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Next month: Laurel to Gaithersburg in 17 minutes

The second stretch of the $2.6 billion Inter-County Connector will open in time for the morning rush hour on Nov. 22, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The highway, officially named Maryland 200, runs through the Washington suburbs, linking Gaithersburg in Montgomery County to Laurel in Prince George’s County.

“Today, the morning commute between Laurel and Gaithersburg takes about 47 minutes on stop-and-go local roads,” MdTA Executive Secretary Harold M. Bartlett said Friday. “This same trip will take just more than 17 minutes on the ICC.”

MdTA opened the first segment of the ICC in February, with 7.2 miles of road linking Interstate 270 and Georgia Avenue. November’s opening of another 10.4 miles will take the road all the way to Interstate 95.

Drivers will be able travel the entire length for free from Nov. 22 until Dec. 5, when the authority will begin collecting tolls from automated E-ZPass readers along the highway.

Rates range from 10 cents per mile to 25 cents per mile, depending on the time of day. A trip along the full length of the ICC during rush hour will cost the driver of a car $4.

As it prepares to open the eastern stretch of the ICC, the MdTA is also shoring up bridges on the already opened western length of the highway. Inspectors this month discovered cracks in supports of three bridges that carry local roads over the new highway.

“They’re basically hairline cracks,” Bartlett said. “There was no immediate safety concern or anything of that nature. We knew we wanted to address those cracks as soon as we could and get the long-term durability out of the structure.”

MdTA has wrapped steel cables around the cracked supports to stop the cracks from growing as the authority’s contractors, which will foot the bill for the repairs, search for a long-term solution.

The second section of the ICC was built with different bridge designs, Bartlett said, adding the authority has found no problems there.

The final portion of the ICC, between I-95 and Route 1, is expected to open in 2014, after eight years of construction on the long-sought east-west route north of the capital beltway.

The National Capital Planning Commission recommended a second beltway in 1950. Maryland’s suburban jurisdictions scrapped the idea in 1968, but kept the stretch from I-270 to I-95 in their long-term plans.

Maryland began its first of three studies of the planned highway in 1979, and 20 years later, Gov. Parris Glendening halted the second over environmental concerns. His successor, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., pressed forward with the project, and his administration chose the route and broke ground in 2006.

Nearly half of the ICC’s cost falls on MdTA, which runs the state’s other toll facilities. The authority’s $1.23 billion in bonds will be paid with future toll revenues.

Bonds paid with future federal highway aid (called GARVEE bonds, for Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles) cover $750 million of the highway’s cost. The Maryland Transportation Trust Fund kicked in $180 million and the state’s general account added another $265 million. Maryland will have to come up with another $103 million starting in fiscal 2015 to cover the balance of the construction costs.