Despite recent claims to the contrary, Maryland's Intercounty Connector - expensive though it surely is, at $2.4 billion - will deliver a very strong return on investment to Maryland residents, including many residents of the Baltimore metropolitan area.
According to U.S. Census data, more than 130,000 people from greater Baltimore commute to the Washington area every day, many to jobs on the Interstate 270 technology corridor. Traffic forecasting illustrates the enormous benefit these travelers will experience from the ICC. The ICC will provide a much-needed link from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport to the Washington metropolitan region, ensuring long-term economic benefits for Maryland. In addition, the ICC will save a full hour for those commuting round-trip from just south of Baltimore to Gaithersburg. Think about it: If the ICC is not built, Baltimore-area residents making that trip would be robbed of additional 10 days per year better spent with family or on other pursuits.
Other Maryland travelers will experience similar time-gaining benefits. For a variety of routes, morning commute times are projected to decline by 25 percent to 50 percent by 2030 as compared with conditions expected if the ICC is not built.
Fundamentally, the ICC is about moving people and goods by providing transportation choices. Boosting transit usage is a core mission for the Maryland Department of Transportation. To that end, convenient, time-saving express bus service on the ICC will increase transit ridership in the corridor by an estimated 38 percent, to a total of 11,500 passengers per day.
The ICC is also expected to yield an often-overlooked benefit: safety. The absence of the long-planned ICC has left tens of thousands of travelers to map their own de facto ICCs - patching together routes of winding, two-lane directional roads never intended for cross-county trips. Many of these roads are without shoulders, have poor sightlines and are lined by homes with driveways that spill directly into the path of high-velocity commuter traffic. The ICC is expected to reduce crashes on nearby roadways by approximately 350 incidents per year.
But if these benefits came at the cost of unmanageable environmental impact, Gov. Martin O'Malley would not support the project. That is why we are investing $370 million in environment efforts that not only fully mitigate the project's environmental impacts but also provide enhancements that go beyond what is required.
For example, where the highway crosses streams and wetlands, its footprint will be narrowed and longer-than-typical bridges will be built. Elsewhere, impacts to natural areas will be addressed by creating scores of acres of wetlands, restoring several miles of streams, removing or otherwise bridging man-made blockages that prevent fish from reaching spawning areas, and reforesting hundreds of acres. Parkland will be replaced at nearly a 9-to-1 ratio.
The project will also correct many man-made environmental problems that are unrelated to the highway, including upgrading facilities to treat and slow the flow of stormwater that courses off thousands of acres of development built during the past half century.
It should also be noted that fuel economy will improve and greenhouse gas emissions will decline for vehicles that will be diverted from stop-and-go traffic on local roads to the ICC.
Those who discount the ICC's benefits and environmental focus - as The Baltimore Sun's Dan Rodricks did recently - urge that funds to build the ICC be reprogrammed to other uses. Many important priorities face major daunting financial hurdles, but canceling the ICC to provide for them defies reality for two key reasons.
First, the $2.4 billion ICC financial plan is designed specifically for that project, and those funds cannot simply be redirected. For example, toll revenue bonds account for more than half of the funding and cannot be used for non-tolled purposes. In fact, less than 8 percent of ICC funding is drawn from the annual source of road and transit projects, specifically so it would not excessively burden the transportation fund.
Second, the ICC project is well beyond the point where it could be canceled. A year into construction, approximately 30 percent of the first seven-mile leg has been completed, and this segment will open in two years. Three contracts that will build nearly 18 miles of the 18.8-mile highway are under way or nearly so, and major construction progress is plain to see in many locations along the corridor. The on-schedule ICC project will be finished in late 2011 or early 2012.
In short, we are building the ICC because it will deliver major benefits to generations of Marylanders and do so in an environmentally sensitive manner.
Neil J. Pedersen is the Maryland state highway administrator. His e-mail is email@example.com.