Martin Di Caro
TYSONS CORNER -- In a region where transportation experts say new highways will likely be accompanied by new tolls, the operators of two new toll roads are facing an obstacle in getting more potential customers.
The operators of the ICC in Maryland, the Maryland Transportation Authority, and the 495 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia, the construction conglomerate Fluor-Transurban, are working to convince reluctant drivers to obtain EZ Pass transponders.
The Intercounty Connector, which has been opened more than a year, has seen more success in converting motorists to EZ Pass customers than the private sector company in charge of the 495 Express Lanes, who say 46 percent of Beltway travelers do not have EZ Pass.
Despite critics who say both highways are suffering from lack of traffic volume to justify their large price tags (about $2 billion each), the MdTA and Transurban both say it takes two years for traffic to ramp up on a new toll road, especially in a region where tolls have not been commonplace.
"Our marketing and education campaign is going to continue throughout this year. So you will see us doing things like employer outreach with employers in Tysons Corner to get the word out directly to employees that you need the EZ Pass," said Express Lanes spokesman Michael McGurk.
Unlike the ICC, the Express Lanes are EZ Pass only, although if a motorist drives the highway without EZ Pass they will receive a bill in the mail for the toll plus a $1.50 surcharge with a five-day window to pay without penalty. The ICC also employs video tolling, which will send non-EZ pass users a bill for the toll plus 50 percent with a thirty day window to pay without penalty.
"We want to give our customers in Maryland as many options as possible and make it easier for them to use our facilities," said MdTA Executive Secretary Harold Bartlett. "They can use our all electronic highways and we merely take a picture of their license plate and we send them a bill in the mail."
Maryland lawmakers approved legislation authorizing video tolling on the ICC to prevent lost tolls from happening because some motorists may not want to get EZ Pass. Still, 86 percent of ICC users pay their tolls with EZ Pass, according to MdTA figures.
As for the struggle in Northern Virginia, McGurk says, "This just speaks broadly to the big change the 495 Express Lanes introduced in the region."
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