Engineering study gives green light to ICC speed increase

An engineering study of the year-old Intercounty Connector has concluded that the speed limit on the highway between Gaithersburg and Laurel could be raised from 55 mph to 60 mph so long as an analysis of crash data finds no safety concerns.

The accident review of the $2.5 billion all-electronic toll road is expected to be completed by the end of February, after which time the Maryland Transportation Authority will make a decision.

"We said we wanted to have a year's worth of experience, and we've got that now," said Harold Bartlett, the authority's executive director. "The engineering review was favorable, and now we will look at single-vehicle crashes that could be speed-related."

The highway, designed for speeds of 60 mph, has yet to see a fatal crash, and MdTA Police have recorded just 20 single-vehicle accidents.

Formally known as Route 200, the 18.8-mile ICC is being built in segments. When the last major piece opened in November 2011, motorists and politicians, including Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, began complaining that the speed limit was too low even though it matched the limit on the Capital Beltway and on the Montgomery County portion of Interstate 270.

Bartlett said raising the speed limit from 55 mph to 60 mph would shave just 90 seconds from an end-to-end trip. He cautioned that before the agency could raise the speed, a number of modifications might be needed, such as marking curves and modifying grading.

"Even assuming a favorable decision, we may not be able to push a button and make it happen right away," he said.

This month, Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews called on the authority to cut tolls in half to encourage more traffic. Authority officials said the ICC was built for traffic volume in 2030 and is meeting revenue and traffic projections.

The final one-mile section from Interstate 95 to U.S. 1 is scheduled to open late next year or early 2014.

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