Wednesday, February 23, 2011

have you used the ICC yet?

ICC at Route 29, March 2010
The ICC under construction last spring.

After fifty years of debate, the first phase of the InterCounty Connector finally opens to traffic today. Though I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about public transit or bicycling or walking, it's hard not to be excited about the ICC. Dr. Gridlock drove back and forth on the highway several times this morning and revealed that it takes just six minutes to get from Shady Grove to Norbeck.

Six minutes! That sounds revolutionary, and for people who travel across the county for work (as I did last year), it is revolutionary. Even if traffic doesn't always move this fast on the InterCounty Connector, it's possible to see how the road will change the way we perceive places in Montgomery County. Suddenly, trips that seemed very far will become a lot shorter, and you can imagine people making different choices about where to live or work than they would have before the road opened. That should benefit East County, which hasn't always shared in Bethesda or Rockville's prosperity because of a lack of good connections.

Any good transportation project should make that possible. Much of the justification for the Purple Line, whose opening we'll hopefully celebrate within the next few years, is that it will bring places that currently feel far apart, like Silver Spring and Bethesda, closer together. The difference is that a highway can collapse much longer distances, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. After all, one of the ICC's touted benefits was that it would make it easier to travel from upper Montgomery County to BWI. But do we want people regularly commuting from Germantown to Baltimore? Wouldn't that make traffic throughout the state, not just on the ICC, much worse?

LifeSci Village CenterThe ICC could bring new development, like the proposed LifeSci Village in Calverton, to East County.

Groups like the Sierra Club say it will cause suburban sprawl, but I wonder how much outward development the highway will cause when the area it runs through is largely built out. After all, entire neighborhoods have been built either next to or around the highway's right-of-way. Where the road's original route was shifted, dozens of homes had to be bought and razed.

Of course, there's still lots of potential to build around the ICC - at Konterra in Laurel, Aventiene in Gaithersburg and even a housing development where the highway crosses Norbeck Road. But it could also help revitalize Burtonsville's village center or bring offices and shops around the FDA in White Oak.

Either way, I'm looking forward to taking the highway for the first time when I come home this weekend. If you're curious to see it on a map, you're out of luck: so far, the only online map that has the ICC on it is OpenStreetMap, the Wikipedia of travel. Also, you can check out live feeds from traffic cameras along the highway, courtesy of the State Highway Administration.


Mortis Olaf said...

Took it today. I clocked about 6 minutes too. I fear it'll only make traffic worse, and it certainly won't do the environment any good, but it's a decent looking highway with some interesting landmarks. There's even a kind-of tunnel section.

toberead2 said...

I probably won't use it until the next phase is opened - I live in White Oak and work in Gaithersburg, but it's not that convenient for me to get to the Norbeck entrance. However, once the next phase opens, it would be a big improvement for my commute, since I currently take side streets such as Bel Pre Road which are not really set up as commuter roads. As you mentioned, I think the biggest improvements will come when the next phase opens at Rt. 29 and New Hampshire Avenue. White Oak could use some development and perhaps this will make the area more attractive for businesses.

Casey A said...

On Sunday I rode my mountain bike on the unfinished section near Fairland Regional Park -- it was a lot of fun, and I encountered several people from the surrounding neighborhoods taking their late afternoon walks on what will soon be a major highway. I'm not crazy about this project and the money it will suck out of other transportation priorities in the coming decades, but I can see why transportation engineers would get excited about it. It's an amazing thing to see how much dirt has been moved, concrete poured, etc. to build this road.

Thayer-D said...

You make some fair points Dan. It's a bit heart breaking to read McCarthy's article in the post today where he justifies the building of the IIC with the fact that people love their single family homes. As if the only viable homes are new ones. It will still add to sprawl though either way you cut it where the Purple Line will suck up a lot of those sprawl dollars by revitalizing many older single family neighborhoods.

hockeypunk said...

I plan on driving it tonight in the rain home to Briggs Chaney from hockey in Rockville. Nice n slow so I don't get pulled over. Wondering what it'll look like in the dark. I'm excited for it too, but am not looking forward to the tolls/wasting money on an EZ Pass. And I wish they'd hurry on connecting it to 29

Anonymous said...


Why would you define building new highways in Suburban Maryland as creating unwanted Sprawl but will not define building the Dulles Greenway, Fairfax County Parkway, Prince William County Parkway, VA 28 Freeway Transformation, I-66 Widening, VA I-495 HOT Lanes, and I-95/395 Widening as Unwanted Sprawl Generators????????

Thomas Hardman said...

We don't want any more Development.

We do want better connectivity within the existing Sprawl. The ICC does that.

That being said, try reading the fine print of the EZPass contract. Signing away all of your constitutional rights so that you can be billed electronically doesn't seem to me to be much of an improvement.

Very nice highway, though. Smooth as silk, a real change from I-370 the spur from I-270 to Shady Grove, which is like a washboard that's been pounded on by giant gorillas.

Too bad I won't drive on it under the current EZPass contract.

Anonymous said...

@Thomas Hardman

Who is this "We don't want any more Development"???

AS for the tolls, it can not go both ways...

First the MD Haters scream that the ICC will increase more traffic. Then the same MD Haters contradict by claiming that the ICC will not be heavily used because of the toll cost...

Its either the MD Haters hate the ICC because of so-called fear of increase traffic or they hate it because it won't produce enough people to use the highway because of the tolls...

Can't argue it both ways......

Thomas Hardman said...

@ the unnamed person: Who are the "we don't want any more development?"

We are the sane people who realize "the world is full and we don't have the resources -- and cannot have them -- to continue headlong into a reckless course of continuing to destroy the natural world, just so that old-school people can continue to practice old-school trades".

As to your other arguments, you attempt to create a false dilemma.

I don't mind paying the tolls. I do mind the toll-collection system requiring signing a contract that signs away most of your constitutional rights, and turns the subscriber's commuting patterns into marketable data. If they're turning the taxpayer into a marketable commodity, I want a break on my taxes if the State is selling my information for their profit. It's only fair, and furthermore any argument to the contrary is Tea-Party Fundamentalism and is inherently Anti-Progressive. Republicans want to reduce citizens to marketable commodities, right? -and Progressives zealously protect privacy rights, right?

BTW throw a false dilemma at me and I'll throw two back at you. At a minimum.

The fact is, it's a very nice highway and the engineers and the workers are to be commended. But I won't drive on it -- businesses should, they take in their strides this sort of tracking and re-selling of their data -- and no private citizen should submit to the contractual terms for the Maryland Transportation Authority EZPass. If they forced these terms on anyone it would be unconstitutional. But anyone who signs away these rights of their own consent has only themselves to blame.

Thomas Hardman said...

PS, Dan: How exactly can the ICC revitalize Burtonsville's town center when the ICC directly takes traffic off of MD-198? The whole idea of the ICC as finally built was to pull immense amounts of traffic off of the MD-28/MD-198 corridor. As you should remember, I have advocated strongly for a major end-to-end upgrade of that latter route, and it's one of the few things on which Parris Glendenning and I totally agreed. The fact is that with the ICC, except for people who refuse to drive it, Burtonsville town center is effectively a cul-de-sac. It's of interest as a shopping stop-over only for the locals, or maybe for errant pass-through traffic up and down US-29.

I still can't understand why you've never advocated for an upgrade for the MD-28/MD-198 corridor which would create a new axis through the Fourth District. Burtonsville has evidently elected -- tacitly, and with almost no discussion -- to remain a backwater. It already has suffered as "a hick town the bypass went around" and now it will suffer more of the same. All of the money has gone to the ICC, and that will be where all of the money will stay. There are maybe 12 families and 40 properties (not to mention very badly placed proposed new Developments) standing in the way of straightening out MD-198 west of US-29 and revisioning Burtonsville as a "new destination". As it is, it's an eddy, a backwater, and until MD-198 is widened and straightened west of town, it's just an overdeveloped hick suburb grossly underconnected to the surrounds, by a sad little 2-lane highway sitting on the same roadbed that was constructed with private funding in the 1880s.

So why don't you advocate for Burtonsville by advocating connecting it to the surrounds by advocating for a Real Highway running east-west through it.

Elysian said...

I don't like how the toll structure is different if you don't have ezpass, and that it makes it 3x as expensive to use the highway without the stupid ezpass (doesn't maryland charge for ezpass use monthly or something now anyway? they get you at all ends.) Anyway, they're not talking about that at all, I just saw it in the Post, but its an extra $3 to use the road if you don't have ezpass, and they mail you the bill. So I can pay 60 cents for using the road, and then $3 surcharge for not having ezpass... its a rip off.

Thomas Hardman said...

@ Elysian: You bet it's a scam, the same sort of thing where all of the stores started offering "membership benefit pricing" for having their "courtesy card". Actually, they just raised the prices on non-members, charged members the same, and marketed the members' information, and probably made a lot more money off of that than off of mark-up on the groceries.

The big money in business right now is information resale and marketing. Well, since we don't manufacture nor create many real products here in the States anymore, they've got to find some way to generate "wealth".

I should stop wasting my breath, the younger generation has absolutely no concept of the value of privacy.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan, well stated.

The ICC has been on various planning maps since the 1950's. What is now being built as Md. 200 has been present on maps since the 1970's, and more to the point, development approvals since about 1970 have been granted by M-NCP&PC and the Montgomery County Council with the assumption that the ICC would be built.

Even the (otherwise catastrophic) 1981 Eastern Montgomery County Master Plan, obsessed with increasing transit ridership through land use densification (back then, it was called "a concept of transit serviceability"), still included the ICC on its planned route.

abituin said...
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