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ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch

Maryland may eliminate 3 of the 5 bus routes on the Intercounty Connector. The move is a classic bait and switch from highway builders: Get political buy-in with the promise of a multimodal road, then cut the multimodal aspects at the first opportunity.


The ICC. Photo by the author.

The Maryland Transit Administration operates 5 bus routes on the ICC. It's proposing to eliminate routes 202, 203, and 205. Only the 201 and 204 would remain, running from Gaithersburg to BWI Airport and Frederick to College Park.

When planning the ICC, Maryland promised it would include good transit service and a high-quality bike trail. Officials cut much of the trail in 2004. The bus service was never very good either, so it never got many riders. Now the state is citing that as a reason to cut it significantly.

Of course, cars aren't held to the same standard.

There also aren't many drivers on the ICC. Around 21,000 cars per day use the road. The state says that meets projections, but the projections seem to change. At one point they were as high as 71,000.

But is anyone proposing the state shut the road? Nope. Instead, the strategy is to try and boost car use.

Lawmakers hoped to induce more traffic with lower tolls last year, although that proposal was never accepted. This year the state raised the speed limit to make driving more attractive.

When it comes to bikes and transit, it's cut and run at the first hint of a problem. For cars, it's roll out the red carpet and hope for more traffic.

This isn't the first time this has happened. When Virginia's I-95 HOT lanes were first proposed, the firm hoping to expand the highway called its proposal "BRT/HOT lanes," but of course nothing resembling actual BRT was ever built.

Transportation advocates should remember this the next time someone proposes a "multimodal" highway. Odds are they won't deliver.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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First cut was the bike facility. This is the second. I guess it is Monomodal now?

by William on May 16, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

well, the reality was the proposals to provide that level of bus service were misguided, as is the plan for the road generally. There just isn't that much east-west demand for transit at levels that are practical for transit, given the density levels, activity centers, and trip levels.

by Richard Layman on May 16, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

"But is anyone proposing the state shut the road? Nope."

Are they losing money on an operating basis? IE are operating costs in excess of toll revenues? cause closing the road will not get the construction costs back, those are sunk.

Transit costs are more heavily variable, and bus costs are almost completely variable (assuming the buses themselves can be utilized elsewhere). That may be "unfair" but its the nature of the modes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 16, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

What will MTA do with the buses?

by Miriam on May 16, 2013 12:30 pm • linkreport

That's what you get when you build radial routes. Remember that, Maryland, when you try to build the Purple Line. Remember that, Virginia, when you try to build the Outer Beltway. Or just look at Rt. 28 which is less usable now than it was 10 years ago.

by movement on May 16, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

The buses will go somewhere else on MTA's network or they will reduce the number of replacement buses MTA needs to buy.

The ICC really was poorly conceived. Once they cut the possible crossing of the potomac developers and just about everyone else knew it would be a fools errand. A toll road and bridge from 370 into VA linking to route 7 and maybe even 28 would be game changing for MoCo fairfax and loudoun. I dont favor interstates and suburban development but that is what is really needed for the suburbs.

Make it a toll road and make the tolls the same as the ICC +$4 if you cross the bridge. People would pay for that and having it connect to the ICC would increase the use of the ICC.

by Richard Bourne on May 16, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

@movement
The purple line might be a radial route, but it will meet its ridership targets because they are low and the buses it is going to replace are already overcrowded. Reliable transit from SS to Bethesda and New Carlton to College Park needs to be implemented. Buses on those routes are close to full and already very frequent but they get caught in traffic and have a lower capacity/driver.

If it was heavy metro(as much as I might like to see that) I would agree it wouldn't meet it's ridership targets, as they would need to be much higher.

by Richard Bourne on May 16, 2013 12:43 pm • linkreport

also, I find it interesting that route 100(Baltimore's outer beltway) is full of traffic.

It might be that it is older(I remember it being full when it was built though)

It might be that there is no toll. Free is a lot more attractive than $4.

I just find personally that route 100 goes from someplace I am to some place I want to go.
The ICC on the other hand, I am rarely out there and almost never want to go along that route. Unless you live right next to it, it is a road to nowhere.

by Richard Bourne on May 16, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

Perhaps the ICC could be dug up and its concrete rubble put to good use as an artificial reef for fishermen off Ocean City? Or perhaps to build up the foundations of Ocean City itself in preparation for sea-level rise?

A less radical option might be to close one side to motor vehicles and use the other side as a long, continuous runway for light airplanes? There'd still be plenty of pavement for motor vehicle traffic on the other side without congestion.

Maybe convert the southbound lanes into the world's widest cycletrack? Or the world's longest skatepark? With favorable west-to-east winds, it would be an awesome proving ground for sail-powered land vehicles. We could have races!

Another possibility might be to use the unneeded pavement to build a giant pyramid, perhaps with mysterious markings and calligraphy. It would be a huge tourist attraction for Montgomery County!

by PA Ave Cycletrack -- where have my bollards gone? on May 16, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Route 205 is also a premise for Konterra. There is no way to know whether a significant fraction of people who buy into Konterra will use the MTA bus, but it would be prudent to keep Route 205 until Konterra is built and units sold--otherwise people who want to take the bus definitely will not move there.

by JimT on May 16, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

This only makes sense to me IF and only IF "the reallocation of resources to other transit bus alternatives" that the MTA claims in their email translates to more service for the buses they ARE keeping on the ICC. I'm a little surprised the 202 didn't do well, but that's probably because they didn't have enough trips. Same with the 203. The 205, not so much (iirc, they previously took a 205 round trip away and gave it to the 204).

The 201 is the only ICC bus the MTA actually made worthwhile with hourly buses in both directions 365 days a year, which is why it does as well as it does. The 204 surprises me some, but it makes sense that Frederick/Urbana -> FDA -> College Park would work. Perhaps they can have these buses running in both directions (dare I say, all day, like the 201)? With a stop at Shady Grove, please? I can't help but think that something going to and from Shady Grove to Frederick at the times when the 991/Brunswick Line aren't running would do amazingly well.

(on a side note, I know the 204 doesn't stop at Shady Grove because that's what the 991 is for, but I really wish (read: I live near Shady Grove and am biased) that the 204 stopped at Shady Grove)

by Justin..... on May 16, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Layman -- I've never been fully convinced that the the problems with the ICC are a product of lack of east-west demand. All you have to do is look at daily traffic jams on the beltway to know the demand is there.

The problems with the ICC are myriad, though. The cost is far too high, especially when the Beltway usually offers a more convenient alternative. Why would anyone pay to take the IC after 8:00 when Beltway delays are over? I guess a few do, but you can probably manually count the cars that use the road at that hour, or later.

Additionally, the ICC suffers from some of the same problems the beltway does -- the north-south routes it connects with in Montgomery County aren't highways. The beltway exits and those routes back up terribly, causing problems on the beltway. Unfortunately, though, the ICC travels to far to the north to be a good alternative, It means a long ride on roads with traffic lights and lower speed limits.

And that's the biggest failing. There might be demand for a road that connects Laurel and Rockville -- or better yet, connecting Columbia and Rockville -- but there's not much demand for a road that connects Laurel to Gaithersburg. That would be true for bus traffic especially. Perhaps if the road connected to dedicated bus lanes going south to Rockville and/or into DC, there would be an appreciable benefit for bus riders...but tht doesn't exist now.

There could be a useful east-west road, but the ICC isn't it -- not in its current configuration and current pricing...and not without more useful connections going to destinations south of the highway. Now, it's a highway to nowhere, but I can imagine how it might have been more useful..and even ways in which it might still be more useful.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 16, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

Off-topic, but I've noticed that when I am forced to answer the captcha question, it invariably takes 2 tries, even though I always submit the correct answer. Very annoying.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 16, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

We can't criticize the ICC for 'inducing demand' and then criticize it for lack of users. Just wait a few years and it will be nice and congested. And then drivers will scream when somebody suggests dedicating lanes for a 'new' BRT route.

by renegade09 on May 16, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

@Fischy (Ed F.)

I have to agree, the east west ICC is slopes south as it goes east. It would seem to me that had is started further south but then sloped north towards columbia it would have done better.
There are a lot of Columbia-Rockville Trips, but they dont take the ICC. There are a lot of Baltimore to Rockville trips but they certainly don't take the ICC either.

by Richard Bourne on May 16, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

@AwalkerInTheCity
Are they losing money on an operating basis? IE are operating costs in excess of toll revenues? cause closing the road will not get the construction costs back, those are sunk.

I'm sure other here are more on top of the ICC cost structure but as I recall from when this highway first opened revenue from all of Maryland's other toll facilities are being used to support the ICC bonds.

If that is the case then no - the ICC is not self-supporting and Maryland drivers crossing the Chesapeake are subsidizing Montgomery county commuters.

by JeffB on May 16, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

@ PA Ave Cycletrack: "A less radical option might be to close one side to motor vehicles and use the other side as a long, continuous runway for light airplanes? There'd still be plenty of pavement for motor vehicle traffic on the other side without congestion."

You just gave me a great idea. The old "CHiPS" TV police drama about the California Highway Patrol usually filmed its car chase scenes on unfinished highways not yet open to the public. They should close off the ICC and rent it out to Hollywood. I know I'd tune in to watch Law & Order:ICC.

by Chris S. on May 16, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

jeffb

the bonds need to be repaid even if the ICC is closed. I was not suggesting the ICC is self supporting, or a good idea - but that lower than forecast usage does not mean its going to be a good idea to shut it - since shutting it only avoids the operating costs, which I imagine are small, and below the toll revenue. I was addressing Dan's implication that shutting low usage bus lines, while not shutting a low usage highway is somehow modal discrimination. Its just the different econommics of the modes - one is mostly sunk costs, and transit buses are not. (note transit buses are rather different from rail in that respect - rail also has high sunk costs - which is a disadvantage - less flexibility - and an oft cited advantage - developers know it wont go away easily)

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 16, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

Maybe the ICC, with a few adujstments at the end, could be turned into a Formula One track?

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 16, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

Oh wait -- that won't work. I forgot that it's not considered to be safe to drive above 60 mph.

My ear, it's not.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 16, 2013 1:16 pm • linkreport

This road serves some commuters on the margin. What are the commuting patterns of middle and upper Montco? They go SOUTH, to Silver Spring, Bethesda, DC, Tysons. The road improves travel times for intra-suburban weekend and weeknight shopping trips.

There really isn't any way that anyone would use this road to save time on a longer trip, unless you live in Gaithersburg or Laurel. Going to Frederick from say, Hyattsville, do you take ICC? No. Going to Baltimore (or points north) from anywhere south of Rockville, do you take ICC? No. The road is a speedway through low density exurbs. What a colossal waste of money.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intercounty_Connector#Funding - $2.6 billion dollars.

by Nick on May 16, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

One of my issues with a lot of the commuter routes is that they are scheduled with only one focus with little to no base period or reverse commute options. As a result, they are hideously inefficient.

Initially, even the 201 suffered this same fate, as buses would feed into BWI in the morning with nothing returning towards Shady Grove until after many people come to work. It has gotten better with the addition of more trips and the versatility of Arundel Mills as a destination option, but it still frustratingly skips any connection at Broken Land Park and Ride to the HT Silver and E lines, despite travelling only 50 feet from it on Route 32.

Seems too often, the focus is providing an option to people with cars doing traditional style shifts, and while that is great, the fact that there are little to no options for those outside of that demographic is discouraging. I take the Z9 in from Burtonsville in the morning and see half a dozen people alight the outbound trip each day, who then have to use arranged transportation to get where they are going. Meanwhile the 201 heading in that direction goes non-stop to Arundel Mills without any thought to even the simplest of intermediate stopping points for connections.

by Adam P. on May 16, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

Any mention of the ICC's enormous cost brings to mind what $2.6 billion dollars could have done, like including retrofiting 100s of miles of suburban arterials into complete streets. Huge opportunity cost, for people, lives, environment, economic development in Maryland.

by Greenbelt on May 16, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

@ Author

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I'm no ICC lover, but let's be fair about the road usage. [Deleted.] The road is not projected (nor ever was) to have 71,000 trips per day for many many years, the road is over projected use for being open less than 2 years. I never had high hopes for bus service along the ICC and am in no way surprised it's being cut back, and am more surprised that so many people are upset by this. It connects two suburban locations, with express buses that only have a few pick up and drop off locations.

@ Richard Bourne, maybe I know the only people who do find going from Rockville/Gaithersburg to Baltimore via the ICC convenient, but I do know at least 3 people who regularly use that road, one as a daily commuter between Baltimore and Gaithersburg, one as a 1-2x a week business traveler between Baltimore and Rockville, and one as a 1-2x a month visit family between Baltimore and North Potomac.

Generally - I think the full potential use of this road won't be realized until Knotera really starts to build out, and only if it really becomes a regional employment and retail location. At that point, i'd agree i'd like to see some level of bus service restored, but may not MTA buses, lets have WAMATA or Ride On operate regular service. As for bike facilities, it's a shame they didn't get better implemented, although with the amount of people upset about possibly having to ride a bike next to a light rail line in Chevy Chase, I can't imagine anyone would find riding a bike next to a freeway palatable!

by Gull on May 16, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

There also aren't many drivers on the ICC. Around 21,000 cars per day use the road. The state says that meets projections, but the projections seem to change. At one point they were as high as 71,000.

I'm not sure what studies the figure of 71,000 was drawn from (if any), but the MDOT had projected usage by 2030 of 30,400 - 96,500. I think the toll may be hampering usage, as its daily usage was about 30,000 when the road did not charge a toll. There is also the somewhat unfair expectation that a large body of drivers will immediately change their driving habits right when a road opens.

That being said it neither makes sense to shut down the road nor shut down bus service. If anything bus service should be allowed to grow organically, just as driver usage has, or with some sort of advertising blitz.

by Scoot on May 16, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity
I was not suggesting the ICC is self supporting, or a good idea - but that lower than forecast usage does not mean its going to be a good idea to shut it - since shutting it only avoids the operating costs, which I imagine are small, and below the toll revenue.

Yes I agree. I think Dan's equivalence might have been a little tongue in cheek.

Going back to broken promises - wasn't one of them that Montgomery county drivers would bear a substantial portion of the costs through tolling? I think when the initial projections came out Montgomery representatives told the state they were badly mistaken if they thought they going to charge that much.

by JeffB on May 16, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

Why provide transit options if no one is using them?

The argument that cars are being "held to a different standard" and measures are being taken to "try and boost car use" on the ICC is a silly canard.

Anyone who is well-informed about the ICC is fully aware that the light traffic on the ICC is because of the high tolls, the lack of toll booths for cash users, and the road's reputation for being a speed trap. I would dare say that if the ICC was heavily-used, we would be hearing howls and whining from road opponents about the "negative effects" of so-called "induced demand".

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by ceefer on May 16, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

The points made by Richard Bourne and Ed F. are more detailed than the very general point I made. Yes, the ICC is truncated and could have had a better routing to generate ridership. Especially the cross-the-river connection. Konterra will make a bit of a difference, but actually not really in the great scheme of things. It will be many years (cf. Clarksburg) before it generates much in the way of activity and whether or not transit from such a distant location makes sense is another question--running buses for 10 years or more til it reaches some level of critical mass is nonsensical.

That being said, there are probably ways to better design bus routing and frequency to improve transit use, as some of the comments have indicated.

And yes, the toll issue makes a big difference that is hard to separate out from the more general issues.

by Richard Layman on May 16, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

I take the ICC every day. I commute from Gaithersburg to the Muirkirk MARC station, and from there I take the Camden Line to Baltimore. If there were a lot more people who did the same commute as me this road would be successful, but I realize that there are not.

by Paul on May 16, 2013 3:47 pm • linkreport

Dan, I think this article is trying too hard to make an ideological point about road building and cars when it should do a better job of fact-finding and explaining why bus usage might be low in the first place and how to improve it. The ICC is not going anywhere; its usage will keep going up, & the conversation should focus on how to improve the transit share on the ICC in order to make it convenient, safe and cost-effective for the most number of people. I'm not sure that playing identity politics and cultivating a culture of fear and anger is really all that effective. You don't want to stoop to the level of local lawmakers do you?

by Scoot on May 16, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

Scoot, the entire ICC is an embodiment of that point. It was pushed forward by the Ehrlich Administration as a strategy to spend all the fiscal and political capital that had been built for the Purple Line on something other than the Purple Line.

by Cavan on May 16, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

oh, wrt the trail, the Ehrlich Administration was adamantly against. I spoke to someone in a meeting with the Dept. of Planning and the MDOT, featuring then Sec. of Transpo Robt. Flanagan. The people in Planning pushed for the trail. Flanagan was livid. Later the people were told to back off on the trail or they would lose their jobs. We know what happened subsequently.

by Richard Layman on May 16, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

"Scoot, the entire ICC is an embodiment of that point. It was pushed forward by the Ehrlich Administration as a strategy to spend all the fiscal and political capital that had been built for the Purple Line on something other than the Purple Line."
-----

Considering the fact that the ICC had been on the planning boards for over 40 years and was repeatedly delayed and stymied by stubborn opponents who were able to get then-
Gov. Glendening to renege on a campaign promise to jump-start the IC, it can reasonably be argued that any "fiscal and political capital that had been built for the Purple Line" at that time came at the expense of the ICC.

I've heard just about every complaint about losing the fight to stop the ICC but the argument that it was built at the expense of the Purple Line is a new - and totally false - premise.

by ceefer66 on May 16, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

"Scoot, the entire ICC is an embodiment of that point. It was pushed forward by the Ehrlich Administration as a strategy to spend all the fiscal and political capital that had been built for the Purple Line on something other than the Purple Line."
-----

Considering the fact that the ICC had been on the planning boards for over 40 years and was repeatedly delayed and stymied by a small and vocal group stubborn opponents who were able to get then-Gov. Glendening to renege on a campaign promise to jump-start the ICC, it can reasonably be argued that any "fiscal and political capital that had been built for the Purple Line" at that time came at the expense of the ICC.

I've heard just about every complaint about losing the fight to stop the ICC but the argument that it was built "instead of" of the Purple Line is a new - and totally false - premise.

by ceefer66 on May 16, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

ceefer66
I seem to remember Erlich making the connection himself saying that instead of building the purple line he would build the ICC and then put buses on it.

by Richard Bourne on May 16, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

The ICC sure is convenient for my occasional trips between Rockville and Baltimore. But it doesn't seem to be worth the cost to taxpayers- I don't think I've ever seen more than 4 cars on it at once.

Also, I'm no traffic engineer, but it looks like >60mph would be safe the rest of the way after some sharper turns where I-370 meets the ICC. Say, between Georgia and I-95.

by Wilsonia on May 16, 2013 6:24 pm • linkreport

The road should have 65 mph speed limits. I would say even higher, the road is safe above 70 but with the cushion you usually get in MD I cannot really justify people driving over 80 if the speed limit was 75.

by Richard Bourne on May 17, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

The ICC is a step towards a Techway and perhaps a "Rockville Facility" to make it more useful.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on May 17, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

I knew this crap was going to happen. Idiot gov. Ehrlich promised to fund the bus routes so he could get the road built, knowing full well that they would be cancelled eventually.

Even the 201 route to BWI (by far the most useful) has low ridership. I actually contacted local county/state officials and the MTA about ideas to advertise for the route, but nothing was done.

That said, it's really annoying when I read articles claiming that it doesn't meet projections. As much as I think the road was a waste of money, lying about it's usage isn't helping anyone, and it is marginally useful to many.

As for the speed limits, people are only complaining because they get caught by the MdTA police which seemingly patrol the road 24/7. I-270 in Montgomery and the Beltway in Maryland have 55mph speed limits too. Doesn't stop me and 95% of other motorists from driving 65-80mph.

by King Terrapin on May 17, 2013 12:40 pm • linkreport

I live in the laurel/columbia area and have been searching for public transit to the green line metro to go downtown. Seems like all the buses go to silver spring, which is the red line. Anyone have suggestions?

by Bridget on May 17, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

The WMATA 89 bus goes from Laurel to the Greenbelt metro.

by Paul on May 20, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

"Why would anyone pay to take the IC after 8:00 when Beltway delays are over? "
---

As someone who actually uses the Beltway in Montgomery county, I can tell you that the delays are by no means "over after 8:00".

by ceefer on May 20, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

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