The fresh blacktop of the $2.45 billion Intercounty Connector will open today at 6 a.m. after more than 50 years of debate and four years of construction.
The section opening today will allow commuters to drive quickly from I-370 in Montgomery County to I-95 in Prince George's County. Now, all that's left to build of the 18.2 mile highway is a small stretch connecting I-95 to Route 1, which is set to begin construction later this year or early next year.
Maryland political leaders celebrated on Monday at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the major extension to Maryland’s newest toll road.
Political leaders including Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary John Porcari, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett arrived at the ceremony in a large commuter bus with “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang blaring in the background.
“Cel-e-brate good times, c’mon!”
Brown said the new highway would connect communities and create jobs. He said the all-electronic toll system would result in fewer delays.
Tolls on the new highway will be collected using the E-Z pass transponder system. Costs will vary on distance traveled as well as on what time of day it is. Peak rates are 25 cents per mile, off-peak rates are 20 cents per mile and overnight rates are 10 cents per mile.
To travel from I-95 to I-370 during the week at peak hours would cost a commuter $4 each way or about $1,500 per year for a daily commuter.
The project, which was largely financed with federal and state bonds, opened on time and within budget, according to Melinda Peters, the newly installed state highway administrator. The total cost of the highway and related projects was $2.45 billion, according to Peters.
The highway will significantly reduce travel time between Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. A trip from Gaithersburg to Laurel that would previously take about 47 minutes on local roads will only take 17 on the ICC, according to the Maryland Transport Authority.
“The ICC will literally link the Baltimore and D.C. metro areas in a way they haven’t been before,” Porcari said.
Porcari said the system of charging different fees at different times is a method used to control congestion that is a trend around the country. Examples already exist in Denver and California.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker called the new highway the “economic engine of the state.” He said it makes it possible to attract and create jobs in Prince George’s County.
For some, the opening of the highway is the end of a very long process.
Roy Buyer, 88, was a member of one of the first planning commissions for the highway 14 years ago. He said it was wonderful to see it open.
“They say it has been over 50 years in development,” said Buyer, “It’s 58 years. The highway was placed on the Master Plan in 1953.”
Back then, the plan stalled when many residents saw it as overly expensive and unnecessary. When the plan was brought back up in the 1990s environmental concerns and cost were still major barriers to construction. By 2002, it became a campaign issue for then Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), who promised the highway would be built. In 2006, the plan got final approval after Ehrlich secured federal funds with the help of President George W. Bush. Construction began in 2007, according to Washington Post reports from the time.
On Monday, a small group of three protesters held signs that read “O’Malley’s Folly, Taking a Toll on Maryland” and “Welcome to the George W. Bush – Martin J. O’Malley Memorial Boondoggle” at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“We couldn’t afford it then, we can’t afford it now,” said Julie Martin-Korb, a protester from Redland Station, “The toll is one of the highest in the country, basically no one can use the road we paid so much to build.”
The peak hours rate of 25 cents per mile is lower than some of the highest tolls nationally. The Delaware Turnpike costs $4 to travel 11.2 miles or 36 cents per mile, and the Denver, Colorado express lanes cost $4 to travel 9 miles during peak hours.
Leggett used the ribbon cutting ceremony to make the case for increased revenue. He said the new funds would allow the state to address other transportation problems.
“We need that transportation tax more than ever,” said Leggett.
In August, Gov. toward of a possible increase in the gas tax. Leggett and Baker the proposal. If approved by the legislature, the move would increase the state’s 23.5 cents-per-gallon tax by 15 cents.
The ICC will officially open at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. The highway will be free until midnight on Dec. 4, when the tolls will go into effect.