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Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Light morning on new toll road

By Robert Thomson

ICC westbound toll.jpg
This was the morning rush at the Intercounty Connector's westbound toll gantry. (Thomson)

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

The Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the ICC, said that about 2,100 vehicles traveled the connector this 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, or even about how drivers will fare during this afternoon's rush. We won't know the answer to the former till the entire highway is open about a year from now, but I hope to return to check the afternoon rush period.

[7:45 p.m. update: The connector remained uncongested as I took several passes on the first evening of tolling. Also, I saw no congestion at the entrances and exits on the eastern and western sides. I-270/370, Shady Grove Road, Norbeck Road -- they all had a lot of traffic, but nothing excessive around where they link with the connector.]

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 this 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, so 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. See a list of them here.

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 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 on motorcycle transponder mount. You'll see some online shopping sites and also some forums where cyclists discuss the options.

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 Robert Thomson  | March 7, 2011; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting, Driving, Highways, Maryland  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Intercounty Connector  
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The ICC is exactly what we need more ignorant, overweight Americans driving their large automobiles using Saudi and Venezualan petrol

Posted by: kenk33 | March 7, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

"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."

I wonder if they could fit in "Pay by Mail, $3 Extra." I tried finding some images of the signs for the 407 Express Toll Route in Toronto, but didn't find anything particularly helpful on this particular issue.

Regarding the nonsense from "kenk33," according to the US Department of Energy the two countries that supply the most oil to the United States are Canada (by a substantial margin) and Mexico.

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 7, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

1. Saudi Arabia and Venezuala are #3 and #4.

2. United States has the highest obesity rate in the world, due to people living in suburban aprawl. The ICC encourages people to live like this.

Nobody can say that Americans don't tend to be fat and ignorant.

Posted by: kenk33 | March 7, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I did some more searching and the signs I can find for the Express Toll Route in Toronto are all separate signs that simply state "Electronic Toll Collection--Rear Licence Plate Must Be Visible By [sic] Overhead Cameras." I could understand why Maryland would not want to post yet another separate sign, especially on the I-270 end where there's enough other stuff going on at any given point to make it undesirable for people to have to read extra signs. But the point made on the ETR sign about how the rear plate must be visible is a good point as well--"Pay by Mail" doesn't tell you how they bill you.

Regarding the other point from "kenk33," I think people who post rants like his on a non-political blog are the ignorant ones. Take it to an anti-road forum like Greater Greater Washington. Crying about the building of a road that's already open to the public seems rather silly to me.

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 7, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

"1. Saudi Arabia and Venezuala are #3 and #4.

2. United States has the highest obesity rate in the world, due to people living in suburban aprawl. The ICC encourages people to live like this.

Nobody can say that Americans don't tend to be fat and ignorant"

It has the highest obesity rate in the world due to people being fat, lazy gluttons with poor genes. 15 more miles of highway aren't going to make a dent in that problem. Or make it any worse.

Stop being an idiot.

or do you want to blame that on the ICC as well

Posted by: tokenwhitemale | March 7, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry about it, Kenk33 hates himself for what he is and takes it out on other people, poor slob.

As for this not being a prediction on ICC traffic, odd that the Post headline tries to make it so, if you go to the main page.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | March 7, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Why couldn't the ICC have been envisioned as a pedestrian and bicycle recreational path/trail. That would have been awesome and would encourage more physical activity among residents of both Montgomery and Prince George's County. Plus, it would encourage bicycle commuting to work and linking with public transportation and other trails. Also, it would encourage eco-tourism.

Your thoughts?

Posted by: | March 7, 2011 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Keep up the good work, Robert. You only have to drive the ICC 1,500,000,000 more times and it will be paid for!

Posted by: vmax02rider | March 7, 2011 9:10 PM | Report abuse

This road is under utilized because it probably wasn't needed. Dualizing Norbeck and Spencerville Roads would have been a lot cheaper, or building the ICC (Konterra Driveway) as an expressway like the Fairfax Parkway which is toll free and is used alot. What doesn't make since to me is why build a $2 billion highway and try to discourage it's use. Bumping up the tolls during rush hour will keep commuters using local roads. If Maryland wanted to put that $2b to good use and charge tolls, a freeway that runs parellel to Georgia Ave would have been a good choice. It would have been heavily travelled and would pay for itself. At the rate the ICC is being travelled it will never pay for itself.

Posted by: BSMack | March 8, 2011 7:06 PM | Report abuse

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