Gleeful drivers say the highway has cut up to a half-hour off their east-west trips between the busy commercial corridors of Interstates 95 and 270. But six months after the latest stretch of the ICC opened, concerns persist about the cost of such convenience — in traffic noise, pricey tolls and projects passed over in the face of the ICC’s $2.56 billion construction costs.
Intercounty Connector a life-changer for motorists, residents
What many people — fans and critics alike — notice most about the ICC is what’s missing: cars. The 18.8-mile road feels strikingly empty. During the Thursday morning rush, there were long stretches of open asphalt — a rare find in the often bumper-to-bumper Washington region. Motorists complain that so much open space makes it easy to drift over the 55-mph speed limit. The Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the ICC, is reviewing calls to raise the maximum speed.
Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), a longtime ICC critic, said it’s frustrating to watch a new multibillion-dollar highway go under-used. He attributes the empty feel to high tolls, which are up to $4 one way during rush hours for cars and up to $30 one way for the largest trucks.
“You have I-270 that’s a parking lot many days carrying 10 times as many people as the ICC,” Andrews said. “It’s just a reminder of how that [highway construction] money could have been better spent.”
For Justin Brown, the six-lane road saves 10 minutes on his morning bakery deliveries to a Giant grocery store off I-95 and a Safeway off Briggs Chaney Road. Brown said he takes the ICC daily to avoid traffic jams on Route 29. He said it’s well worth the 70 cent toll to travel even one exit.
“For my business, being on time is of the essence,” Brown said Thursday during a hurried stop at a McDonald’s near Beltsville.
Harold Bartlett, the authority’s executive secretary, said vehicle volumes are right at — and in some segments above — expectations for the six-month mark. In April, an average of 30,000 vehicles traveled the ICC’s western portion and an average of 20,000 vehicles used the eastern half on weekdays, he said. Last year, the state projected a weekday range of 19,700 to 26,900 vehicles for April, an authority spokeswoman said. Those projections closely matched estimates made in 2009, before the first part of the ICC opened in February 2011, she said.
Bartlett said it will take at least three years for traffic to ramp up as motorists grow accustomed to using the ICC. The highway was designed to carry traffic volumes projected for 2030.
“I wouldn’t want to spend $2.5 billion for a highway that on the day you open feels full,” Bartlett said. “I want to build a highway with enough capacity for the future growth I know is going to occur.”
Bartlett said the state will raise tolls as needed to keep the ICC flowing freely.