After 56 years of study and debate, the first segment of the Inter County Connector (ICC) is now open and traffic on opening day exceeded expectations, with some 36,500 vehicles test-driving the first major new limited-access highway built in Montgomery County since 1967 on day one. The first completed segment of the ICC runs from I-370 near Shady Grove Road across Georgia Avenue, and ends at a temporary exit onto Norbeck Road just east of Georgia Avenue.

When completed, the ICC will connect two of Maryland’s key employment corridors and reduce travel times between I-270 and I-95 by roughly half. The time savings are already apparent. In my first real trip on the ICC, other than a ceremonial drive just for the fun of it on opening day, I used the ICC to get from Rockville Pike near Shady Grove Road to a meeting in Olney. This trip from Shady Grove Road to Georgia Avenue used to take about 30-35 minutes, depending upon traffic and lights, but this time it took about 7 minutes. Imagine how much more accessible the two counties spanned by the ICC will be, from east to west, when the entire project is complete. The full ICC should be open in the next year.

It will be interesting to see, once the whole project is complete and the tolls are operational, how many people use it on a daily basis. With just the first segment open, it is much too early to draw any conclusions. However, if it performs as the traffic models indicate, there will be significant traffic diverted off crowded local roads and dramatic improvements in congestion levels at dozens of intersections across this highly traveled corridor. While other recent projects have performed exactly as the models predicted (Montrose Parkway and the Wilson Bridge come to mind), we shall all have to wait and see if the ICC does the same.

For more information, see local coverage on Patch.com here.

Task Force Issues Call to “Restore Trust” in Transportation Trust Fund

This week Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding issued a strongly worded report to the Maryland General Assembly, highlighting the urgent need for additional funds.  View the full report here

Included in the Appendices are several interesting charts and data tables, including one listing the nearly $1 billion that has been diverted from the Transportation Trust Fund and not paid back (mainly from the localities’ Highway User Fund accounts), and a menu of options for legislators to consider in coming up with the $800 million that is needed.

The Task Force is also asking legislators to maintain the current portions of both the sales tax and corporate income tax that are currently dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund.

A new report issued by The Road Information Project (TRIP), a national transportation think-tank, highlights the cost to Maryland citizens of the Free State’s continued failure to invest in its surface transportation network.

According to the report, “with the state’s population continuing to grow, Maryland must improve its systems of roads, bridges, and public transit to foster economic growth, keep business in the state, and ensure the safe, reliable mobility needed to improve the quality of life for all residents.” 

Among its key findings:

  • 44% of the major roads in Maryland are classified as in poor or mediocre condition.
  • 26% of the state’s bridges are either “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”
  • 55% of Maryland’s urban highways are severely congested during peak travel times — eighth highest rate in the nation. 

Most alarmingly, the report finds that the poor condition of Maryland roads is costing Maryland drivers big-time:  To the tune of about $7 billion a year in unecessary injuries from traffic accidents, lost time due to congestion-related delays, wasted fuel, and additional vehicle operating costs. In the Washington area, that comes out to about $2,296 per motorist, per year, that is being lost due to a failure to invest in our most basic transportation infrastructure. (FYI – the cost to each of us from a 10-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax is only about $40 to $50 per year, depending on how much you drive!)

Former Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, who chairs the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, said it best:  “After decades of under-investment, we are out of time, out of money, and out of excuses.  The time to fix this is now, and that means finding new revenues and making sure they are spent on our failing transportation system. ”  Amen. 

The TRIP report lists some of the key projects that would significantly improve traffic conditions, but are not currently funded for construction:  New transit lines like the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, improvements to the I-95/I-495 interchange, widening sections of I-70 and I-270 to add new lanes, and a host of other road, intersection, bridge and transit projects throughout the region.

Bottom line:  None of these projects can be funded today without a significant increase in transportation funding.  Read the full report: TRIP Report.

Decades of under-investment, fiscal neglect and local opposition to suburban Maryland’s transportation priorities have finally gotten us somewhere – number one on the list of most congested metropolitan areas in the US – according to a recent study cited by the Washington Post. The news comes as no surprise.

The latest Texas Transportation Institute Urban Mobility Report ranks the Washington, D.C., region number 1 (tied with Chicago) in peak hour delays, with 70 hours lost per commuter, per year, on average, in our region.

What could you do with an extra 70 hours each year? This is not to mention the tons of extra carbon emissions and over $3,000 wasted per household on extra fuel and wear-and-tear on our vehicles caused by severe congestion.

The TTI survey ranks our region-

• #1 in fuel wasted per peak auto commuter

• #2 in commuter stress

• #2 in cost of delay per peak hour auto commuter ($1,555/year)

To read the entire report, click here.

The survey’s authors hit the nail on the head:

“In the end there’s a need for more capacity.”

–Tim Lomax, Author

Texas Transportation Institute

2010 Urban Mobility Report