Freshman delegate wants ICC privatization study
Fisher introduces bill just after first section of roadway opens
A freshman delegate wants the state to privatize the $2.6 billion Intercounty Connector toll road, the first phase of which opened last month.
"If we're looking at raising gas taxes 10 cents a gallon, which I oppose, why aren't we looking at ways of saving taxpayers money on current and future roads?" said Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Dist. 27) of Prince Frederick.
Fisher introduced a bill to study privatizing the ICC, the first entirely electronic toll road in the state.
Fisher called the timing right to introduce his bill calling for a study because the state recently opened the first seven-mile section of the ICC in Montgomery County. The highway eventually will run 18.8 miles from Gaithersburg to Laurel.
Montgomery County delegates scoffed at the idea.
"You don't give away an asset for a short-term gain at the expense of long-term revenues," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg. "I'll vote for it when he sells the naming rights to his house."
Motorist advocacy group AAA Mid-Atlantic also had concerns about Fisher's proposal.
"While Delegate Fisher's bill is only proposing a study to examine the feasibility of privatizing all or portions of the ICC, AAA Mid-Atlantic is concerned that the issue is even under consideration by the Ways and Means Committee," spokeswoman Christine Delise said.
The public's interest might not be served under privatization, she said.
"A private entity is subject to more stringent financial goals than a government agency," Delise said.
"If road revenues are not meeting expectations for this private owner, what is to prevent the organization from charging excessive toll increases and providing a poor level of service and road maintenance in order to meet revenue goals?"
Maryland Transportation Authority officials have said the tolls were balanced to pay back the bonds owed and to keep an amount of traffic on the road that does not create congestion.
A 2009 study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group concluded that while privatized toll roads offer a short-term fix to states, they also create long-term problems by turning over control of regional transportation policy to people accountable to shareholders rather than the public.
"The state can set up agreements prior to the sale that require the new owner to maintain a high level of service, charge tolls that are fair and equitable, and the highway remains under public oversight," Delise said, "but to what extent would a private owner accept these mandates, and would they always be able to fulfill them?"
Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Dist. 19) of Derwood said privatizing the road now does not make sense with the outstanding obligations.
But Fisher was sticking to his proposal.
"The only people that would be against this study would be those who don't want to know the facts," he said.
Staff Writer Jeff Newman contributed to this report.