ICC Foes Claim Road Will Create More Traffic on Beltway

Wed January 12, 2005 - Northeast Edition

SILVER SPRING, MD (AP) Opponents of the Intercounty Connector said Thursday, Dec. 30, that the state’s own study of the planned highway shows it will actually increase traffic on the Capital Beltway, negating one of the new road’s major selling points — reducing congestion.

The group, which includes Montgomery County officials and some state lawmakers, pointed to a chart deep in the state’s 1,450-page study of the environmental impact of the ICC that suggests the road would create more Beltway traffic by 2030 than if it is never built.

“This completely refutes the notion the ICC would relieve gridlock,” said Phil Andrews, a member of the Montgomery County council. “Now the state has confirmed it is not true.”

State officials, however, said Andrews ignores the larger impact the ICC will have on reducing trips on secondary roads in northern Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, improved travel times and future construction designed to alleviate traffic on the Beltway.

“He’s taken one chart out of context which does not reflect an understanding of what would happen,” said Robert Flanagan, Maryland’s secretary of transportation.

Work on the $2-billion, 18-mi. highway linking Interstate 95 and Interstate 270 is slated to begin in fall 2006 and could be finished by 2010. The State Highway Administration released the environmental impact study last month. Public hearings are scheduled for next month, beginning Jan. 4 in Greenbelt.

State planners argue the long-debated road, which has two proposed routes, could be built with minimal effect to the environment. It also would provide an east-west alternative to the heavily traveled Beltway, allowing drivers to bypass the highway and theoretically reduce travel times.

But using a table of Beltway traffic at different intersections, Andrews argued that state figures confirm ICC opponents’ belief that the road will create more traffic tie-ups than it will solve by 2030.

For example, the study predicts an average of 257,000 vehicles will pass the Beltway intersection with U.S. Route 29 on a typical weekday if the ICC is not built. If the ICC is constructed, as many as 264,000 vehicles could go by the intersection daily, according to the study.

ICC foes said the higher average is a symptom of a phenomenon called “induced demand.” Under the theory, building the road would encourage people to drive more. Drivers would make more trips because there are more roads, thereby creating more congestion than before.

“Building the ICC would create more opportunities for people to drive their cars,” said Kathy Porter, Takoma Park’s mayor and a member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments transportation planning committee.

Flanagan said the ICC would encourage more people to use the Beltway for shorter trips. Drivers who want to move quickly across the county would divert from the Beltway to the ICC, he said.

But he pointed out the same chart shows reduced congestion on some parts of the Beltway and secondary roads in Montgomery County. At I-95, for example, the average daily trips by 2030 could be 273,000 without an ICC. With one of the two routes built, that figure could be as low as 268,000 daily trips.

It also would benefit side roads that are now used by drivers trying to avoid the Beltway. Arterial roads that feed Route 29 could carry up to 209,000 vehicles each day by 2030, the study predicts. But with the ICC, those trips could fall to as low as 196,000.

Flanagan said the state also plans new construction on the Beltway to ease traffic. That could include special lanes that drivers could pay to use. He said this project would start within a decade.