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ICC toll hearing: Public questions proposed ratesPublished: Friday, October 30, 2009 7:00 am By: "Dr. Gridlock" aka Robert Thomson Source: Washington Post
If some new mega-store were coming into the community and its impact had long been the subject of controversy, the store might offer some attractive, get-acquainted prices. Draw the doubters in. Get them to see how attractive the store is and what it can add to the commercial success of the community.
The extreme alternative would be to peg the prices high to maximize revenue, then count on the convenience of the store to overcome the opposition and the sticker shock.
People testifying at Thursday night's hearing on the Intercounty Connector tolls think the state of Maryland is going for the extreme alternative. We're talking about a highway so controversial it took half a century to get it built. Some people doubt it will be as useful as it is expensive. Others think its impact on local traffic will be the opposite of what's intended.
Some say they didn't realize it was going to be a toll road. Others say they knew but didn't realize the tolls would be so high. [See proposed toll rates.]
"A rich man's road," Dave Ahern called it. He calculated his payment for a year of using the highway would be $3,198. In five years, he figured, he would have paid the price of a stripped down Mustang just driving back and forth.
"I would never use that road at the rate you're charging now," said Sharon Hicks, another of the two dozen people who testified on the toll plan before the Maryland Transportation Authority in Gaithersburg.
Two dozen isn't a lot. Neither of this week's two hearings on the connector tolls was well attended. But speakers did establish a theme: How can you do this to middle-class travelers? And as for me, why would I pay this much to save a few minutes?
Cheryl Kagan, a former state delegate from Montgomery County who described herself as an early and outspoken advocate for the ICC, said there had not been enough conversation about the tolls along the way.
One of the final speakers of the evening, she warned the panel that the low turnout did not reflect the community concern that would develop "once people start to focus on this." She urged the transportation authority members to set the toll low, at least at first, to get people used to the connector and allow them to see if it really would be a time saver.
"The road should be accessible to all Maryland taxpayers," she said.
Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson, director of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic and genial advocate for travelers in the Washington region, first congratulated the authority for actually building the ICC.
"Although it is not the authority's fault, it is deplorable that our Maryland Transportation Trust Fund is so depleted that it does not have the funds to build important new facilities," he said. "But we know that this is, indeed, the situation."
Some drivers will have little problem with the tolls, he said, but others, struggling financially, will be shut out, designating drives by economic status.
Anderson, who supports an increase in gas taxes to help restore money for transportation projects, urged the panel to find ways to reduce the regressive impact of the tolls. "We do think the equity issue is an important one," he said, "and is certainly brought more sharply into play by the expensive nature of the proposed ICC tolls."