First stretch of Intercounty Connector toll road in Maryland to open Feb. 22

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 8:10 PM

The first segment of the long-awaited, much-debated Intercounty Connector will open Feb. 22, Maryland officials said Monday.

The 7.2-mile portion of the $2.56 billion toll road, delayed for years by objections and lawsuits, will connect Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg and Georgia Avenue in northern Silver Spring.

"We are opening for business at 6 a.m. . . . unless there's a horrific weather event," said Harold M. Bartlett, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Transportation. "People probably will still see us doing some work on signage and drainage, but it's all very minor."

ICC officials had hoped to open the 18.8-mile toll road, which will be known as Route 200, in December, but rain and cold weather set back completion dates.

The six-lane highway's origins can be traced to the mid-20th century, when the Capital Beltway was being completed and planners talked of a second outer ring of superhighway around Washington. When it was first envisioned, planners thought most of it would be finished by 1970. And 26 years ago, the total cost of the project was pegged at $216 million.

When completed, Route 200 will connect the I-270 corridor in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Laurel, in northwestern Prince George's County. The remaining two segments in the highway's middle and eastern sections are to open late this year or early next year.

The ICC will use variable-priced tolling, a relatively novel concept that is expected to become common on new highways, high-occupancy toll lanes, and some existing highways as cash-strapped governments seek new revenue.

"If you don't have an E-ZPass, you should get one," Bartlett said.

Tolls will not go into effect until March 6.

"The test-drive period will give motorists an opportunity to become familiar with the highway's all-electronic tolling and variable pricing while allowing us to test the tolling equipment under actual traffic conditions," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said in announcing the opening plan.

There will be no toll booths. Drivers who don't have the electronic E-ZPass devices will be "video-tolled." A camera will record their license plate number, and their toll charge will arrive in the mail with a $3 service fee. To avoid paying the added charge, drivers can buy E-ZPasses at service centers, including locations in Beltsville and Gaithersburg.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said the $3 surcharge would be waived for the first 30 days.

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