New Study Rates ICC As Worst Option, Finds Alternatives Perform Better

January 18, 2005
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(18 January 2005) A new study of the ICC and alternatives finds four practical, cost-effective options perform better than the Intercounty Connector (ICC) on most measures, including reducing traffic, air pollution and overall cost.  The report was sponsored by regional and national environmental, transportation and smart growth groups and conducted by Smart Mobility, Inc., a nationally recognized traffic modeling firm.

“We found that alternatives already being discussed by the state and counties would cost less and reduce traffic better than the ICC,” said Stewart Schwartz, of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“This study shows that faster, cheaper and cleaner alternatives to the ICC are practical and cost-effective,” said Michael Replogle, Transportation Director of Environmental Defense and a former Montgomery County transportation planning official. “By refusing to consider alternatives like these, the state is missing the opportunity to speed up commutes, protect the region’s watersheds and deliver cleaner air.”

The groups commissioned the study after the state refused to look at transit, development, and local transportation changes as alternatives to a new highway.

“The proposed $3 billion ICC and its financing package would impact the entire state - putting other projects to the back of the line for dozens of years,” noted Delegate James Hubbard (District 23 - Prince George’s County).  “We cannot afford to waste $3 billion and now we know for certain that there are better alternatives.”  The Maryland Department of Legislative Services has estimated that the full cost of the ICC will exceed $3 billion with financing.

Results of the Study

“This study shows that almost any other option performs better than the ICC for reducing traffic on local roads,” said Neal Fitzpatrick of Audubon Naturalist Society. 

Not only did the alternative packages perform better than the ICC, the ICC performed the worst on almost every measure including time spent driving, delay due to congestion, total amount of driving or vehicle miles traveled, and the total number of trips made each day. 

“In essence, compared to the other alternatives, the ICC would cause residents to spend more time behind the wheel making more and longer trips each day,” noted Steve Caflisch of the Sierra Club.  “The alternatives that performed the best included a combination of increased transit with more jobs and housing near transit, and a better east-west balance of jobs and housing.”  Improving the balance of jobs and housing in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties shortened commutes and reduced congestion.

ICC would cost more to build, mean more time spent driving and create more pollution.

The state’s official study acknowledges that building the ICC would have a “negligible impact on freeway operations, including the Beltway, I-270 and I-95” (pages IV-343 to 344) and would add traffic to the Beltway in Montgomery County (Table IV-91 at pages IV- 316 to 317).

Details of the Study and Alternatives

Smart Mobility analyzed six packages of transportation projects and assumptions about the location of jobs and housing in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, including the ICC and the state’s “no-build” option. The four new alternatives include various transit options, such as the Purple Line, addressing local road changes and conservative estimates about the potential to shift more jobs to the eastern side of the region and transit stations.

Most of the elements in the packages of alternatives are individually under consideration in other studies by the counties or the state, but were not included in the state’s ICC study.  This study is the first time that they have been united into a comprehensive quantitative analysis. 

“The results certainly show that a more measured analysis of alternatives such as suggested by your necessarily quick study and analysis, would be in order before embarking on construction of the Intercounty Connector,” noted Keith Lawton, a national traffic modeling expert and former Director of Technical Services at Portland Metro, the regional entity similar to the Council of Governments, who reviewed the report.

Delegate Adrienne Mandel (District 19, Montgomery County) noted, “There are alternatives to this destructive highway that the state has not considered.”

Environmental Impacts

While the state continues to claim the ICC would be “environmental sustainable, its study shows even more destruction of forests, wetlands, and streams than previous studies.  Compared to the ICC, the alternatives would not take thousands of acres of forests and wetlands and would significantly reduce air pollution, the cause of much childhood asthma and a significant contributor to nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River.

“We analyzed air pollution and our best alternative produces less NOx air pollution, by a half million pounds/year, than the ICC,” noted Lee Epstein of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Costs

The cost estimates for each package of alternatives range from $626 million to $2 billion, all less than the $2.1-$2.4 billion in construction costs currently projected for the ICC.  Revenues raised from the tolled lanes alternatives would be used to fund bus and rail transit. 

Methodology

The analysis was conducted by Smart Mobility, Inc. with staff representing 40 years of experience in transportation modeling, engineering, design and planning.  The data and computer transportation analysis models came from the Council of Governments and the State of Maryland.  The alternative packages were drawn from projects, plans and concepts under discussion at the local, state and regional level. Similar approaches are also being implemented around the country, with great results in places as diverse as Arlington, VA, Orange County/San Diego, CA, Minneapolis, MN and Houston, TX.  

“Smart Mobility Inc. carried out the travel modeling work done for this study. I am familiar with the Principal, Norm Marshall, and consider this firm to be both competent and professional. The report conclusions seem to be well justified,” noted Lawton in a letter.

The Report was commissioned by Environmental Defense, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Audubon Naturalist Society, Solutions Not Sprawl, Sierra Club and the Coalition for Smarter Growth.  The sponsors believe the array of options and policies discussed in the report deserve full evaluation in the environmental impact study of the proposed InterCounty Connector as reasonably available, feasible, and prudent alternatives.  Every sponsor does not necessarily endorse every alternative or policy discussed in the report.

The full report and a summary can be accessed online at: www.SmarterGrowth.net and www.environmentaldefense.org/go/iccoptions