Bumper to Bumper: The real test for the ICC yet to come -- Gazette.Net






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Nov. 22 will mark what I consider to be the real opening of the Intercounty Connector.

That’s not to say that the first segment, which opened in February from Interstate 370 to Georgia Avenue in Olney, is insignificant. After all, it is the first realization of a project several decades in the making.

But this being the second — and longest — segment, there is more riding on it. Now spanning from I-370 to I-95 in Laurel, the road will not only fulfil the Intercounty Connector name, but will be the bread and butter of the highway that officials predict will see upwards of 30,000 daily commuters by June.

I had the pleasure of being one of the first few individuals to ride the second segment of the Intercounty Connector, joining a media tour Nov. 9 with other journalists that traveled by a coach bus from Beltsville to Silver Spring. With ICC project director Melinda Peters leading the way, we traveled westward, passing some notable sights, including the reconfigured championship 14th hole of the Cross Creek Golf Club, several new interchanges and Justin Bieber’s house (well, no, not really, but it felt like being on one of those Hollywood star tours).

Periodically stopping on the highway for interview and photo opportunities, I took the time to speak with Maryland Transit Administration Executive Secretary Harold Bartlett about ridership.

With just the first segment open, ridership is just under 15,000 users a day, which is what administration officials expected, he said. From Nov. 22 until Dec. 4, drivers can travel on it from I-370 to 1-95 for free, making the two weeks critical in developing a following of commuters.

“It gives people the chance to try it out and see if it meets their needs,” Bartlett said.

Starting Dec. 5, cars with an E-ZPass will be charged 25 cents per mile during peak hours, 20 cents per mile during off-peak hours and 10 cents per mile overnight. To travel the entire ICC one way between I-370 and I-95, drivers of cars and light trucks with an E-ZPass will pay $4 during peak hours, $3.20 during off-peak hours and $1.60 overnight.

That’s great and all, but what if it doesn’t meet ridership expectations? What could be done then?

“We’re on the low end of the toll range,” Bartlett said. “I’m hopeful and confident we’ll reach our toll levels.”

Non-answer aside, I think Bartlett’s confidence is warranted. The time savings will come into play with the new segment. When the first segment opened, I saved an average of five to 10 minutes in my work commute from my home in Aspen Hill to The Gazette newsroom off of Shady Grove Road in Gaithersburg. It was nice, but not significant enough to want to use it daily.

With the second segment, the minutes saved will add up. A drive from Gaithersburg to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will be cut down from 71 to 37 minutes, while a drive from Gaithersburg to Laurel on the ICC will decrease from 47 to 17 minutes.

You can be your own judge of the highway when you try it for free.

Now that the second segment is almost ready to open, the next and final phase will begin — the third segment from I-95 to Route 1 in Laurel. After a contract is awarded, construction should begin sometime next year, with a projected opening in spring 2014, Peters said.

When the road is completed, it will span approximately 18 miles.

Do you think you’ll be more likely to use the ICC when it opens to I-95 later this month? Do you think the highway will double in daily commuters like officials think, or believe it will flop? Email me your thoughts at bumper@gazette.net or nnourmohammadi@gazette.net.