Md. drivers take measure of the new Intercounty Connector

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

(Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST) - The Intercounty Connector/Maryland Route 200 exit off of Interstate 95 last month. Tolling on the ICC, the new east-west highway that links Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, resumed Monday.

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I travel to New York all the time from Virginia via the American Legion Bridge, the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95. The worst part has always been slogging through the Interstate 270 split and getting around the Beltway in Maryland.

The following solution applies only if you have more than one person in a car and E-ZPass: Once you get across the bridge and are near River Road, bear left and jump into the high-occupancy vehicle lanes onto I-270. It will bypass a lot of the traffic. Then switch to the Intercounty Connector and cut across to I-95.

You avoid all the clogged, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Maryland Beltway.

I was doing this even before the connector was complete, getting off at Georgia Avenue, going through Olney and cutting across via Route 108 to Route 32 and then to I-95. It was a lot less stressful.

Dimitri Gontscharow,
Falls Church

DG: This is the first instance I’ve heard of in which a driver could make the jog up I-270 and over to the connector work for his trip. The connector is indeed a stress-free ride, as long as you’re not speeding — and as long as you’re willing to pay the toll, which would be $4 across the entire 18-mile route at peak periods.

What we’ve been trying to figure out is how useful the new highway will be for trips involving various start and end points. One such issue: When does it make sense to drive north to the less-traveled Intercounty Connector, on either the I-270 or I-95 end, and when does it make sense to stick with the more heavily traveled Beltway, or a combination of other east-west roads?

The southern parts of I-270 and I-95 near the Beltway can be congested in both directions at rush hours. One advantage on the western side is that there are HOV lanes along I-270 that could make the trip to and from the connector a bit quicker.

It’s not absolutely necessary to have an E-ZPass to use the connector, although it helps. Alternatively, the Maryland Transportation Authority will take an image of your license plate and mail a bill to the registered owner for one and a half times the toll rate in effect at that hour.

Another driver sent in the results of his recent test drives under somewhat different circumstances: Leaving at noon on a Saturday from Potomac, he drove from Falls Road to I-270 to Interstate 370 to the connector, exiting at I-95 on his way to Baltimore. The distance from the start to I-95 was 27 miles and took 31 minutes.

Returning south, he stayed on I-95 to the Beltway, then went north on I-270 to Rockledge Drive and then Democracy Boulevard, combining the highways with a set of local roads. The distance from where he passed the Intercounty Connector/I-95 interchange back to the starting point on this southbound trip was 19 miles, and it took 25 minutes, he said.

His experience on this Saturday afternoon was that the I-95/Beltway trip was shorter and faster than the I-95/Intercounty Connector trip. He said traffic on all highways, including the Beltway, moved at normal speeds.

But there are plenty of possible routes and departure times to play with. Such discussions about undiscovered travel options are rare and serve as reminders of how long it has been since the Washington area had a new highway.

Saving carpool lanes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In reference to your comments about enforcement of HOV in Maryland and Virginia [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 27], there are simpler ways than using our police. In Los Angeles, the HOV lanes do not change with the time of day. There is a solid line except for exiting and entering at predetermined locations near highway exits, and there is little cheating. In off-peak hours, you don’t need the lanes anyway.

The second way to enforce them is with heat-detecting cameras. I know people will fight them just as they fight the speed cameras, but the heat cameras do not identify the person — just that there is another body in the car. Frankly, if you are speeding or violating the HOV requirements, you broke the law. Stop complaining about enforcement cameras.

Bruce Kirschenbaum, Reston

DG: Los Angeles County says its 513 miles of HOV lanes transport more people than any other HOV system in the nation. Several travelers with experience in Southern California wrote in to compliment its HOV operation.

The idea of allowing police to use heat detectors to catch violators is interesting. I think police in the Washington region are at a severe disadvantage in enforcing the lane rules, but there are some issues we should consider:

Heat detectors would not be the equivalent of speed enforcement cameras, which identify a speeding vehicle with radar and then photograph the license plate. A notice of fine is sent to the owner of the vehicle.

If what we want to do is impose a hefty fine on HOV-lane violators, then the heat detector would have to be an aid to the police officer enforcing the law, rather than an automated method of enforcing the law.

I’d like to hear travelers’ opinions on the efficacy of this method, but I don’t believe we could accept the automated issuing of tickets based on a camera determining how many people are in the vehicle.

I think most travelers would still want to have an officer stop the car and count the passengers before a ticket is issued. Beside the issues of accuracy and fairness, it means the driver gets the ticket, rather than the registered owner, and the fine can be bigger.

That means we still need safe places for the officers to monitor traffic and to pull over violators.

 
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