By Katherine Shaver and Kafia A. Hosh
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 8:41 AM
The first segment of the region's newest toll road, the Intercounty Connector, opened to traffic Wednesday morning, linking the Interstate 270 corridor with Georgia Avenue. The new highway's official designation is MD 200.
The westbound lanes opened at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday; the eastbound lanes followed at 3:20, according to Cheryl Sparks, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. The first car traveled the road at 3:30 a.m., she said.
Between 5 and 6 a.m., about 400 vehicles traveled the ICC, Sparks said, with an additional 1,100 vehicles driving it between 6 and 7 a.m.Traffic on the first stretch is expected to build gradually to 21,500 vehicles daily.
"People are just learning that the road is open," Sparks said. "Hopefully people using it today will see their travel time-saving benefits."
Driving from I-270 to Georgia Avenue ar 5:45 a.m. took about six minutes -- a trip that highway officials said usually takes 23 minutes using side roads during the morning rush.
Around 6 a.m., ICC traffic was sparce, with the road wide open. Local roads such as Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road, where residents say they are concerned about back-ups from ICC traffic trying to enter and leave the highway, had no significant problems as of 7 a.m.
By 7:45 a.m. traffic had picked up but there was still plenty of wide open pavement. Traffic in the "slow" lane of the westbound side traveled at 65 miles per hour -- the posted speed limit is 55 mph -- with plenty of motorists zipping past at 75 mph and faster. Motorists slowed upon seeing the flashing red and blue lights of a transportation authority police cruiser parked beneath an underpass.
Drivers were enjoying a free trial run on the new highway. Tolls, which kick in March 7, will be 60 cents to $1.45 for passenger vehicles, depending on the time of day. Those prices will increase to up to $6.15 to travel the entire 18.8-mile highway after it opens to Interstate 95 in Prince George's by spring 2012. The ICC toll rates are among the highest in the United States.
The ICC, which also will be known as Route 200, is Maryland's first all-electronic toll road. With no toll booths, payment will be collected at highway speeds via vehicles' EZ-Pass transponders. Those without a transponder will be mailed a "notice of toll due" and charged a $3 service fee. That fee will be waived until April 6, officials said.