A traveler who took a test drive on Maryland’s new Intercounty Connector during the two-week period before tolling started told me she was surprised to receive a mailing from the state after her trip. We hope you enjoyed traveling the ICC, said the letter from the Maryland E-ZPass service center. She said the mailing listed the time and date of the trip on the ICC, the license plate number of her car and a notice of “recorded unpaid toll transactions.”
Turns out that while we were taking our test drives, the Maryland Transportation Authority was testing the toll gantries. “Our tolling equipment was operational during the test drive period for the purpose of testing the toll equipment under live traffic conditions, as well as giving motorists the opportunity to become familiar with the roadway,” Cheryl Sparks, spokeswoman for the authority, said in an e-mail.
“We did send out notices to people who used the ICC during the test drive period to let them know there was not a charge and provide them with information on how to get an E-ZPass.”
I went back and forth on the connector many times during those first two weeks without realizing the gantries were operational. I have an E-ZPass transponder (wouldn’t leave home without it), so I haven’t gotten a similar mailing. But Sparks said a trip should show up on my regular E-ZPass statement with $0 next to it.
I don’t see anything amiss with the state testing out the equipment before tolling began on March 7. I just didn’t know it was happening, and neither did the traveler who wrote to me about it. She was put off by what seemed to her like a targeted advertisement for Maryland’s E-ZPass system. Americans are used to receiving targeted advertising in the regular mail or online. The unusual part about this mailing was that a license plate photo identified the target.
I suspect that most people who drove the ICC during the test period didn’t need a mailing to tell them their trip was free. If they were smart enough to find the connector just after it opened, they were smart enough to know there would be no charge for driving it then. The number of motorists using the highway dropped sharply once tolling started.
Any notice about a trip after March 6 won’t be an advertisement. A vehicle owner who doesn’t have an E-ZPass will receive a notice of toll due — with the toll based on the time of day the connector was used — and a $3 service charge. [The service charge takes effect April 6.] Drivers who have E-ZPass transponders will see the tolls show up on their E-ZPass statements.