Do you live in the upper part of Montgomery County? Have you driven or ridden on the newly opened Intercounty Connector (MD 200) since it opened last week? If so, please share some of your experiences with this blog. I'd love to hear from you! My experiences are reported below.
As most of you know, I am a resident of Olney, Maryland. As such I have watched the ICC grow from the moving mounds of dirt a few short years ago once Governor O'Malley gave it the green light. However, since I have opposed this road for most of my more than 30 years residence in this county, I have not celebrated this new highway. Last week saw state and county leaders congregate to cut the ribbon and applaud this long trumpeted construction. Billions of dollars have been borrowed to pay for this road. Our transportation funds are now tapped out. But will the road address its promise? We were told that the local roads would be freed of the commuters and cut through traffic and large trucks would now have a way to reach BWI and Route 95. However with only a third of this road now opened, this is a question which remains to be answered. The environmental compromises promised bike lanes and express buses and monitoring of air quality and stream valley runoffs. To this date, the water quality has been an ongoing problem and noise and pollution remain current concerns. The bike lanes were reduced due to supposed cost restraints. The express buses to BWI/Marshall Airport and Fort Meade are starting up now.
But as bucolic as this ride was, a glance along the route showed the cost. The roadside was populated by mini-trees which had replaced vibrant long standing forests. The deforestation was extensive and appeared excessive. Thick underbrush which previously provided habitat for many small animals had disappeared. The area is now left even more vulnerable to flooding and storm water runoff. The parklands of Lake Needwood were bisected. Farms and homes, former meadows and hills were no longer. Social costs to neighborhoods along the route are yet to be measured as some homes and neighborhoods were isolated and walled off. Although construction has ceased, the drone of traffic will continue to intrude upon sleeping and waking hours for those along the routes.
WTOP radio has reported that the ICC is significantly underperforming traffic count expectations on these opening days. In these free two week trial periods traffic has averaged around 30,000 cars per day. The big rigs, which were expected to easily pay the toll fees have not yet materialized in large numbers. These drivers must realize that despite the promised seven minutes travel time from Shady Grove to Norbeck, the route then means an extra 30 minutes on local roads, and with gas prices spiking lately, they may not wish to sit longer in traffic. Commuters are also doing the math. One of my co-workers travels from Rockville to Columbia daily. Just this small stretch of road would cost her more than $60.00 a month if she traveled both ways at rush hour, and she still would have to pay the MD transponder fee and surcharges. Is it any wonder that many have called this highway the Lexus road?
The road is here to stay and we as taxpayers will be paying for it for a long time. It appears to me that we need to be vigilant, keep our eyes on what is said and then done and keep our eyes on the road. The second portion is due to open within the year if all goes well. It is possible that local traffic will abate by then. I am counting on each of you to keep us all apprised of the saga of the ICC as it unfolds throughout the next few months.