The ICC--Now, Maryland is for Road Lovers
There are three main arguments for building the $3 billion intercounty connector, the 18-mile highway that will link I-270 in Montgomery County with I-95 in Prince George's County, creating the first east-west route through those suburbs since the Beltway was built nearly half a century ago.
All three arguments are phony. And now the road will be built anyway.
1) Traffic is awful and this road will make it better. The first part is surely right. The second is a lie. Every traffic study done so far, both by proponents and opponents of the ICC, sends up the alarm: Congestion on the Beltway will not be eased to any appreciable degree by construction of this road. Sure, the local streets that now take on some of the east-west traffic may feel some relief, but the main point proponents make, that the ICC will restore some sanity to the Beltway, is specious.
2) Building roads is much cheaper than building transit. Highway boosters like to claim that you can build roads for $10 million a mile, while light rail costs $25 million per mile. Highways are just more economical; they carry more people and cost less. Except that the ICC doesn't fit the formula: This project will cost somewhere north of $2.4 billion, according to Maryland's own estimates, and likely $3 billion and more once you include financing costs. Add the soaring cost of materials thanks to rising oil prices and we're talking even more green. That's a per mile cost many times over the supposedly economical formula that pro-ICC forces tout.
3) Even if the road is too costly and won't ease traffic, it's necessary as a cultural bond, a link that will connect the people of Montgomery with those of Prince George's, allowing PG residents to find good jobs in the biotech corridor of MoCo, boosting development in the Laurel area of Prince George's, and connecting suburban Washington with the BWI airport. This is the argument that the Washington Post editorial page makes today
The state claims to have added safeguards that will prevent large-scale development from occurring along the course of the highway--fewer interchanges, zoning that prohibits massive new communities from popping up along the route, all manner of environmental mitigation. But developers know otherwise, and they have been snarfing up land in preparation for a bonanza.
And whatever bonds may emerge among the future People of ICC-Land, right now, the road is being used as a dividing line, a political tool meant primarily to promote the reelection of Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who has made this project the centerpiece of his appeal to the D.C. suburbs.
"Automobiles ARE Maryland's Mass Transit," read the bumper sticker on the SUV of one of Ehrlich's supporters at the announcement cum rally he held on Tuesday morning. On a grassy field along I-370 in Gaithersburg, Bobby Haircut and a small clot of road building executives, highway boosters and legislative supporters celebrated their remarkable victory in a 50-year battle to get this road built.
Neither MoCo Executive Doug Duncan nor Prince George's Executive Jack Johnson made it to the event. Nor did any members of the Prince George's County Council; only one member of the Montgomery Council was there. Why not? Because they are Democrats, and Ehrlich managed to get the word out to them only an hour or two before the event took place. Wouldn't want to spoil the video for Ehrlich's campaign ads this fall, right?
"What a great day for mobility in our region," the AAA's Lon Anderson said as the celebration got under way.
To be sure, the ICC looks just right on a map. Interstates 270 and 95 should be linked somehow. But a $3 billion highway is an absurd use of public dollars. Ehrlich, supposedly a conservative Republican, seems to have no concerns whatever about the price of this project. "You've had 56 years to delay this," he taunted a handful of protesters who made it to the opening, which was not announced to the public. "This is our day, this is our day. You know, at one time there was a Flat Earth Society, and they were wrong, too."
"This has never been a partisan issue, never," Ehrlich told his supporters, and he's right about that. Both of his opponents in the race for governor, Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, support the ICC. That's a good part of the reason why, no matter what opponents do now, as Ehrlich says, "It's a go."
But Maryland residents shouldn't delude themselves into thinking that, as the governor says, this road "will give back thousands of hours of time to our constituents" and "prevent hundreds of crashes" and provide "tremendous traffic relief."
Ehrlich celebrated the moment by planting some trees, a symbol that the new highway will be built with lots of green safeguards. But the highwaymen in his crowd didn't like that gesture one bit. Stan Doore, representing the Calverton Citizens Association, a neighborhood group in Prince George's, told me that "planting trees is counterproductive, according to scientific studies. Trees retain heat. Trees take water away." Roads, he said, are much better for us. "I'm a scientist," he told me. "I know."
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