ICC tolls appropriate and will benefit entire state
On behalf of the Maryland Transportation Authority, I would like to clarify several points raised in [the] Dec. 23 article, "Floreen, Andrews upset over ICC toll rates."
Established in 1971, the MDTA was formed to finance, construct, manage, operate and improve the state's toll facilities as well as to support new revenue-producing transportation projects. The authority is governed by an eight-member independent board and the chairman, the group solely responsible for establishing toll rates and policies for MDTA facilities across the state, including the new InterCounty Connector. The MDTA's revenues are separate from the state's Transportation Trust Fund and the state's General Fund. It is important to note that the rating agencies cite the MDTA's independent rate-setting authority as a major factor in assigning "AA" credit-worthiness, thus giving the agency financial strength and diversity to support new and existing transportation facilities.
The purpose of the ICC is to provide a relatively congestion free east-west connection between the I-270 corridor and the I-95 corridor. Tolls will serve as the primary tool to manage motorist demand, principally by setting the peak, off-peak and overnight rates. Toll revenue also will assist with payment of the highway's operating and capital costs. The decision to include tolls on the ICC was made in 2003 and approved in 2005, when the General Assembly approved the financial plan that included MDTA toll revenue bonds. In the early years of operation, the ICC will be financially subsidized by the MDTA's other facilities. Annual debt service and operating costs are estimated to be $101 million, while annual revenue is estimated between $55 million to 65 million.
Studies indicate that the average trip length on the ICC is expected to be 6.6 miles. A trip of this length would require a toll of between $1.65 and $2.35 during peak periods, $1.35 and $2 during off-peak periods and $0.70 and $2 during overnight periods. Relatively few trips will be made over the full distance of the ICC from U.S. Route 1 to I-370. More than 60 percent of the trips will be less than six miles and 75 percent of the trips will be less than 10 miles. The approved ranges were based on a traffic and revenue study updated this year. When considering inflation since 2004, the approved toll ranges are comparable to the ranges used for discussion during the National Environmental Policy Act study. The approved ICC per-mile sample toll rates are comparable to, and in some cases lower than, other variably priced tolling facilities around the country.
As Maryland's first cashless toll facility using all electronic collection where tolls are paid at highway speeds, the ICC will reduce congestion and improve safety on local roads. It will offer reliable and reduced travel times, convenience and multi-modal transportation options, including integration with local rail and bus services. The innovative financing plan for the ICC with state, federal and toll-revenue funding has allowed Maryland to deliver this highway and its benefits sooner, while preserving Transportation Trust Fund resources for more traditional transportation projects needed in Prince George's and Montgomery counties and across the state.
Ronald L. Freeland, Baltimore
The writer is executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority.