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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 03/14/2011

Connector vs. Interstate: Fair test?

Mark Berman and I have received a lot of feedback on our Commuter page feature, Which Way? Connector vs . Interstate. I sense you all wanted Berman to win.

To test a commute using the new Intercounty Connector, we drove from Gaithersburg to the D.C. line south of Silver Spring. Berman took the connector, while I took a more traditional route using Interstates 370, 270 and 495.I planned the two routes thinking that a realistic test of this first segment of the ICC required combining it with at least one other commuter road. So I picked Georgia Avenue as the eastern exit for each of us and put us on the avenue heading south to the District.

Based on my choice of starting point on MD 355, I figured the ICC driver would have a very fast trip on the connector — it should take about six minutes — but would be slowed reaching it, via Shady Grove Road, and exiting from it, along Georgia Avenue. The Interstate driver would encounter congestion on I-270, but should be out of the worst of it by the time he reached Connecticut Avenue on the Beltway. Then he would have a much shorter trip down Georgia Avenue to the finish line. So I was guessing a win for the ICC driver, but not a blowout.

When we do these “Which Way?” tests of commuter routes, I hope that travelers will discover many things they didn’t know about alternative routes, such as how efficient they are, how stressful and how difficult to navigate. I treat them as a study, not a race.

Berman, a younger man, is much more competitive. After an earlier test drive, I reached my desk in the newsroom to find a note scrawled on a Starbuck’s napkin reminding me that I had been “beaten.”

Lest you think that revenge factored into the ICC/Interstate comparison, know that I allowed Berman to choose his route: ICC or Interstate. While Berman is a TomTom assisted driver, I figured his pathfinding would be easy: Left onto Shady Grove Road, left onto the ICC, “take the exit for Georgia Avenue” (one of only two eastbound exits on the ICC), then head south on Georgia Avenue to the D.C. line.

Is it my fault the ICC exit sign says “97” and not “Georgia Avenue”?

Berman surged past old “97” till he could go no farther on the ICC and had to exit at Norbeck Road. I might have turned right to return to Georgia Avenue, but Berman listened to his TomTom and turned left for Layhill Road. That wouldn’t have been too bad either, but after a little while, Berman abandoned the GPS and let the force be with him.

Here’s a sampler of your reactions. This first one comes from an Olney to Silver Spring commuter.

Hello folks:

Thanks for comparing different routes involving the Intercounty Connector. Without giving my opinion of the ICC, I have to say that the drive-off was not a fair comparison. Regarding the Mark Berman route down Georgia Avenue, Mark notes that his GPS misguided him upon exit from the ICC at Norbeck Road. As a long-time local of the area, I can say going east/left on Norbeck is actually not a bad idea. The real blunder was trying to return to Georgia Avenue via Bel Pre Road. Mark would have so much better staying on Layhill (Route 182) south until it hit Georgia Avenue in the Glenmont area, just before the intersection of Georgia Avenue with Randolph Road (which indeed is a bad intersection regardless of how you approach it).

If this more sensible route had been taken, it would have been shorter by probably about 12-15 minutes, making the drive-off a tie at worst for Mark. Of course, we are only taking about comparing time of travel, not cost nor personal preference for highway driving vs. stop-and-go primary road travel.

Mark Glaudemans

Others want a do-over.

Dear Mr. Berman and Mr. Thomson:

While your article did not claim to be scientific, I have to take issue with the obviously skewed results and demand another test drive!

I’m neither a supporter or an opponent of the ICC. In fact, I will never likely use this new highway, even when it’s fully complete. However, most every driver in the region knows that Georgia Avenue is signed as MD 97, so I was surprised to read that Mr. Berman (who a morning traffic reporter, no less) isn’t familiar with the area roads.

Notwithstanding the misleading graphic (which at first, led me to believe that there isn’t an exit from the ICC to Georgia Avenue), the reader only comes to learn in the very last paragraph (”the Final Tally”) that the ICC route would have actually been shorter (by about 4 miles) and would have saved a few minutes over the I-270 routing.

Sta rt your engines, and let’s try this again!

Mark Smith, College Park

The graphic was intended only to show our routes. Don’t clip and save it as a road map. But I should note that neither online maps nor GPS units are displaying the ICC segment at this point. See some maps here.

As for Berman’s experience, I think it will likely prove very helpful to drivers who haven’t chosen to memorize previous Dr. Gridlock columns about the Intercounty Connector. (There must be at least a few.) The Maryland Department of Transportation should review what the entrance and exit signs say so they are as clear as possible. It’s a new highway, and it will draw new drivers.

As for a rematch, well, I know Berman is anxious for one, but I might just enjoy my championship status for a little while. Not that I’m competitive.

Meanwhile, are there other road or transit routes you would like us to compare?

By  |  10:54 AM ET, 03/14/2011

 
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