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How can the new Intercounty Connector toll road be a ‘free’-way?

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Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If you are driving the Intercounty Connector heading east and approaching the current final exit, the sign says the “Freeway” ends shortly. Really? FREEway? For whom?

— Paula Wiley, Silver Spring

You’re right about the wording, but I do not think it means what you think it means. It’s inconceivable that Maryland officials sought to indicate that using the $2.56 billion highway would be free. And even though it’s the first toll road in our region without a tollbooth, drivers showed they knew what they were dealing with: Highway usage fell sharply after the two-week trial period of free rides. The maximum toll now, with just the first segment open, is $1.45, or about 25 cents a mile.

So what is that “freeway” sign all about? The federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a traffic engineering bible, defines a freeway as “a divided highway with full control of access.” Traffic officials sometimes add to that definition by referring to the higher speeds available on freeways, or the lack of intersections and stop signs, but the term generally indicates the type of roadway rather than the price tag for using it.

The tolls are recorded when vehicles pass under the brown gantries in the middle of the ICC. Melinda Peters, the project’s manager, said that because the collections are entirely electronic and done at highway speed, there’s really no reason to put up signs that mark them as the toll collection points. All the entrances to the ICC have good markings to warn drivers they are entering a toll highway.

An Interstate 95 driver expressed concern when she saw an ad for this heavily advertised highway in The Post. There was a blue line extending along the Interstate from the Intercounty Connector junction, and the legend described that as a “future” part of the ICC project. She asked whether she’d have to pay a toll on I-95 once the connector reaches it.

The project does include plans for the construction of additional lane space on I-95 to allow traffic heading to and from the ICC to merge safely. But those collector-distributor lanes are not part of the toll road.

Fixing design flaws

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Metro is known for its troubled escalators, and I wonder why we have so many of them? If you compare D.C. to the New York and Boston subway systems, most of them just have old-fashioned stairs getting people in and out of the platforms.

If it can work there, couldn’t we save Metro countless repair and energy dollars by switching from escalators to stairs? Sure, this wouldn’t work in Dupont Circle, but it could work in Foggy Bottom or Capitol South. I really don’t understand why it will take Metro one year to repair the escalator at Foggy Bottom. It just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

— Brent Parrish,

The District

Metro is going to replace all three of the escalators between 23rd Street NW and the mezzanine at Foggy Bottom. The work could be done faster if Metro worked on all three at once, but then people couldn’t get in or out of the station.

One of the unfortunate things about the original design of the rail stations — besides all the escalators — is that there’s only one entrance at Foggy Bottom. However, the current project does include the addition of a stairway next to the escalators, because, as Parrish says, it just makes sense. And we need more to correct this over-dependence on machinery that keeps breaking down.

As of Friday afternoon, 80 of Metro’s 588 escalators were out of service. Five were out at Gallery Place, seven at L’Enfant Plaza. At Smithsonian Station, transit hub for the Cherry Blossom Festival, three were listed as out.

Metro’s $851 million capital budget for the year starting in July includes $10 million for major work on some of the escalators along the Red, Orange and Blue lines, but progress will be painfully slow over the next few years.

A strange trip

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I thought you might enjoy hearing about possibly the last miracle in local traffic: At about 10:15 a.m. on a Tuesday, westbound on Route 7 in Falls Church, I stopped at the light at Magarity Road, just inside the Capital Beltway. The light changed, and I proceeded utterly uninterrupted through Tysons Corner, through Wolf Trap and Great Falls, through Reston and through Dranesville, only finally having to stop at one light at Rolling Holly Drive just before my exit onto Algonkian Parkway.

It was the ride of a lifetime.

— Warren Emerson,

Arlington

I calculate that at a bit over 10 miles on Route 7 at midday without a red light. Can anybody top that luck?

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail .

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