Montgomery Council wants others to pay for ICC
The Washington Examiner reports that the Montgomery County Council is asking the Maryland Transportation Authority to back off its plans for charging tolls on the Intercounty Connector in line with what the authority's consultant figures the market will bear.
The Council is also asking the authority to phase in a $3 fee for those who use the tollroad without an E-ZPass -- a charge intended to cover the extra cost of billing vehicles on the basis of license plate photos for use of the tollbooth-free road. On top of that, it wants a subsisized commuter rate that is at odds with the plan to use toll rates to eliminate congestion on the ICC.
These ideas certainly sound good to Montgomery County elected officials because they are nothing more than an added subsidy for use of a road that is already heavily subsidized. The problem, from a Baltimore point of view, is that an additional subsidy for the ICC means it will generate less revenue than expected. That means a greater share of the debt service on its bonds will have to be paid out of some other revenue stream.
There aren't a whole lot of other places for the authority to look for that revenue. Maryland now has seven toll facilities. None is anywhere close to Montgomery County. Except for one, the U.S. 301 bridge over the Potomac River, they are all located entirely or partly in the Baltimore region. (The Bay Bridge, the two Susquehanna River Bridges, the Francis Scott Key Bridge, shown above, and the two Baltimore Harbor tunnels.)
So if the authority gives ICC users a break, it's going to have to do so by socking users of those other facilities just a little harder when the next toll increase comes up in 2011-2012. There's really no way around it: The bond rating agencies are expecting a revenue increase in a certain range. If the authority wimps out about imposing sufficient toll increases to generate that revenue, Maryland risks a credit downgrade. That would cost us all in future borrowing.
I can understand the Montgomery Council seeking a break for its constituents, who will likely be the most frequent users of the ICC. What I can't understand is why we aren't hearing an outcry from elected officials from the Baltimore region, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland warning the authority against shifting ICC costs to the people they represent.
Users of Baltimore-area toll facilities are already paying a premium on their tolls to help build the ICC. Don't hit us with more of the bill because the very people who begged the state to build the ICC are now shocked at the price tag.