project gets approved without Bush's political hacks overiding the EPA staff position which is based on sound science.

Talk about basing an opinion on emotion. The American dream and opportunity for immigrants? Give me a break, please!

Posted by: Dave | April 11, 2006 10:04 PM

Thanks, JustTheFacts, for setting the record straight and clarifying a lot of significant details. I've been particularly concerned about the claims that the ICC doesn't even help the Beltway, and so I've read parts of the ICC reports and now I understand some of the misleading arguments about the Beltway. It's complicated, but here goes:

The Beltway is a basket-case, is way overloaded during rush-hours, handles about 230,000 vehicles a day. It's the only good transportation facility in such a large part of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. But, it gets so bad during peak periods that there are tens of thousands of drivers who do not use the Beltway. They crowd the local roads, or they go to work very early, or come home very late. Some of these commuters who cannot use the Beltway may even opt for less convenient public transportation.

When the ICC handles on the order of 100,000 vehicles a day, a very large number of them will be drivers who can now use the ICC instead of the Beltway. The other very large share of the vehicles on the ICC are, like you point out, vehicles NOT using the local east-west roads.

When drivers switch from the Beltway to the ICC, the spaces which are freed up will in short-time become occupied during the peak hours by the drivers who today cannot get onto the Beltway. The Beltway will stay filled up, but that is NOT a bad thing.

In summary, with the ICC:

- the congestion on the local roads near the ICC will be less crowded.

- the drivers who switch to the ICC from the Beltway will have faster, less-congested trips.

- the drivers who will then fill the space freed-up on the Beltway will have a shorter commute. The drivers who can go to work later or come home earlier will have a better quality-of-life and more time with their families.

- the drivers who continue to use the local roads instead of the Beltway will see less congestion.

- the drivers who either cannot afford to pay the tolls on the ICC or who choose not to pay the ICC tolls also benefit by driving in less congestion on the local roads they're forced to use today (because they don't have a choice).

So, JustTheFacts, I've concluded that the arguments that the ICC doesn't help the Beltway are completely phony. The ICC does help all the drivers who use and who cannot use the Beltway.

On a related note, I understand that the MD Highway Department is studying fixing the Beltway. Well, do you know what? The same people who oppose the ICC because it doesn't help the Beltway (and ignore its true benefits_ also oppose adding capacity to the Beltway!! Go figure.


Posted by: Honest-Assessment | April 11, 2006 10:26 PM

Sorry, Dave, but I have to disagree. I have read the letter from EPA in 2005 and it points out some of the very real trade-offs we have to make every day in the real world. But frankly, that letter is filled with a number of unsupported and non credible assertions that really amount to environmental hysteria. Interestingly, some of the key staff at EPA and the other agencies who participated in the 1997 DEIS study actually live right along the alignment for the ICC and are active in anti-ICC groups, yet they never recused themselves from the decision making process even though they had a direct property interst at stake. Is that right in your eyes? Talk about political. The letters to EPA complaining about their politicization of what is supposed to be an objective review are also right there in the public record.

Let's get back to the substance. The key point EPA made then was that Brown Trout in the Paint Branch could be harmed. They make it sound like that is a rare or threatened species, which anyone who knows anything about fishing knows is not true. Brown trout were artificially stocked into that stream, because they are one of the most plentiful and hardy fish around. There are billions of these fish, which by the way are not even native to North America. They are considered an invasive species in some areas, and believe it or not, your tax dollars are currently paying for a brown trout erradication program in the Great Smokies. That's how endangered they are! Besides, if we could build the Beltway over that same stream using 1950s construction practices, and the trout are still there, don't you think we could build a much better-designed roadway using the latest environmental design standards? Come on.

We all know there are impacts every time we build a transportation facility, but there are congestion and air quality impacts every time we don't. According to the Washington Council of Governments, emissions of the two compouns that create ground level ozone increase by 30-50% when travel speeds decline from 25 mph to 8mph. Those are the exact average peak hour travel speeds for hundreds of thousands of cars moving east-west every day with the ICC and without. Yes, congestion is very bad for the environment, and specifically, for air quality and the ICC dramatically reduces congestion throughout a broad area. And by the way, the comments from Honest-Assessment about the beltway impacts raise a good point there too.

Tripling peak hour speeds crossing Rock Creek Park will significantly REDUCE air pollution from all those cars currently stuck in traffic in that area, and EPA has concluded that on balance, the ICC environmental impacts are within acceptable levels. After all, they have signed off on the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Nice try, but I am not buying your argument, and I think standing up for opportunity in our society is nothing I need to apologize for.

Posted by: justthefacts | April 12, 2006 8:02 AM

Let us for the moment put aside the fact that building a new interstate highway across Montgomery and Prince Georges counties that will promote additional far flung development runs counter to good forward planning as the gap widens between oil supply and demand, and global climate change requires that we reduce our energy needs. Let us just focus for a moment on trash. I've been involved in stream cleanups for the past 2 years, and the amount of trash thrown from cars crossing parks in phenomenal. So is trash left wherever sewer or road work as been performed. So if the present is any guide, in addition to the large number of parkland acres directly lost to pavement and the forests taken down for staging areas and access to staging areas, we will have a vast increase in trash dumped in our stream valley parks. I haven't seen any plan for controlling this additional pollution to our streams. Yet county executives of both Prince Georges and Montgomery counties recently signed on to an agreement for a trash-free Potomac by 2013. What a joke!

Posted by: Anne in Wheaton | April 12, 2006 11:00 AM

"After all, they [the EPA] have signed off on the Final Environmental Impact Statement"

Don't think so. Can you provide anything besides Ehrlich's assurances to back that up?

Posted by: Dave | April 12, 2006 12:55 PM

"Let's get back to the substance. The key point EPA made then was that Brown Trout in the Paint Branch could be harmed. They make it sound like that is a rare or threatened species, which anyone who knows anything about fishing knows is not true. Brown trout were artificially stocked into that stream, because they are one of the most plentiful and hardy fish around. There are billions of these fish, which by the way are not even native to North America. They are considered an invasive species in some areas, and believe it or not, your tax dollars are currently paying for a brown trout erradication program in the Great Smokies. That's how endangered they are! Besides, if we could build the Beltway over that same stream using 1950s construction practices, and the trout are still there, don't you think we could build a much better-designed roadway using the latest environmental design standards? Come on."

Come on, yourself, justthefacts. Since you're so well studied on the facts, I'm sure must know that the Beltway crosses Paint Branch well south of the Upper Paint Branch area and the headwaters where the trout spawn and thrive and where the ICC Toll Road would come through.

The point about the trout is that they indicate the Upper Paint Branch is the cleanest, coolest stream around the local area. Unfortunately the stream is not in good enough shape for native species to survive. That the brown trout are considered to be undesireable in other areas where native trout CAN survive is completely irrelevant to environmental considerations in Maryland. Is it your contention that since the stream isn't 100% pristine and able to support native species that it isn't worth preserving the remarkable qualities it still retains?

Posted by: Dave | April 12, 2006 1:15 PM

The way I see it is this: the ICC will work rather nicely at first. Yes, some will continue to use 198/28 or the Beltway; but there are plenty of people with deep pockets that would spend for a cruise on the ICC.

However, within 5 years after the ICC is built, a high rate of development around its interchanges will draw yet more traffic to the area. Many will dodge the toll by existing routes (myself included) yet some others will spend for the ICC.

10 years down the line, once much of the anticipated development is completed, we will have forced traffic to these interchanges: both forcing traffic to pay for the toll or forcing even more traffic onto the existing network.

In short, at completion the ICC will be splendid; but 5-10 years later I believe those benefits will have passed us by. Perhaps in the fight against traffic we should also look at our very promotion of it all, such as the urbanization of Clarksburg. Why do we build new neighborhoods and shopping centers before extending transit? It should be the other way around. Maybe then us traffic engineers might finally get a break from trying to keep everything running smoothly (which I equate to giving morphine to a dying man).

Posted by: Andrew | April 12, 2006 4:29 PM

Thank you, thank you, Marc, on behalf of the 450 human families whose homes or backyard habitats will be bulldozed along with those of the smaller woodland and stream valley creatures if the ICC is built. By the way, the debate in your wonderful blog over the cost of this highway has so far failed to include the $29 million the Ehrlich administration ADMITS to spending to promote the ICC in its so-called studies and reports.

Posted by: Ruth of Derwood | April 12, 2006 5:04 PM

Who are you people telling me where I should live, how I should commute, and dictate all other aspects of my life? The argument that the ICC is just for developers is preposterous - do you want jobs to keep coming to DC which means more people moving here? Say no; you must already have your cushy government job that can't fire you and you "work" 8 hours a day and have a fat pension that my tax dollars are paying for. If you want rural, move to Indiana. Montgomery County will not continue to be rural, and anyone who thinks that it will is either stupid, ignorant, or selfish.

Purple line supporters, totally different group of people it would move. That should be built too, extending from Bethesda down to Georgetown. But if you think you can shovel every additional person that will need mobility onto metro, that is already at capacity (and tax dollars are barely keeping it afloat as it is), you are living a pipe dream.

The environmental concerns are ridiculous - let's save an invasive fish species. Think we'll be saying that about frankenfish in 15 years in the potomac? I sure hope not! The exhaust from idling and quick start and stopping of cars is far more destructive than losing a few trees and building a bridge over a park. Not to say anything about the wasted gasoline.

Backwards thinking is not going to get us anywhere - you have to have vision and implementing that vision is what makes us great. The ICC is forward thinking; it was in the 1950s when it was proposed as an outer beltway. We have to come to terms that Richmond to Baltimore will be one urban area, and we will have to get around it somehow - the ICC is a piece of the puzzle that will enable mobility.

Posted by: SS of G'burg | April 13, 2006 9:04 AM

I encourage everyone, especially those who currently tend to support the ICC Toll Road, to read the 2005 EPA comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement:

http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/nepa/comments/MarylandICCDraftEISletter.pdf

Read every word and you will understand what is truly being given up in order to build the ICC Toll Road in Corridor 1. You will also then recognize the political spin job by the Bush appointees in any EPA sign-off on the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Posted by: Dave | April 13, 2006 10:57 AM

Hmm -- More roads, especially ones conceived and routed through stream valleys in the 1950's, represent "forward thinking"??????

Posted by: Dave | April 13, 2006 11:08 AM

Hey, justthefacts...you wouldn't happen to work for a chamber of commerce, would you?

I ask because your points are quite familiar. Most of them are in documents available at the website for the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Many business owners, especially developers and contractors, would love to see the ICC built, mainly because it would lead to a large increase in development in the area (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/12/AR2005071201700.html).

You began your post with "The emotion surrounding this issue is easy to understand..." and also used the phrase "emotional venting." The implication is that those who oppose the ICC are not capable of thinking clearly. This is insulting and does not help further your argument.

You also wrote that "..almost everyone...have [sic] not bothered to put in the time and do their homework," and "I mean, read the actual study data on the ICC...not just the ridiculously one-sided crud spun out by the various anti-ICC lobbying groups." Again, this is insulting to the many citizens who have spent hours poring over the thousands of pages of the study. The implication is that if we had only read it more carefully, we would have seen the light and learned to love the ICC.

Your characterization of ICC opponents' output as "one-sided crud" is unnecessarily vicious. Is it surprising that opponents put out one-sided information? Doesn't the Chamber of Commerce do the same? Of course, the State Highway Administration claims to be objective, but if that were the case, would they need to put the phrase "multi-modal highway" in their Purpose and Need Statement? I think most people can understand that a state organization with the word "highway" in its name is probably interested in promoting a huge highway project and may not be completely objective on the matter.

You wrote "Average travel speeds moving east-to-west across Rock Creek Park...nearly triple during peak rush hour." This point and some of the others you made apparently come from the 2002 Transportation Policy Report. During that time, the ICC was being studied as a parkway, not a six-lane toll highway. If you want to cite the Report, you should include the fact that at that time, the projected cut in travel time on a trip from Gaithersburg to BWI was six minutes. In any case, those data have little relevance to the current study and are actually not part of the FEIS, despite your claim that "All of these facts are right there in the study."

You wrote that "A total of 34 major intersections get significantly better according to the study, while only a handful get worse." I'm not sure what you mean by "significantly," because only 3 or 4 intersections predicted to be "failing" in 2030 without the ICC would improve if it were built. You cited the projection that a trip from I-270 to I-95 would be much quicker with the ICC, but you failed to mention that only about 1% of ICC users would take it from end-to-end, or the fact that such a statistic represents a benefit for an extremely small percentage of area commuters--at a cost of billions of dollars.

By the way, your posts did not mention the tolls (which could be $7 per day for the full-length trip) or the total cost ($2.4 billion plus financing). I guess maybe your posts were one-sided?

Imagine how the state's schools could be improved if as much effort were put into finding billions of dollars for them. As it is, the financing plan for the ICC includes spending over $250 million from the General fund on the project. That is the equivalent of $1 million per week, every week, for five years, that could be going to schools. Perhaps fewer of the county's kids would be sitting in trailers as classrooms...?

Sorry for my "emotional venting."

Posted by: Someone else | April 13, 2006 11:21 AM

I'm a MoCo resident but don't live anywhere near the proposed ICC (no special interest) but I always thought it was a horrible idea. More roads will just make more traffic and ncourage more cars. Lets spend our money on Metro extensions if we need transportation improvements. This cadillac highway makes no sense anymore, if it ever did.
If this road proceeds, it will be Governor Ehrlich's equivalent to President Bush's Iraq war. It won't solve the problem, it will be expensive, it will make things worse, and it won't work.
(They kind of look and sound alike to me anyway - Bush and Ehrlich, not Iraq and ICC.)

Posted by: Anonymous | April 13, 2006 1:33 PM

Seriously, do you people have jobs? And if so, do you actually do any work? For those of us who have to work for a living, and earn it, and waste 2+ hours a day trying to go 10-20 miles to work (I have to service clients all over the area so its not as if I could just move closer to my job), putting the ICC between I-70 and I-495 is a no brainer, just as another bridge would be over the Potomac to get from Rockville / Gaithersburg to Reston / Herndon. You think metro can solve our problems? They can't solve their own! Plus, with the feds encouraging agencies to have setbacks from roads and basically isolate their buildings, you have to drive - even for the non-lazy Americans who would walk / bus / rail. When I have to drive 30 miles to go 11 miles as the crow flies (across the Potomac), plus it takes an hour plus, it makes my blood boil to know that I'm wasting my time, gasoline, and even increasing congestion because I have no alternatives.

Don't tell me to switch careers - my job is rewarding and I enjoy helping my clients better themselves - they appreciate it too.

And by the way, I'm eating my lunch while reading / typing this message.

Posted by: Steven | April 13, 2006 1:52 PM

I think it's funny how ICC foes blame the whole road on developers and SHA highway promoters. Is it really so hard to believe that support for road capacity is genuine in a county where 90+% of the people drive? The opponents have done a great job sowing doubt over whether adding road capacity, highway capacity of all things, will help, despite the fact that our quality of life depends on mobility provided by the I-270, I-495, I-95, Rt. 29, Rt. 50, and a huge number of arterial roads. Why not take the anti-ICC logic to its full conclusion and start closing these roads? Well, because we know intuitively that personal mobility provided by this wonderful invention called the automobile is key to our favored lifestyle in the suburbs, not to mention our economic prosperity. People want subdivisions and backyards. That means getting around by car. Ironically NIMBYs oppose the ICC precisely because it impacts their quiet suburban lifestyle.

The environmental opponents of the ICC are passionate about streams and forests. But they know environmental arguments have limited traction with the public, which cares more about crossing that stream to get to work on time. We live in a metropolitan area after all, not some national park. So in their strategy sessions I imagine the environmentalists decided they'd complain about congestion and tolls, as if they cared about such things. The same environmental groups opposing tolls on the ICC want them on the Beltway. Their real traffic policy is to limit driving and growth by letting traffic get so bad no one wants to drive any more.

As for taking money away from schools... roads are an investment, not a financial burden. "Sprawl" and roads more than pay for themselves -- car-dependent Montgomery, Fairfax and Loudoun are among the wealthiest counties in the nation and have great schools. Kill enough road projects and you'll strangle the goose that lays these golden schools. The ICC is mostly funded by tolls and federal highway money anyway, which can't go for schools (or transit). The state contribution is a small share of the total ICC cost.

Posted by: J from Bethesda | April 14, 2006 10:03 AM

"As for taking money away from schools... roads are an investment, not a financial burden."

The education of children is the most important investment a society can make in its future. The state's portion of this boondoggle is hundreds of millions of dollars. The return on such a large investment in the state's schools would be much higher than that of 18 miles of pavement. That is, unless you are one of the special interests that benefits from sprawl and overdevelopment.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 14, 2006 12:16 PM

Highways have broad societal benefits of fostering greater human to human contact.

The existing educational systems stifle independent thought and anesthetize us via selective historical blackouts.

And we are to continue to use the inefficiencies of educational institutions to "justify" not providing DC and the inside the Beltway area with a comprehensive freeway system?!

Build a somewhat rerouted ICC.

Build an I-66 K Street Tunnel with improved redesigned connections at its eastern and western ends, and with at least 7 lanes.

Build an 8 lane cross Potomac Tunnel just north of Reagan National from I-395 and a Route 1 bypass to I-295.

Build a park-covered underground Red Line/I-95 Grand Arc Mall/Tunnel, with a connection to I-95 via the existing 250' clear cut of the PEPCO power line right of way.

By so building upon the existing corridors, we can demonstrate how the politically predominant lie, including the mis-information published in The Washington Post, such as that in November 2000.

Posted by: Douglas Willinger | April 15, 2006 10:31 AM

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