Maryland says ICC traffic growing

October 25, 2012

Traffic was light in late winter following opening of ICC’s second segment. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The Maryland Transportation Authority reported Thursday that traffic on the Intercounty Connector is growing at an average rate of 3 percent a month.

Last November, the connector’s second segment opened between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95. Since then, I’ve gotten many letters from drivers using the ICC saying that nobody is using the ICC. They should introduce themselves to each other.

Many drivers who routinely get stuck in the D.C. region’s congestion are upset when they stumble onto a highway that doesn’t have a lot of traffic. They don’t say to themselves, “This is the way travel should be.” They think something has gone horribly wrong.

The transportation authority, the agency that operates Maryland’s toll roads, said that between July 2011 and June 2012, drivers took more than 11.56 million trips on the ICC. The toll revenue from that was $19.73 million. The MDTA said it had projected revenue of $18.71 million.

“In September, weekday traffic averaged more than 35,000 vehicles per day in the
westernmost segment of the facility between I-370 and Georgia Avenue; 26,000 vehicles
per weekday on the eastern segment between U.S. 29 and I-95,”  MDTA Executive
Secretary Harold M. Bartlett said in the Thursday statement. “Traffic is higher than projected on the western and center segments of the project, but is slightly lower than projected on the eastern end.”

That segment breakdown is interesting to me because I find that eastern segment particularly attractive as a dodge around the rush-hour congestion at I-95 and the Capital Beltway. I’ve been encouraging southbound commuters to consider getting off I-95 South for a short ride on the ICC over to U.S. Route 29, New Hampshire Avenue, Layhill Road or Georgia Avenue, avoiding the Interstate bottleneck. At peak periods, the E-ZPass toll to Route 29 is 70 cents. To Layhill Road, it’s $2.05.

However, if I’m out in the Shady Grove area, I find the west side of the ICC increasingly attractive as an alternative to driving south and sitting on the Beltway’s inner loop during the afternoon peak.

The transportation authority isn’t as upset about the free-flowing traffic as some of my letter writers are.

“It is important to remember that MD 200 [the ICC route number] was designed to accommodate expected capacity in 2030 and to provide relatively congestion-free travel with reliable travel times today and for years to come,” Darrell B. Mobley, the authority’s chairman, said in the statement.

Despite the free flow of traffic, many drivers have told me they feel the 55 mph speed limit is too low. My own observation is that the speed limit bothers very few drivers. They routinely ignore it. What bothers them is enforcement of the speed limit. They believe there are way too many police cruisers on the ICC. They would much prefer to see those cruisers assigned to other roadways — preferably, ones they don’t drive.

The transportation authority said it has completed an initial evaluation of safety data from the highway’s opening phase and will now do a more detailed analysis before making a final decision by the end of the year on whether to increase the speed limit.

Maryland officials have said that because the ICC wasn’t designed to Interstate standards, the maximum legal speed limit would be 60 mph, a 5 mph increase over the current limit.

There’s still more ICC to come. An additional mile east to U.S. Route 1 is scheduled to open in late 2013 or early 2014. And crews also are working on collector-distributor lanes along I-95 between the ICC and MD Route 198.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Robert Thomson · October 25, 2012