Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Maryland transportation officials assess performance of the ICC

The Inter-County Connector has performed up to expectations in little more than three months of channeling about 1 million paying drivers between Interstate 270 and Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County, transportation officials said Wednesday.

Traffic on Maryland’s newest highway, officially labeled Route 200, is expected increase by about 50 percent as drivers become more familiar with the tolling system, which automatically docks the $1.45 charge for most passenger vehicles from E-ZPass accounts.

“It is exactly where we expected traffic to be at this point in time,” said Cheryl Sparks, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. “It’s a new facility. It’s a new kind of tolling technology for Marylanders.”

Indeed, the road opened on Feb. 23 with as many as 347,000 drivers taking advantage of a 12-day, toll-free trial period. Traffic dipped sharply as soon as the toll system was activated March 7, but has rebounded steadily since then.

According to MdTA figures, there were 61,926 trips on the ICC during the first week tolls were charged, compared to 79,677 last week, when the Memorial Day holiday kept as many as 7,000 would-be commuters from the road on Monday.

The 82,065 vehicles recorded the week before was the highest such total for the tolled road.

Sparks said the authority, which oversees all of Maryland’s tolled highways, bridges and tunnels, expects traffic to increase to an average of 21,000 daily trips on the first, 5.7-mile section of the ICC in three years.

The second leg of the $2.6 billion, east-west artery — the balance of the 17.9 miles between I-270 and Interstate 95 near Laurel — is due to open late this year or in early 2012, according to a spokesman for the project.

“Which it turns out to be depends in large part on what kind of weather we have over the summer and into the fall,” said the spokesman, Ray Feldmann.

MdTA projects 55,000 drivers will use the road every day, easing congestion on parallel routes, including the oft-gridlocked Washington beltway in the Maryland suburbs.

“Anecdotally, there does seem to be less traffic on some of these local east-west roads,” Feldmann said.

Sparks said the authority is still monitoring traffic to get a feel for how people will use the ICC, but it is clear so far that commuters dominate.

Last week, workday traffic hovered between 13,600 and 14,000 trips per day, while weekend traffic averaged less than 8,000 per day.

“We haven’t been through a full year cycle yet to see what the traffic patterns are going to be on holidays,” she said. “It’s primarily going to be a commuter highway.”

And while Sparks said there have been increased E-ZPass sales in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, there is evidence of less-frequent users traveling the ICC. Some 20 percent of drivers have not had E-ZPass transponders in their cars. Sparks said that number could increase.

MdTA uses photos of license plates to identify the non-paying drivers and send them bills for the tolls, along with an additional $3 fee. As part of the authority raising tolls across the state, it has proposed to replace the flat fee with a 25-percent surcharge. Traveling from I-270 to George Avenue without an E-ZPass would cost less than $2, less than half the $4.45 charged now.

“If there’s an occasional user, and they’re only using it once a month, it’s not advantageous for them to get an E-ZPass,” Sparks said.

The MdTA is holding the first of nine public meetings on statewide toll hikes Thursday in Montgomery County, at Shady Grove Middle School. The base rates for the ICC would not be affected by the proposal, expected to go into effect Oct. 1, but some bridge and tunnel tolls in the state would more than triple.