ICC section gets finishing touches

Western end of toll road set to open next Tuesday

February 15, 2011|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Some of the exit signs still must be hung and guardrails installed, but other than that, Maryland's newest highway appears ready to carry its first traffic when the initial stretch of it opens next Tuesday.

State transportation officials led reporters on a tour Tuesday of the 7-mile section of the Intercounty Connector between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 370 — the first leg of a toll road that in another year will connect Interstate 95 with the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery County.

While the stretch of the ICC that is opening first is the part farthest from Baltimore, it is still expected to shave about 15 minutes off a trip from the city to the Gaithersburg area.

When the first traffic is admitted to the ICC next Tuesday at 6 a.m., it will be a milestone in the decades-long struggle to build an east-west, limited-access highway between Montgomery's high-tech corridor and Prince George's County. Variable message signs in the area were already spreading the word that Maryland Route 200 — the designation that will appear on the state highway maps — is about to carry its first traffic.

The opening will follow a ceremony Monday during which the State Highway Administration, which oversaw construction, will turn over the title to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the state's toll facilities.

The stretch of the ICC closest to Baltimore — the 11 miles between I-95 and Georgia Avenue (Maryland Route 97) — is on schedule and expected to open late this year or early in 2012, ICC project director Melinda Peters said during Tuesday's tour.

Not waiting for the second phase is the Maryland Transit Administration, which plans to launch two bus routes along the ICC corridor March 1, connecting the Rockville-Gaithersburg area with Fort Meade and BWI-Marshall Airport. Like the toll road itself, the bus service will be free for its first two weeks. After that, it will cost $5 for a one-way ride, but regular commuters will be able to cut that cost with frequent-rider plans.

Motorists using the highway will not encounter any toll booths. Instead they will drive under large steel frames called gantries on which are mounted the electronic devices that will communicate with the E-ZPass transponders in the vehicles below. Drivers who don't have an E-ZPass will have their license plates photographed and can expect to get a bill in the mail for the toll plus a $3 fee to cover the cost of billing.

"You need to get an E-ZPass to use the highway" was the message delivered repeatedly by Harold Bartlett, executive secretary of the authority. The state will waive the fee until April 6 to give motorists time to acquire the electronic toll-paying transponders.

The authority projects that eventually 95 percent of ICC travelers will have E-ZPasses, leaving only 5 percent who will be billed based on video tolling.

Initial tolls for passenger vehicles will be $1.45 during the peak weekday hours of 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m.; 60 cents from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. and $1.15 at other times. Bartlett said that if the highway becomes congested, tolls will go up to keep traffic flowing freely. He said the first section is expected to carry about 21,000 vehicles a day, a number that is expected to grow to 35,000-50,000 once the second section opens.

Baltimore-area residents who are curious to see what that money is buying can reach the eastern entrance to the ICC by taking Route 198 west from I-95 or U.S. 29 to where it turns into Route 28. Just before Route 28 runs into Georgia Avenue, there is a temporary entrance to the toll road.

michael.dresser@balltsun.com

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