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First part of ICC may wait on the weather

By Katherine Shaver
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; B4

Whether motorists are driving the first part of the Intercounty Connector by New Year's or construction stretches into the spring will depend on how dry and warm the next several weeks are, ICC officials said Tuesday.

Since construction started on the 18.8-mile highway four years ago, Maryland officials have said the first section - 7.2 miles between Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg and Georgia Avenue in northern Silver Spring - will open by late 2010 or early 2011. But an unusually wet fall last year and a snowy winter set work back several months.

ICC officials said workers made up some of that lost time during the relatively dry summer. However, much of the work that remains to be done, particularly paving, requires periods of no rain and temperatures above 50 degrees, they said.

"The problem is we're running out of weather that will allow us to do paving," said Ray Feldmann, an ICC project spokesman. "It's very possible it's going to slip into early next year sometime. . . . It's very possible we could be looking at a springtime opening."

Work on the first section, budgeted at $478.7-million, is 88 percent complete, Feldmann said. Some parts of the highway are paved and striped and have guardrails; other sections have yet to see asphalt.

But in addition to having "a lot to pave," Feldman said, workers have to test and fine-tune electronic signs and tolling equipment. The ICC will be the first Maryland highway to collect all tolls electronically at regular highway speeds via E-ZPass transponders. Owners of vehicles that don't have transponders will be mailed a toll bill, plus a $3 surcharge, based on a video image of the license plate.

Melinda Peters, the ICC project director, said she cannot say when the ribbon can be cut because so much of the remaining work is weather-dependent and Maryland's weather last fall and winter was anything but predictable. Even before February's record snowfalls, construction was hit with an early snow in December.

"If we continue to get weather like we've had in the last week, we have the ability to get the work done" by the end of the year, Peters said.

She said she will know by mid-November whether that can happen. "I'm tracking progress on a daily basis at this point," Peters said.

Some of the paving will be done during the overnight hours, she said. Residents near those areas will be notified ahead of time and offered complimentary hotel stays if the work keeps them up at night, Peters said.

The ICC will connect Montgomery County's I-270 corridor to the I-95 corridor in northwestern Prince George's County. The two sections east of Georgia Avenue are still scheduled to open in late 2011 or early 2012, Feldmann said.

The highway is being built in three sections, all under construction at the same time. The middle segment - seven miles between Georgia Avenue and Columbia Pike (U.S. 29) - is 55 percent complete. The eastern section - between Columbia Pike and I-95 - is 75 percent done, Feldmann said. The total budget remains at $2.56 billion, he said.

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