Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday that he has dedicated the Intercounty Connector to his friend and onetime boss, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
The two Republicans celebrated the dedication in Rockville beside the toll road, which Ehrlich fought to build during his term a decade ago. Hogan served in Ehrlich's Cabinet.
"For me, this is a real personal pleasure and an honor," Hogan said.
The road links Interstates 270 and 370 in Montgomery County to I-95 and U.S. 1 in Prince George's County. Plans were started for the connector as far back as 1955, Hogan said.
Hogan said the ICC was Ehrlich's "signature achievement" for Maryland. He credited him with persuading then-President George W. Bush to have the federal government help pay for it and for persuading Democrats to build it.
Hogan said jokingly that Ehrlich's emphasis on the road was so fierce that he nicknamed his transportation chief, Bob Flanagan, "Secretary Bob if-I-don't-get-the-ICC-built-I'm-fired Flanagan."
"It's as good as government gets," Ehrlich said of the project. "This was hard. There was a lot of people who never thought it would get done. There was a lot of cynicism."
Ehrlich said he was humbled by the dedication, and it was strange to receive such an honor while still alive.
"It's kind of weird," he said, looking at the sign. "But it's an honor."
Hogan was Ehrlich's appointment secretary during the former Republican governor's term from 2003 to 2007. The two have remained friends and political allies.
The formal decision to dedicate the roadway came earlier Thursday with a unanimous vote by the Maryland Transportation Authority, agency spokeswoman Cheryl Sparks said.
The dedication does not necessarily mean commuters should or will call the ICC something else. Several other prominent Maryland highways have been dedicated and retained their original names — notably a portion of I-395 near Camden Yards in Baltimore that honors former Oriole Cal Ripken Jr. and I-97, which honors the late Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County.
By contrast, Maryland passed legislation to formally rename the state's airport in honor of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The 17-mile ICC was controversial from the beginning because of its cost and the Ehrlich administration's plan to pay for it. At $2.6 billion, the ICC is the most expensive toll road in the state.
Del. Eric Bromwell, vice chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, was a freshman lawmaker at the time. A decade later, he still objects to the way it was financed.
He said the administration hiked car registration fees, promised future tax money for the project and imposed comparatively high tolls.
"We didn't have the money to do it," Bromwell said. "Every Maryland driver had to pay, and it wasn't fair. My grandma lived in Ocean City at the time. She paid as much as I did, and I lived in Baltimore County and had a sales job."
Bromwell said a lot of ICC supporters would rather have seen an increase in the gas tax to pay for the road.
In 2013, under Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly did raise the tax on gasoline, generating hundreds of millions a year. That money is paying for dozens of road projects Hogan has championed around the state.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Hogan may briefly draw attention to good Republican governance by dedicating the highway to Ehrlich. But "in the grand scheme of issues that matter, this isn't one of them."
During the dedication event, Ehrlich made a point of thanking Democratic county executives who helped shepherd the project to completion, including former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, who considered challenging Ehrlich in the 2006 election.
One of Hogan's anticipated Democratic rivals for the 2018 election criticized the governor. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz urged his supporters Thursday to "tell Hogan to honor heroes, not politicians."
In an email blast, Kamenetz noted Hogan pushed the dedication without consulting state lawmakers, and said that the governor should have honored Marylander Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad on the Eastern Shore instead.
"Rather than glorifying living politicians, we should be honoring the legacy of Maryland's heroes," said Kamenetz, a frequent political sparring partner of the governor.
Ehrlich said in an interview that accepting the dedication does not spell the end of his political career, though he has no current plans to run for office. He said if he did, it would be for a federal post "if the right opportunity would come along."
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.