The ICC toll plan: What it means
So at long last the Maryland Transportation Authority has put some numbers behind its plan for tolling on the Intercounty Connector, the first phase of which will open next year. The agency estimates that at peak times, the tolls will range from 25 cents to 35 cents a mile. It scheduled public hearings to get comments on the plan.
What's the significance of this? Nada. Zilch. Zip. Less than nothing.
Under the congestion pricing plan the state adopted for the ICC, neither the authority's estimates nor the public's opinion carries much weight. The market rules with an iron fist. To keep the lanes free-flowing, the tolls have to be high enough to deter a significant number of motorists from using the road. If traffic clogs up at 35 cents a mile, the toll has to rise to 40 cents a mile. Or 50. Or 60. You get it.
The other key to understanding the ICC tolls is that they have nowhere to go but up. The capacity for congestion-free operations is finite. Demand for jam-free roads in the Washington suburbs is seemingly limitless. It's Economics 101.
So people can turn out and holler all they want about the proposed rate ranges -- which are really no more than estimates. The market will overrule both the authority and the public. The hearings are mostly dog-and-pony shows staged for the federal government.
Even given the essential hollowness of the public comment process, Baltimore commuters may feel it's a slap in the face that the only two hearings on the pricing plan are scheduled in Beltsville and Gaithersburg -- Oct. 28 and 29 respectively.
Folks at the authority must have forgotten that the ICC was sold as a project of statewide significance and that Baltimore-area residents are paying a disproportionate share of the ICC's costs in higher tolls. And while the authority likes to emphasize that only 5 percent of the trips on the ICC will be end-to-end, common sense suggests that a disproportionate number of Baltimore motorists will be using it to reach destinations in the I-270 corridor and thus will pay the full end-to-end toll.
So Baltimore-area lawmakers might want to yank the authority's chain and force it to schedule a hearing in the city or its nearby suburbs. If only just to remind them that Baltimore can't be taken for granted.