Now that Intercounty Connector is open, where do we go from here?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As one who lives in Rockville and worked in Laurel, I was an active proponent of the Intercounty Connector. Quite frankly, it’s here long before I thought it would be.

To judge the usefulness of this road before it’s complete is unfair and unwise. Today, it’s a road to nowhere, hardly a surprise. It saves no time unless one wants to travel between Gaithersburg and Olney. Once it’s complete, however, it will be great, and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport will finally become my airport of choice.

I recall a brochure back in the early 1990s showing an extension westward into Virginia over the Potomac. I doubt that Maryland wants to build a bridge that would send more jobs into Virginia. But we need another crossing. Truckers and other business vehicles need to save some time getting around the city.

My proposal would be to build that bridge and make the new route from Interstate 95 into Virginia free for tractor-trailers as a means of getting them off the Beltway. (Let Virginia worry about how to get the trucks back on 95.) It would reduce the pain somewhat for us locals driving the Beltway.

The state of Maryland should really suspend tolls until the Intercounty Connector is extended to 95. It will help get drivers into the habit of using it.

A 65 mph limit would save four or five minutes traveling what’s open today. Are we really in that much of a hurry that we need the extra stress by driving 70 to 75 mph? I’m simply too old for that.

— Richard Hayman,

Rockville

Travelers commented about the connector during my online chat Monday. Some complained that the connector goes nowhere but they’d really like to get there faster. They don’t like seeing several police cars on the connector, where the speed limit is 55 mph.

I think the speed limit is fine for now. The connector is new, and there still are plenty of work zones. Our letter writer might even be overestimating the potential gain of raising the limit to 65. At the current limit, it takes only six to nine minutes to cover the entire length of the highway’s first open segment.

But Hayman clearly has patience, not just about the speed limit but about the rate of progress on the connector, a highway that was talked about for nearly half a century before it was built. He and other supporters of a new Potomac River crossing are going to need all their patience as they wait for that bridge to reemerge from the dusty shelves of old planning documents.

This is one project that simply won’t happen without cooperation between Virginia and Maryland, and a huge supply of cash. Neither is in plain sight. Each state is advancing its own highway plans. Virginia is adding four lanes — the high-occupancy toll lanes — to the western side of the Beltway. So far, there’s no comparable plan for the Maryland side. Maryland planners are discussing ideas for enhancing capacity along Interstate 270 and the Beltway, but it’s very unlikely any major change would occur on the Maryland side before Virginia opens the HOT lanes.

Maryland is pouring its transportation money into completing the connector and the express toll lanes north of Baltimore on I-95. I agree with Hayman that it’s way too early to judge the success of the connector. The highway will be a work in progress until early next year, when it finally will create a new option for getting between I-95 and I-270. While on a map, the connector looks like a big right hook heading for the Potomac River, drivers still will have to use the same old way — basically, the Beltway — to reach Northern Virginia.

Miracle drives

Drivers may understandably feel they must now rely on their own luck for a smooth trip, so after receiving one traveler’s description of a miracle drive across Northern Virginia with green lights all the way, I asked others to submit their accounts.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I think I can at least equal Warren Emerson’s luck. [Dr. Gridlock, March 27] On a weekday a few months ago, I had to get from my house below the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the 1200 block of 33rd Street NW in Georgetown. About 11 a.m. I turned north on Route 1 just south of the North Kings Highway intersection and held my breath as I glided through one green light after another, through Alexandria, Crystal City, Rosslyn, across Key Bridge, even making that last left-turn arrow onto 33rd, finally pulling into a space right in front of my destination.

Twenty minutes flat without a stop! Almost worth starting a diary, now that I have something worth putting in it.

— Dan O’Day, Alexandria

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 drgridlock@washpost.com .

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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