Don't judge connector too quickly
We've gotten used to a transportation system in which most of the resources go to fixing things, rather than creating something new. So please forgive those of us who are transportation geeks for our current obsession with the Intercounty Connector, which is about to become the first brand new highway the D.C. area has seen in many a year.
As we build toward Tuesday's opening of the connector's first segment, we wonder what the driving experience will be like on the fresh pavement, will the traffic be light or heavy, will there be congestion problems around the entrances and exits.
My prediction: Whatever we see next week doesn't count. We won't be able to draw good conclusions about the role of the ICC in our transportation network the first week. We may not be able to draw conclusions till the whole thing is open in about a year.
1) The western segment opening at 6 a.m. Tuesday is about a third of the future length of the highway. We hope the connector will eventually ease traffic on the east-west routes -- such as they are -- through Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Over the next few weeks, I'll be looking to see what the first segment might do to ease traffic on roads like Muncaster Mill and Norbeck, and maybe MD 355, but it's difficult to see how the first step would provide significant relief -- significant in that I'd be hearing from lots of commuters arriving early at work.
2) The traffic pattern in the Georgia Avenue/Norbeck Road area is temporary. The Georgia Avenue interchange will not be fully open. The ramp just to the east at Norbeck Road will be open only until the rest of the highway is completed.
3) It's new. Anytime a traffic pattern changes on major roadways, it throws people off for a couple of weeks. Then most drivers get used to it, even if the pattern itself is not ideal for traffic flow.
4) It's free, at least for the first two weeks. So the drivers who get on the highway in the early days may not be those who choose to use it for their regular commutes, once the tolling starts.
5) Once variable rate tolling starts on March 7, drivers will have a new experience to deal with. The rates will be highest from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Will drivers shift their regular travel times so they go early or late?
6) Commuters are creatures of habit, and it takes a lot to shake them out of a route they've used for a long time. Many are likely to wait and see what happens with the connector before they try it themselves. Or they may simply wait till the whole thing is done before committing to it.
| February 16, 2011; 9:05 AM ET
Categories: Commuting, Construction, Maryland | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Intercounty Connector
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