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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 02/23/2011

ICC toll road opens to traffic

By Katherine Shaver and Kafia A. Hosh

icc

Intercounty Connector. (Gerald Martineau/For Post)

Video: The sun rises on the ICC

ICC traffic cameras

[This post will be updated]

The region's newest toll road, the Intercounty Connector, welcomed almost 19,000 vehicles in its first day of use, according to preliminary counts from the Maryland Transportation Authority.

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.

"So far, so good, " she said Maryland Secretary of Transportation Beverly Swaim-Staley, but added, "It'll take awhile for people to get used to the new patterns at each end of the roadway there."

Driving from I-270 to Georgia Avenue at 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 sparse, 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.

Early data showed that 18,895 vehicles had traveled the highway between 3 a.m. and 2 p.m. The highest one-hour total was between 2 and 3 p.m., when the counts for travel in both directions reached 2,376.

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.

Have you driven the ICC? Post a comment below or send a message to us via transportation@washpost.com.

Follow @poststorylab as Michael Rosenwald drives the ICC.

Related stories:

Breakfast on the ICC with Dr. Gridlock

Dr. Gridlock's ICC driver's manual

Getting an EZ-Pass for the ICC

New buses for the ICC

ICC story archive

Video: Resignation and acceptance as the ICC opens

By Katherine Shaver and Kafia A. Hosh  | February 23, 2011; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Maryland  
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Comments

I assume the ICC is technically a work zone, at least in places. Anyone know if there are any speed cameras on there? While it's not a road I'll ever have reason to use very often, I may swing out there this week just to drive it while it's free, given all the years of coverage of the project. (I'm also interested in seeing how Maryland does with the big green signs. They tend to do a much better job than Virginia most of the time, and for this project--an entirely open-road tolling system--good signs are imperative.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 23, 2011 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I think it would be good to allow, as similar open road tolling in Australia and Canada do, to allow motorists without EZ Passes who use it to go to a web site and let a credit card number take care of the toll. Open road tolling is still rare in the US, and some adjustment might be needed.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 23, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

They will do this in Maryland. You'll get a bill in the mail, and then I'm assuming you can log onto a website, enter the invoice number, and pay the toll, which will include a $3 service fee (just like in Canada) to strongly encourage people to get a transponder. Transponder transactions cost far less than video transactions to process. The first video transaction can cost a lot based on how much states charge to lookup license plate information. I know a neighboring state to Maryland charges $25 per lookup, so MdTA will lose money on the first transaction, but will gain it back if that person becomes a frequent user, as they only need to look up the address once.

1995hoo, you might be a little disappointed with the signs when it comes to how they describe payment options. I know I was. On I-270, there is a green sign with a white banner on top that says "Payment Options"...then displays the E-ZPass logo (without the word only) and "No Cash". That is all. It could very well lead to drivers believing they need an E-ZPass, which is not true.

As far as I'm concerned (and the MUTCD is concerned), they don't need any signs describing what payment methods are accepted on the approaches since anyone can use it with or without E-ZPass...just that instead of handing cash over at the time, you pay afterwards by mail or online. Whether you stop and hand over cash or pay a bill in the mail is a minor detail that they don't really need to try to explain on entry signs. If they only accepted E-ZPass, then they would need to describe which payment methods are accepted with the word "Only" on the signs.

I like the way they signed it from a destination sign perspective. They essentially consider MD 200 an extension of I-370, and it continues I-370's exit number scheme. The orphaned part of I-370 going to the Metro station is simply signed as "Shady Grove Station" going east and "I-370 west to I-270" and "MD 200 east" on separate ramps from Shady Grove Road, and "I-370/I-270/MD 200" coming out of the station. I think the control "cities" are to I-270 and to MD 97, for now.

Posted by: thetan | February 23, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and also...open road tolling isn't rare at all in the USA....they do it extensively in Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Denver. In Dallas, Austin, and Denver, you have the option of paying by mail without a transponder. In Houston, you have to have a transponder or you can't use the road (Westpark Tollway).

Open road tolling with transponder or pay by mail + service fee is going to be very common soon. Some agencies/roads/crossings that are implementing or will implement soon include:
MTA Bridges and Tunnels in NYC, Port Authority of NY and NJ in NYC, Atlantic City Expressway in NJ, Scudders Falls Bridge replacement between NJ and PA, All toll roads in NC (including a bunch opening this year in Raleigh/Durham area), Miami/Dade Expressway Authority and the Homestead Extension of Florida Turnpike in Miami area, some random toll bridge between Indiana and IL (first trip without a transponder is free, thereafter you need a transponder), all new toll roads in Texas, all new toll roads in Denver area, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Some toll agencies are working on a project that will link incompatible transponders with each other. For example, you have an E-ZPass account, which is tied to your vehicle license plate number. You go use a toll road in Texas, and they video your car going through without a transponder. They go to this clearinghouse under development, and will be able to see that your license plate is registered to an E-ZPass. They will send the bill to the address on the E-ZPass account, and eventually may even be able to bill the toll directly to your account. If there is no record of that license plate, the toll agency will look it up in DMV databases and bill you by mail, but will also enter you into a database. So the next time that license plate number uses any toll facility anywhere in the country, the clearinghouse will already have your address on file, and thus the next toll agency won't have to look up your info with DMV and pay fees.

Posted by: thetan | February 23, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

thetan wrote:

"Some toll agencies are working on a project that will link incompatible transponders with each other. For example, you have an E-ZPass account, which is tied to your vehicle license plate number. You go use a toll road in Texas, and they video your car going through without a transponder. They go to this clearinghouse under development, and will be able to see that your license plate is registered to an E-ZPass."

The above is correct.

Please see TOLLROADSnews for more:

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/5158

Posted by: cpzpd | February 23, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I just came back from Maryland; went over there to drive the new road. I have some video shot from my iPhone (I turned the belt clip upside down and clipped it to the passenger-side sun visor so that I could keep both hands free for driving and shifting) and I may upload some of it if it came out well. Nice road, absurd to post it at 55 mph except at either end, though perhaps trucks might have a harder time negotiating the curves at higher speeds.

I agree with thetan about the toll payment method sign being a bit unclear because of the lack of any indication that one can still use the road without E-ZPass. The omission strikes me as odd not just because of the reasons thetan cites, but also because you'd think they'd want to make it absolutely clear that other drivers can use it so as to encourage such--i.e., more drivers equals more toll money.

But it also occurred to me that they might be adding more signs in the next two weeks. For example, there is no sign posted yet (that I saw, anyway) indicating the toll rates. Presumably they will have some sort of electronic signs for that purpose, and maybe those will show the "pay by mail" rate.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 23, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Well, more drivers do not necessarily equal more money. Drivers from one state in particular....that state charges $25 per lookup in their state DMV registry....MdTA will lose money everytime one of them drives on the ICC without an E-ZPass. It would take 9 trips for MdTA just to break even. Other states charge more reasonable lookup fees, but still, E-ZPass transactions are FAR FAR FAR cheaper to process than video transactions.

Posted by: thetan | February 23, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"... E-ZPass transactions are FAR FAR FAR cheaper to process than video transactions."

No question about that. I don't doubt there are local drivers who would be confused by it, though, including some from Maryland. I mean, we have local drivers who couldn't figure out the split I-95/I-495 numbering on the Beltway for many years.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 23, 2011 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm having trouble finding a way to edit down the videos (an iPhone films in .MOV format and I don't have software that can edit that, just software that will play it), so it won't be uploaded today.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 23, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Poor Katherine Shaver. It must have been really hard for you to write this article after years of trying to derail the ICC. It looks like you are adjusting well. You didn't even mention "fragile streams" in this article. I'm guessing that the turtle population is doing just fine today.

Posted by: get_it_right | February 23, 2011 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Something I found myself wondering this morning as I read some of the coverage of the ICC opening: Does anyone know what made them decide to number the road as MD-200? It seems so random. Obviously it cannot be numbered as an extension of I-370 because it's a toll road, but I found myself wondering what prevented them from numbering it as MD-370 (compare to DC-295, or perhaps a better analogy is VA-895 south of Richmond, which would have been I-895 if it weren't tolled).

I know some states do not allow duplication of a state route number and an Interstate number (thus leading to the odious I-238 in California even though there is no I-38), but I don't know whether Maryland follows this rule. I rather doubt they do, given that a portion of the Baltimore Beltway was formally designated as MD-695 for many years when it wasn't up to Interstate standards.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 24, 2011 9:11 AM | Report abuse

BTW, I went on Google Street View to find out what sort of signs are used in conjunction with the Ontario 407 Express Toll Route to advise motorists of how the toll is collected. I found the following sign, which is on ON-403 just west of the southern end of the ETR:

http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=43.325677,-79.845543&spn=0.086166,0.222988&z=13&layer=c&cbll=43.32597,-79.845308&panoid=6ErVhkVE4NZrBJ6YgbyYjQ&cbp=12,40.93,,0,13.38

A separate sign advises that "Vehicles Over 5 Tonnes Must Have a Transponder."

The 407 ETR is signed with European-style white-on-blue signs, instead of Canada's normal white-on-green, to help underscore that it's a special class of road. I kind of like that idea.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 24, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

I accidentally tried out the ICC last evening due to what I believe is an error in signage. I routinely travel from I-370 East to Shady Grove Road East. Travelling east on I-370 there is a sign to exit on to Shady Grove Road West, then a sign to exit for the Metro Station. Past the Metro exit you are on the ICC. There is no mention of Shady Grove Road East on either sign. It should be added to the Metro Station exit sign. I don't think I missed it, but could someone tell me if I did?
Meanwhile, the ride on the ICC was pleasant and very quick to Georgia and doubling back at Georgia Avenue (MD 97) was easy.

Posted by: RobintT | February 24, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse

RobinT, I didn't note those signs specifically when I drove it yesterday, but I re-watched my video and you're correct--there is no sign for eastbound Shady Grove Road on I-370. Exit 3A is marked for westbound Shady Grove Road and Exit 3B is marked with the "M" logo and the words "Metro Station," with a yellow bar underneath noting "Last Exit Before Toll."

I've only used I-370 as far as the Metro stop one time (last November) and so I have no idea whether the omission of eastbound Shady Grove Road is a signage error or a change due to reconfiguration of the highway. The point where I-370 used to curve around to the Metro is now more of a trumpet interchange where the prevailing movement is designed to carry traffic from I-370 to the ICC or vice-versa.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 24, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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