Drivers on the new Intercounty Connector highway linking the Washington suburbs could be paying among the nation's highest tolls, as the Maryland Transportation Authority approved Thursday a plan to charge two-axle vehicles up to 35 cents per mile during peak travel times.
Brushing aside complaints that its proposed tolls were too steep, the nine-member authority that oversees Maryland's bridges, tunnels and toll roads approved a variable rate plan for the ICC with few changes from what it had unveiled in September, though it did set a new "overnight" rate as low as 10 cents per mile.
Cars, vans, pickups and motorcycles using the 18-mile highway could be charged 25 cents to 35 cents per mile on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Rates during off-peak travel times could range from 20 cents to 30 cents per mile.
Ronald Freeland, the authority's executive secretary, said setting lower overnight tolls, which would apply from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., would give motorists "an opportunity to actually use the ICC to see if it's a highway that meets their needs." The tolls collected would be adjusted on 10 days' notice to manage congestion and would be collected electronically.
But the late-night tolls, which still could range up to 30 cents per mile, did little to mollify critics of the fees being charged to use the road linking Interstate 95 and U.S. 1 near Laurel with Interstate 370 near Gaithersburg. The first leg, from I-370 to Route 97, is slated for completion next fall, with construction of the eastern portion to be finished in late 2011 or early 2012.
Montgomery County officials, who had sought lower tolls for regular commuters, voiced their displeasure. County Council President Nancy Floreen said the authority's action "borders on highway robbery."
Ragina Averella, spokeswoman for the motorist club AAA Mid-Atlantic, welcomed the possibility of lower late-night tolls, but said they would be of little help to the majority of the highway's users.
Environmentalists, who had opposed the highway, said high tolls would undermine its reason for construction - to relieve congestion on neighborhood roads. But Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a supporter of the ICC, called the tolls a "reality" needed to pay for the $2.5 billion highway.