In ICC's first rush hour, there's no crush

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011; 8:01 PM

What rush hour?

There were fleeting moments during drives on the Intercounty Connector Monday morning when I couldn't see another vehicle. And I observed no bottlenecks at entrances and exits that appeared to be related to the new highway as tolling began.

The Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the ICC, said about 2,100 vehicles traveled the connector Monday morning during the peak period from 6 to 9 a.m. During the two-week test drive period that began with the highway's opening Feb. 23, an average of 5,500 vehicles traveled during the morning peak period.

Passenger vehicles and light trucks now pay $1.45 during peak hours (6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays), $1.15 off-peak (5 to 6 a.m., 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m. weekdays; 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends) and 60 cents overnight (11 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily).

What follows is merely a morning traffic report, sharing what I saw driving back and forth on the connector and checking various entrances and exits. It is not a prediction about whether the ICC is doing what planners hoped. We won't know that until after the entire highway opens about a year from now.

At 7:53 a.m., when I pulled up to the new traffic signal where motorists make a left turn from Georgia Avenue onto the westbound connector, there were nine vehicles waiting with me. Here, as in most other points along the highway, there's little chance a driver would accidentally enter the toll road.

Signs in various places alert drivers that they are entering a TOLL road that accepts NO CASH, but does take E-ZPass. The missing element is an advisory that the toll gantry will take photos of license plates and bill the vehicle owners if they don't have an E-ZPass. I spent some of the lonely moments on the ICC trying to think how that could be squeezed onto a sign.

Each of the four passes I made on the connector between 7:53 a.m. and the end of rush hour were done in six to nine minutes, depending on which entrance or exit I used on the Olney and Shady Grove sides.

Heading west, I had no problem moving from the ICC onto the short stretch of I-370 that leads to the left-hand, single-lane exit for I-270. Then I got a shock. Over to my left, traffic on I-270 was crawling. Already spoiled by the quick trip on the connector, I moved right to reach Shady Grove Road and return to the ICC rather than share the pain on I-270.

There's no way the trickle of traffic from the ICC could have contributed anything significant to that jam on inbound I-270.

On the eastern side of the connector, it was easy getting off at the ramps for Norbeck Road and Georgia Avenue.

The only spot that continued to give me a little trouble Monday morning was on the westbound side as I took the exit for Shady Grove Road and the Metro station. Even though the merging traffic there isn't really heavy, drivers coming off the ICC still must act quickly to get to the right.

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