Commuters Flee Intercounty Connector After Toll Charges Begin
On average, 62 percent fewer people are using the road during evening rush hour.
Now that the Intercounty Connector is charging tolls, its use by evening rush-hour commuters has dropped by more than half, transportation figures show.
According to numbers released by the Maryland Transportation Authority this week, 2,793 motorists, on average, used the road each weekday during the 5 to 6 p.m. rush hour from Feb. 23 to March 1, when no toll charges were enforced.
Last week, an average of 1,057 drivers used the road daily during the weekday evening rush hour, a drop of 62 percent.
The first segment of the estimated $2.56 billion Intercounty Connector, or ICC, a high-tech roadway designed to reduce commuting times for suburban Baltimore and Washington, D.C., residents, opened Feb. 23. Toll collection began March 7.
Opponents of the road said they expected that many drivers, faced with toll charges, would go back to their old commuting habits.
"High tolls will drive many drivers off the road," said Councilman Philip M. Andrews, D-Dist. 3 of Gaithersburg. "Some can’t afford it, others will choose to avoid it. It’s not a bridge, it’s not a tunnel, people can choose to avoid it."
Drivers who use the new road for a daily commute, once in the morning and once at night, are charged $1.45 per trip, equaling $14.50 per week. Prices go down to $1.15 per trip for off-peak hours and 60 cents per overnight trip.
Drivers will be charged on the electronic tollway with E-ZPass technology, a device placed in a car that connects to an overhead antenna identifying the vehicle and registering tolls via a credit card or other payment method.
Maryland Transportation Authority officials expected the drop in traffic once toll rates started, said Kelly Melhem, a spokeswoman for the agency.
She said traffic volumes will grow and stabilize over time, and that could take months, or even years.
“Right now motorists, drivers and businesses, they are evaluating their travel choices,” she said.
Traffic engineers have also been contacting various GPS units to make sure the ICC shows up on personal electronic mapping devices, Melhem said.
The first phase of the ICC is a six-lane highway that spans seven miles between Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring and the Shady Grove Metro station in Rockville.
Eventually, the ICC will stretch 18 miles and connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, linking Interstate 270/370 with U.S. Route 1.
Melhem said the next phase of the ICC will open later this year or early next year and will connect it to Interstate 95. Councilman Andrews predicts this next phase will help ridership number improve slightly, but will still fail to generate enough revenue.
"It will fail in its objective to take a significant amount of traffic off these local roads- which was the claim proponents used to sells it to the public in 2002," Andrews said.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a D.C.-region organization concerned with preserving natural and historic areas, is among the groups that opposed the ICC’s construction.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the coalition, said ICC advocates “were hoping by tempting people with free use at first, they would encourage those people to keep using it.
“Certainly, looking at the snapshot, the road wasn’t worth the price for 1,000 rush hour trips,” he said.