Was It Worth It? Maryland Says New Highway Meets Expectations; Critics Aren't So Sure

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The Intercounty Connector at down (photo by Jessica Jordan)

As the one-year anniversary of the Inter-County Connector approaches, the Maryland Transportation Authority says the highway is meeting its traffic volume and revenue projections. But critics of the $3 billion road don't trust the state's data.

Greg Smith of Maryland-based advocacy group Community Research is one of those critics. As he looks at the ICC at the New Hampshire Avenue interchange right before rush hour, what he sees is a relatively empty highway.

"Well, it is remarkably light for a six-lane, $3 billion interstate highway," Smith says.

Smith, whose group fought the construction of the ICC, believes the 18-mile highway cutting across Montgomery County to connect I-270 in the west with I-95 in the east was a waste of money and -- that the state's traffic figures are nonsense.

"They are cherry-picking their numbers. The Transportation Authority knows full well that the volumes they are getting on the ICC today are far lower than the volumes they had in their official document of record, the Environmental Impact Statement where they ran the numbers for 2010 and 2030," Smith says. "They were projecting much higher volumes, in the order of 100,000-plus vehicles per day on the western end, in the opening year."

But the MTA disputes Smith's claim. Traffic volume is higher than projected on the western-most segment, and slightly lower on the eastern-most portion of the ICC, according to MTA numbers. Weekday traffic averages more than 35,000 vehicles per day between Interstate-370 and Georgia Avenue in the west; 26,000 vehicles per weekday between Route 29 and Interstate-95 in the east.

"Daily traffic volumes are consistent with our projections and are growing at a rate of about three percent on average per month," says MTA spokesman John Sales.

When the ICC first opened to traffic last year, tolls weren't charged until December -- at which point traffic volumes dropped. And it still hasn't exceeded the volume from the last day of toll-free traffic that month.

"Nobody looking at this road and seeing how virtually empty it is would say this was worth $3 billion and taking 60 families' homes," Smith says.

But the ICC was not designed to be at full capacity immediately after opening, Sales says, adding it takes about three years for traffic volume to ramp up on a new toll road. In addition, he says E-ZPass toll revenues have actually exceeded projections.