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Big Brother knows when you travel the Intercounty Connector…

March 24, 2011, 11:01 PM

On February 23, the first phase of Maryland Route 200, otherwise known as the Intercounty Connector (ICC), opened from Shady Grove station to Norbeck Road, with an interchange at Georgia Avenue.

Taking advantage of the fact that tolls were waived on the ICC for the first week and a half of operation (it’s normally a toll road), I rode the ICC for the first time on February 26, riding from Georgia Avenue to I-370, and then I turned around somewhere on Sam Eig Highway. Basically, for those not following the designations, it’s one road with three names. My trip going west started at Georgia Avenue on Maryland Route 200 (Intercounty Connector). At Shady Grove Metro, the MD 200/ICC designation ends, and I-370 begins. Then at I-370’s interchange with I-270, the I-370 designation ends and the road becomes Sam Eig Highway, and goes for a while longer as an arterial, and then as a regular surface road (but whatever, I’ve never traveled Sam Eig Highway beyond where I turned around).

The ICC is certainly a nice-looking road, with the concrete sound walls designed to look like natural stone, and stained to match. Plus they also did a lot of work on the landscaping, and there is even a short tunnel along the route, covered in bright white tile (seriously, this is like the-color-of-your-toilet white, and lit brightly).

Then there was a MdTA cop on the side of the road standing there next to his Crown Victoria with his radar gun, looking for marks. Just because people could ride the road for free, you see, doesn’t mean that Maryland wasn’t out fundraising on it anyway. So instead of just tolling people, they sent a cop out to play cat-and-mouse with people, and raise revenue that way (and no, Mr. MdTA cop and I did not meet).

Then a few weeks later, I get a letter in the mail from E-ZPass Maryland. Take a look:

ICC notice, page 1  ICC notice, page 2
(I know you can’t read it at this resolution, so here’s a PDF of it)

Yes, I got my first ICC bill, dated March 13. I was surprised about it, because I rode during the free period, and really wasn’t expecting them to send me anything because the tolls were waived. But I guess the free period was a dry run for everything, including printing and mailing notices telling people that they knew that they rode the ICC and didn’t have to pay them anything. Your tax dollars at work. Thank you, Maryland, for spending money to inform me that I don’t owe you anything to drive the roads that the taxes that I paid went to build. I want my taxes lowered if this is the crap it’s going to pay for.

Personally, the whole affair came off as a tad creepy. For those who don’t have E-ZPass (kind of like SmarTrip for cars), the same gantry that has the E-ZPass equipment also has cameras on it to photograph your license plate. Then the state sends a bill to the registered owner of the car. For the free period, it’s like, “We know that you drove the ICC! Nyah!” Big Brother is watching. No one gets to ride the ICC discreetly. Your government knows that you rode. I would like to know what else they see on that video tolling gantry. I should go through one time talking on my cell phone and see if I don’t get a little note that says that I’m not supposed to do that (talking and driving is illegal in Maryland, but they can’t pull you over for it unless you’re also doing something else).

Of course, as mentioned, you can avoid the whole video tolling by just getting an E-ZPass, which is a bit of a ripoff for someone like me. For Maryland, however, joining the E-ZPass club comes with a $1.50 per month account maintenance fee, plus I have to keep like $35 in my account. I will go nowhere near that amount of usage in a given month, and would likely pay more in their stupid maintenance fee money-grab than I would in tolls on most months. This is why, if I get an EZ-Pass, I will probably end up doing it through Virginia. No maintenance fee there from what I can tell. For a few casual ICC trips, a few runs on the Dulles Toll Road, and maybe one trip or so up north in a given year, what amounts to an $18 annual maintenance fee for a casual user is a show-stopper. If I drove toll facilities regularly, it might be a different story, but I don’t.

The other question is, why can’t E-ZPass be more like “SmarTrip for cars”, where you control your fills, and can run it down if need be. See, unless I know I’m going up north, I see no reason to ever keep more than five bucks on it at any given time. Or just keep track of all my E-ZPass hits for, say, a week, and then just charge my credit card for tolls owed at the end of the period. I think it’s unreasonable for a casual user to have to keep an amount well beyond what I’ll ever use in my account.

I don’t know… I have a feeling that I can shunpike it, since between the video-tolling letter to my house and the cop doing some aggressive fundraising out there, the ICC doesn’t seem worth the trouble. I’ve gone this long without an Intercounty Connector, and I can continue to get along just fine without it.

Web site: The Intercounty Connector...

Song: Don't really have one right now...

Quote: Maybe when the ICC extends to I-95 will it become useful for me. Until then, though, Norbeck Road, East Gude Drive, and Route 355 will do it for me for getting to I-270.

Categories: Roads