- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maryland’s Intercounty Connector has been more of an intracounty connector since it opened in February, spanning just 7 miles within Montgomery County.

However, the $2.6-billion highway will finally cross into Prince George’s County on Nov. 22, when the state opens an additional 10.4 miles of road, which officials hope will give thousands more motorists better access to their jobs and other destinations.

“I think it will be a huge relief,” project director Melinda Peters said Wednesday during a media tour of the highway. “We’ve heard from a lot of commuters in the area who are looking forward to the road opening.”

The ICC, officially named Maryland Route 200, currently runs from Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg to Maryland Route 97 in Olney, but the extension will stretch it to I-95 in Laurel. A third, less-than-2-mile section to Route 1 in Laurel is still in the bidding process, but state transportation officials say construction could begin as early as next year.

Crews worked Wednesday to put finishing touches on the second phase - planting trees, painting decorative walls and giving emergency personnel tours of the highway to give them the lay of the land.

“We’ve had people working very hard to make this a success,” Ms. Peters said.

The ICC is the newest of the state’s eight toll facilities, all of which are run by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The road relies entirely on electronic E-ZPass tolling and costs most vehicles as much as 25 cents a mile during peak travel hours. Motorists photographed driving the road without an E-ZPass are sent a notice requiring them to pay 150 percent of the normal fare.

The highway is not designed to relieve congestion on the Capital Beltway, I-270 or I-95, but is expected to improve travel between the counties and drastically reduce travel times to work and other places.

Officials said, for instance, that the completed road will shorten a trip from Gaithersburg to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport from the current 71 minutes to just 34 minutes.

MDTA Executive Secretary Harold Bartlett said ridership along the ICC has thus far been slightly better than expected, with nearly 15,000 vehicles using the road each day.

“It’s met our expectations, and we’re very confident that the second phase will be even more successful,” he said. “The highway will have more use for folks when it connects to I-95 and I-270.”

The state will allow all motorists to drive the entire highway free of charge from Nov. 22 to Dec. 4, a period during which officials said they expect traffic to increase to as many as 25,000 vehicles a day. They said traffic will likely dip when the MDTA begins charging again, but that the road could have as many as 30,000 vehicles a day by next June.