The new 18.8-mile highway between Gaithersburg and Laurel has added quickly — and relatively significantly — to the state’s toll losses. The ICC accounts for 5 percent of the state’s toll revenue. However, the nearly $670,000 in unpaid tolls between January and June amounted to almost 30 percent of all tolls that went uncollected statewide during that time, according to figures obtained from the Maryland Transportation Authority.
The ICC’s problem is twofold: As an all-electronic road with no toll booths, the ICC can charge tolls only by deducting them from E-ZPass transponders or by mailing a photo of the vehicle tag along with an invoice for a higher “video toll” to the vehicle’s registered owner. However, Maryland’s tolling authority doesn’t use the kinds of enforcement measures — vehicle registration suspensions and court referrals — that tolling experts say are the most effective in getting people to pay the mailed bills.
State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s transportation subcommittee, said she plans to hold a hearing early next year on the state’s toll collection methods.
“We can’t afford to leave money on the table,” Pugh said. “The ICC was a very expensive road to build.”
As the ICC on Thursday marks the first anniversary of its full opening, its violation rate is noteworthy because it is the Washington region’s first all-electronic toll road. Made possible by new technology, all-electronic tolling is gaining popularity across the country as a way to move traffic, reduce vehicle emissions and improve safety.
Maryland officials are considering all-electronic systems for the state’s seven other toll facilities, and the tolled express lanes under construction on Interstate 95 northeast of Baltimore will be all-electronic. The new tolled express lanes that opened Saturday on the Virginia side of the Capital Beltway also have no toll booths.
Meanwhile, motorists who do follow the rules on the ICC are paying some of the highest toll rates in the country, and toll-payers throughout Maryland are subsidizing whatever ICC motorists don’t cover to pay off the road’s construction costs. The authority recently raised tolls statewide to cover construction financing costs on the $2.56 billion ICC and the $1 billion express lanes on I-95. Tolls are scheduled to increase statewide again in July, in some cases more than doubling since October 2011.
Harold Bartlett, the authority’s executive secretary, said he is “using every arrow in my quiver” to enforce toll collections by mail but said the ICC’s overall violation rate of 2.8 percent did not significantly affect the authority’s financial health. Statewide, the authority collects all but about 0.67 percent of tolls, he said.