Designs for Md. Intercounty Connector signs are scaled back

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Signs to help motorists reach the new Intercounty Connector from nearby roads will be about a third smaller than initially planned, and far fewer will be overhead, a Maryland highway official said Tuesday.

Plans to scale back the signs emerged after some Olney residents said that large blue and green highway signs looming overhead would ruin the "greenway" feel of Georgia Avenue, which will intersect the 18.8-mile highway when the first seven-mile section opens next fall.

Most of what were planned as lighted overhead signs will be placed in medians or on roadsides, where they will instead be illuminated by vehicles' headlights, said Melinda Peters, the ICC project director for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

The print will be smaller on signs telling motorists where to enter the highway, which toll rates are in effect and which radio station to tune to for traffic conditions. The smaller print and some word changes reduced sign sizes by an average of 35 percent.

The changes will affect about 200 signs on five roads that will have interchanges with the six-lane toll highway, which will run between Gaithersburg and Laurel: Shady Grove Road, New Hampshire Avenue, Layhill Road, Briggs Chaney Road and Virginia Manor Road.

"Based on the character of the road and the community there, their objections made sense," Peters said of the Olney residents' concerns. The signs "didn't fit well with the surrounding area."

Signs on Interstate 370, Columbia Pike (Route 29) and Interstate 95 will remain the same because motorists traveling at higher speeds need larger type, Peters said.

She said that the ICC signs are as small as they can be and still meet federal requirements.

Sharon Dooley, president of the Greater Olney Civic Association, said that residents were "totally unprepared" for the size of the Georgia Avenue signs when they saw the original designs at the group's meeting last month.

"This is not I-95," Dooley said. "This is a state road in a community."

The five-lane Georgia Avenue is the gateway to Olney, which has rural pockets, and also to rural areas of upper Montgomery and Howard counties. Major development has been limited along the road in that area to preserve it as a "green" entryway to Olney, which advertises its "rural heritage" on town signs.

Dooley praised state officials for responding to community concerns, saying that she sees a "huge difference" between the "massive" signs previously proposed and the more moderate ones being planned.

"We're not used to being listened to," said Dooley, noting that the civic association, which has about 35 homeowners' groups representing 40,000 residents, has vocally opposed construction of the ICC.

Peters said she did not know whether the sign changes will end up costing or saving money on the $2.56 billion construction project. The redesigns will cost money, she said, but smaller roadside signs and fewer overhead steel structures should be less expensive.

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