During no-toll period for ICC’s next segment opening, traffic on local Md. roads could be swamped

Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST - Work on the bridge over the ICC at the exit for Route 28 on Nov. 9 in Silver Spring, Md.

Motorists should expect extra traffic on roads that intersect with the Intercounty Connector — including Interstate 95, U.S. 29 and New Hampshire Avenue — beginning Nov. 22, when the ICC’s next 10-mile segment is scheduled to open and a 13-day toll-free period begins, Maryland highway officials said Wednesday.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 vehicles a day are expected to use local roads to reach the ICC (Route 200) after the section between Georgia Avenue in northern Silver Spring and I-95 in Laurel opens. But officials expect that a surge of motorists will check out the ICC for free before tolls kick in Dec. 5.

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About 15,000 vehicles a day use the first segment, between Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg and Georgia Avenue, but more than twice that used it on the free opening day in February.

“People really need to be prepared for those first couple weeks,” Melinda Peters, the Maryland State Highway Administration’s ICC project manager, said during a media bus tour of the highway Wednesday.

Peters said highway officials will monitor intersections and roads near the ICC and adjust traffic signals as needed. The free trial period will cover the entire ICC, including the first section where tolls are charged. Starting Dec. 5, tolls for passenger cars traveling the entire highway during peak hours will be $4 each way with an E-ZPass transponder or $6 without one.

The good news: Traffic on local roads that parallel the ICC — such as Route 32 in Howard County, Route 108 through Howard and Montgomery counties, and Route 198 in northern Montgomery — should ease as the ICC takes some of the load, officials said.

As ICC construction near I-95 has begun to wrap up, crews also have removed speed cameras there. State law allows speed cameras on Maryland highways only to protect workers in construction zones. The cameras will return to I-95 this spring, when construction on the $2.56 billion ICC’s last segment, between I-95 and U.S. Route 1, begins.

State officials said the ICC, which was debated for more than 50 years because of its environmental impact, will provide a key east-west link in Maryland’s road network beyond connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. It also will better link Montgomery’s I-270 job corridor with Howard and Baltimore counties and connect Montgomery companies with Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport and the Port of Baltimore. The full ICC will cut the drive between Gaithersburg and BWI from 71 minutes to 37 minutes, officials said.

Harold Bartlett, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said he thinks that many drivers are willing to pay the toll to save time.

“If you save a half-hour in your morning commute and a half-hour in the evening commute,” Bartlett said, “that puts an hour back in your life.”

But some residents whose back yards now look onto a six-lane highway instead of the woods that were there are bracing for the sounds of highway traffic.

David Plihal, president of the Stonegate Citizens Association, which represents about 1,400 homes off Bonifant Road in northern Silver Spring, said he’s concerned that the ICC will bring more local traffic by spurring development in the area.

“I think people are resigned to the fact that it’s there and it’s built,” Plihal said, “and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

 
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