By Robert Thomson
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.
That creates anxiety. The traffic light for the left turn from Shady Grove Road onto the eastbound ICC creates annoyance. It's a major intersection with heavy traffic in all directions, meaning there are many phases for the traffic signal to go through. So it's a very long wait for traffic entering the ICC. (Can't say I'd change that now, since the traffic waiting to enter the ICC is very light.)
Most of the ICC questions I've been getting over the past two weeks are about getting an E-ZPass to use the toll road. Here are a few.
Do I need a Maryland E-ZPass?
No, you can shop around for whatever you think is the best deal. It gets a bit complicated, because there are a variety of charges, fees, deposits and discounts available from the two dozen transportation agencies that offer accounts.
Who gets the toll revenue?
The toll road operating authority gets the money. So if you're driving the ICC with a transponder issued by New Jersey or Virginia or Pennsylvania, the toll money still goes to the Maryland Transportation Authority.
If I sign up online or by phone, how long does it take to receive the transponder?
The transportation authority says you should receive the device in five to seven business days. You could also use the On the Go system, in which you visit a retail location, including Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration offices, pick up a transponder kit, mount the device on your vehicle and start using it - but you must register the transponder within seven days of the first time you use it.
Can I put an E-ZPass transponder on a motorcycle?
Yes. Check this link to see how it can be mounted on a motorcycle windscreen.
But I don't have a windscreen.
The Maryland Transportation Authority notes that special adapters are sold commercially. One way to find them is to do an online search for "motorcycle transponder mount." You'll see some online shopping sites and also some forums where cyclists discuss the options.