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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 11/21/2011

The Intercounty Connector: Travelers are eager for a test

Many drivers want to find out whether Maryland’s new Intercounty Connector is going to be useful to them.

Since February, a six-mile stretch has been open between Shady Grove and the Olney area, but that was no real test. There were only two real connections for commuters. Once the 10-mile addition opens, the highway will add connections at Layhill Road, New Hampshire Avenue, Route 29 (Columbia Pike), Briggs Chaney Road and Interstate 95.

In anticipation of the scheduled opening at 6 a.m. Tuesday, I wrote a user’s guide to the Intercounty Connector. At the end, I invited travelers to write in with their suggestions for test drives I could perform to measure the highway’s usefulness.

Some drivers have offered their suggestions, displaying not only their interest, but also a few of the possibilities for making this expensive road-building project worthwhile.

Here’s the idea:

“Could you please try timing the commute from the I-270/370 interchange via the ICC to the Food and Drug Administration campus at 10903 New Hampshire Ave., White Oak? Lots of drivers are interested!”

Or this: “I live in Ellicott City and take the bus from the Mall in Columbia. My workplace is the new Walter Reed in Bethesda. I would like the ICC tested using the route of the commuter bus Route 203, which is supposed to start Jan. 3.

“According to the Maryland Transit Administration, the route starts at the Snowden River Park and Ride in Columbia, proceeds to the mall, then to Scaggsville, Burtonsville, and the Georgia Avenue Park and Rides before arriving at the Medical Center Metro station.”

It’s a pretty good bet that the Intercounty Connector, a six-lane toll road, will provide a quick trip along its 16-mile east-west route. What we’re all curious about are the road and transit connections that determine whether it makes sense to include the new highway on our trips.

I’ll start testing Tuesday, assuming I can get my 14-year-old vehicle out of the repair shop later today. If you’ve got other suggestions for test drives, please let me know by commenting here on the blog or writing me at drgridlock@washpost.com.

Some travelers have more immediate interests in the Intercounty Connector: “I will be traveling to BWI Marshall Airport on Tuesday at 4:30 a.m. Will the ICC extension be open that early?”

Using the connector to avoid the Capital Beltway looks like a smart idea for many people, especially during the free period till Dec. 5, when the tolling starts. But I had to tell my letter-writer not to count on it in the early hours of Tuesday.

The Maryland Transportation Authority says it will open the new segment by 6 a.m., barring any unforeseen circumstances, but don’t expect to see it open earlier than that.

During the Dr. Gridlock online chat today, this question came in:

“What’s your prediction for the ICC’s impact on traffic this weekend? And, do you know how far it is from the 95/495 area (College Park) to the ICC/95 connection?”

I think the connector won’t have much impact on this weekend’s traffic. It will provide a convenience for some east-west travelers looking to avoid the extra miles and congestion involved in taking the Capital Beltway — if those drivers know that the new highway is open and where it goes.

From the junction of I-95 and the Beltway in the College Park area, it’s about 4.5 miles north to the Intercounty Connector interchange.

But I doubt that everyone who’s thinking about the connector now will find it useful in all circumstances. There was an example of that during the chat. A traveler asked:

“On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I’ll be traveling back to College Park from the Strasburg, Va., area. Rather than head east on I-66, I was thinking about going north on I-81 to Winchester, up to Harper’s Ferry and Frederick via Routes 7 and 340 and then back to College Park via I-270, the ICC, and I-95 south.

“Google maps tells me it would be 26 minutes longer, but I’m thinking it might still be worth it given how bad traffic might be on the Beltway. What do you think?

So I said: “I think the ICC is likely to be the best part of your trip. But I’m not sure that — in combination with the other routes to get you to the ICC and from the ICC — it will turn out to be worth it. For example, I think 270 and 95 are going to be plenty crowded Sunday.

“Many of us are trying to figure out the trips on which it will make sense to use the ICC. What I don’t want to do is wind up recommending something that’s the equivalent of driving 60 miles to save a penny per gallon on gas.”

By  |  03:48 PM ET, 11/21/2011

Categories:  Highways, Maryland, Getaways

 
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