This story was corrected on July 2, 2013.
Drivers are cutting their commuting time to about half by using the Intercounty Connector, according to a new study released by the Maryland Transportation Authority and the State Highway Administration.
Driving from Laurel to Gaithersburg during morning rush hour normally would take more than 47 minutes, but takes 17 minutes on the 18-mile ICC, according to the study.
Ellen Bogage, the president and CEO of Chesapeake Public Strategies, uses the ICC, also known as Md. 200, on her daily commute.
“I value my time,” she said. “If it gives me back some of my time at home or in the office, that’s a huge benefit.”
She drives from her home in Olney to the Washingtonian Center in 10 minutes on the toll road, down from 24 minutes.
Results of the study are not surprising to Marilyn Balcombe, the president and CEO of the Gaithersburg Germantown Chamber of Commerce. She called the 2½-year-old ICC efficient and takes it when she drives to Baltimore, Prince George’s County or Annapolis.
The study would make more sense if more people were using the road, as it cuts commutes, Balcombe said. But that’s not the case.
“It’s still too expensive,” she said. “In order to get people to use it the tolls should be lower.”
The state has said that the volume on the ICC, which cost $2.56 billion, is meeting expectations, she said.
“Our response is that they have pretty low expectations. We would like to see that road used a lot more,” Balcombe said.
Shorter commuting times don’t address the lack of users, said Councilman Philip M. Andrews, who fought against building the toll road. He thinks the state is not confronting the major issue of cost.
“The ICC is not providing enough traffic relief because the tolls are so high that people avoid using it,” said Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.
ICC tolls are among the highest in the country, with $8 a day round trip during morning and afternoon rush hours. That comes to $40 a week for drivers who commute from Gaithersburg to Laurel.
The high tolls keep more people from using the highway and crowd other roads, when it was built to relieve pressure off Interstates 270 and 495, Balcombe said.
“The state needs to recognize that people’s decision to use the ICC is very much based on cost, unlike the Bay Bridge, which people have no alternative to,” Andrews said.
The councilman has been working with Gaithersburg-Germantown chamber to push the state to lower ICC tolls or offer frequent drivers a discount, as regular users of the Bay Bridge can get.
“These things take time,” Balcombe said.
In March, a little more than two years after the highway opened, the state increased the speed limit by 5 mph. “We were able to get the speed limit raised. It should have been 65 mph, but we were happy that it went to 60 mph at least,” she said.
If people aren’t using the ICC because of cost, this study won’t change their habits, according to Balcombe.
“The ICC was not built to be a Lexus lane,” she said. “We need to do what we can to get people to use it.”
Correction: The story originally quoted Andrews as saying the ICC wasn’t providing enough “traffic.” He said he said “traffic relief.”