A University of Maryland study predicts that building an east-west highwaybetween Montgomery and Prince George's counties will bring billions of dollarsof benefits to users of the road over a 20-year period while creatingthousands of new jobs.
The report, paid for by the State Highway Administration, also concludedthat the road known as the Intercounty Connector, or ICC, would alsostrengthen Baltimore-Washington International Airport in its efforts tocompete with Washington Dulles International Airport.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan called the report"very encouraging," but a leading opponent dismissed the study as "suspect."
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made the ICC, which would link Interstate270 and Interstate 95, his top transportation priority. The proposed toll roadhas long been opposed by environmental groups.
The study, part of the administration's effort to win federal approval forthe project, does not take into account the possible environmental costs ofthe highway. That assessment will come in a draft environmental impactstatement due late next month, transportation officials said.
The UM study was conducted by a team led by Hani Mahmassani, professor ofcivil and environmental engineering at College Park. The report concluded thatusers of the highway would benefit economically from reduced travel times,lower vehicle operating costs, improved freight movement and greater overallreliability.
Flanagan said the report shows the ICC would yield $6.7 billion in savingsover 20 years if it follows the original proposed route and $5.7 billion ifbuilt along an alternate northern route.
"It supports our intuitive conclusion that there are tremendous economicbenefits to be derived from building the Intercounty Connector," he said.
Mahmassani also estimated that the road would generate 14,000 to 16,000 newjobs in the ICC's "impact area" - taking in parts of Montgomery, PrinceGeorge's, Howard and Anne Arundel counties. Despite fears in Prince George'sthat the road would drain jobs to Montgomery, the report concludes that 37percent of the employment would be generated in Prince George's County. DanWallace, co-chairman of the Montgomery Intercounty Connector Coalition,questioned the independence of the study. "In my view, it's suspect," he said.
Wallace said that Montgomery County, where the study says most of the newjobs would be created, has an unemployment rate of about 2 percent. Thehighway, he said, would produce more, rather than less, congestion.
"The ICC is just a great funnel into the job machine of Montgomery Countyto the detriment of Prince George's County and other counties in the statethat are going to be footing the bill," Wallace said.