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Tolling Points

‘Remarkable Feat’ Shows Success of Maryland’s All-Electronic Intercounty Connector

Bill Cramer

The Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Automobile Association recognized yet another example of a successful all-electronic tolling project, with a report late last month on Maryland’s Intercounty Connector (ICC).

Critics might once have written it off as the road not taken. But the ICC, which runs almost 19 miles to connect interstate highways 270 and 95, is now the state’s second-most popular tolled facility, with nearly 30 million trips in 2016.

“It defies all expectations; it defies the odds,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic’s John Townsend. “It garners more travelers per year than the Bay Bridge, the Nice Bridge, and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. That’s a remarkable feat.”

Townsend said the key to success for the nearly 19-mile road is the time it saves drivers compared to other east-west routes like the Capital Beltway. “Drivers can cut their travel times in half, so those are real tangible time savings,” he said.

Familiarity Breeds Partnership

While AAA has generally been more inclined to support tolling on new capacity rather than existing roadways, its distributed structure means individual clubs have taken a variety of positions on the issue over the years. “It varies from region to region, depending, frankly, on the user’s experience with various types of facilities,” the association’s Vice President, Public Affairs, Kathleen Bower, said a couple of years ago.

But as an all-electronic facility built to ease congestion in one of the nation’s most crowded highway corridors, the Intercounty Connector fits the bill for the kind of tolled infrastructure AAA is looking for. In comments reported on Tolling Points, Bower said AAA supports AET as an innovation that “improves safety, helps with emissions, certainly speeds traffic and helps reduce congestion.”

IBTTA has certainly been pleased to communicate and collaborate with AAA—and with the dozens of other national associations we keep in touch with through our Moving America Forward campaign—to build common ground for tolling as part of a toolbox of highway funding options. But it takes projects like the ICC to make the case in practical terms, just as it takes a steady, sustained lobbying effort to pave the way for successful projects.

You Know You’re Winning When…

The “road not taken” moniker suggests the ICC may have had some growing pains along the way. It wouldn’t be the first piece of infrastructure, in transportation or any other field, to encounter unexpected curves on the road to success.

But news coverage from November 2011 suggests drivers were so excited about Maryland’s first all-electronic toll road that they couldn’t wait for its official 6 AM opening to try it out.

Once the commuting day got under way, “giddy drivers honked as they drove on the newly-opened InterCounty Connector Tuesday morning,” WTOP TV reported at the time.

“WTOP’s Kristi King drove the stretch Tuesday morning, the first morning the toll road is fully open. Going the posted 55 mph speed limit, she clocked the Montgomery County to Prince George’s County trip at well under a half-hour.” By contrast, “without the ICC, getting from Gaithersburg to Laurel took 47 minutes.”

That was a great start for a badly-needed road, but you know you’re winning when elected leaders treat a project as part of their legacy. Fast forward six years, and WTOP has Maryland Governor Larry Hogan dedicating the road to his predecessor and fellow Republican, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who was instrumental in getting the corridor built.

For his part, Ehrlich credited hard work and bipartisan support with pushing the project across the finish line.

Click here for the latest on IBTTA’s Moving America Forward campaign.