Transportation Nation

Maryland to Raise Speed Limit on New Highway

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Intercounty Connector at down (photo by Jessica Jordan)

The speed limit on Maryland's new, $3 billion highway will be raised to 60 m.p.h. by March 31, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority. The current limit on the Intercounty Connector is 55.

The higher limit may satisfy some drivers but won't speed up their commutes significantly.

"Going from 55 to 60 really only represents a time savings of about a minute and a half," said MDTA Executive Secretary Harold M. Bartlett.

The agency studied the highway's geometry and performed a crash analysis for the ICC's first year of operations before deciding to bump the speed limit.

“We are confident that a 60 m.p.h speed limit is safe and justifiable based on the design speed and geometry of the roadway, as well as on the speed most motorists are comfortable traveling the ICC," Bartlett said.

There is no national speed limit. States are free to set their own limits guided by safety considerations. Texas recently posted the highest speed limit in the U.S. at 85 m.p.h. also for a new toll road, and did so in part for financial reasons.


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Transportation Nation

Was It Worth It? Maryland Says New Highway Meets Expectations; Critics Aren't So Sure

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Intercounty Connector at down (photo by Jessica Jordan)

As the one-year anniversary of the Inter-County Connector approaches, the Maryland Transportation Authority says the highway is meeting its traffic volume and revenue projections. But critics of the $3 billion road don't trust the state's data.

Greg Smith of Maryland-based advocacy group Community Research is one of those critics. As he looks at the ICC at the New Hampshire Avenue interchange right before rush hour, what he sees is a relatively empty highway.

"Well, it is remarkably light for a six-lane, $3 billion interstate highway," Smith says.

Smith, whose group fought the construction of the ICC, believes the 18-mile highway cutting across Montgomery County to connect I-270 in the west with I-95 in the east was a waste of money and -- that the state's traffic figures are nonsense.

"They are cherry-picking their numbers. The Transportation Authority knows full well that the volumes they are getting on the ICC today are far lower than the volumes they had in their official document of record, the Environmental Impact Statement where they ran the numbers for 2010 and 2030," Smith says. "They were projecting much higher volumes, in the order of 100,000-plus vehicles per day on the western end, in the opening year."

But the MTA disputes Smith's claim. Traffic volume is higher than projected on the western-most segment, and slightly lower on the eastern-most portion of the ICC, according to MTA numbers. Weekday traffic averages more than 35,000 vehicles per day between Interstate-370 and Georgia Avenue in the west; 26,000 vehicles per weekday between Route 29 and Interstate-95 in the east.

"Daily traffic volumes are consistent with our projections and are growing at a rate of about three percent on average per month," says MTA spokesman John Sales.

When the ICC first opened to traffic last year, tolls weren't charged until December -- at which point traffic volumes dropped. And it still hasn't exceeded the volume from the last day of toll-free traffic that month.

"Nobody looking at this road and seeing how virtually empty it is would say this was worth $3 billion and taking 60 families' homes," Smith says.

But the ICC was not designed to be at full capacity immediately after opening, Sales says, adding it takes about three years for traffic volume to ramp up on a new toll road. In addition, he says E-ZPass toll revenues have actually exceeded projections.

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The Takeaway

Child-Arming Warlord to Receive 14 Years

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Tuesday the International Criminal Court handed down their first ruling in history. They sentenced Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga to 14 years in prison, six of which he has already served while in custody, for using child soldiers in his rebel army.


The Takeaway

Charles Taylor Found Guilty of War Crimes

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia who was on trial at the International Criminal Court's Special Court for Sierra Leone has been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lynn Fausett is the author of "Crimes of Humanity," a memoir detailing a life lived along the war-torn border region of Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1998 to 1999. Elizabeth Ohene is a former Africa Editor for the BBC who interviewed Taylor on many occasions. Ohene is now an African political analyst in Ghana.


Transportation Nation

Traffic Light Along New Maryland Toll Road

Friday, March 30, 2012

Photo: Martin Di Caro

(Washington, DC -- Martin Di Caro, WAMU) Traffic appears pretty light on the Intercounty Connector, especially now that electronic tolls are being collected, but the Maryland Transportation Authority says traffic volumes are on target.

The completion of the eastern segment of the Intercounty Connector in late November promised to transform commuting by opening an 18-mile toll road cutting east-west across Montgomery County, Md.

Approximately 20,000 vehicles travel the ICC on average on weekdays, with the western segment seeing more volume than the eastern one by about 10,000 vehicles per day.  It takes three years for volume to ramp up on a new toll road, according to an ICC spokeswoman.

Raw data show that traffic volume significantly dropped after the collection of tolls began in early December.  On December 4, a Sunday, more than 44,000 vehicles drove the western segment of the ICC.  The next day saw volume fall to fewer than 26,000 vehicles.

In the Tanglewood subdivision of Silver Spring the sounds of birds and crickets on pretty suburban streets is now mixing with the constant, distant hum of traffic.  But the sound is less distant for Ken Schmidt, who purchased his home on Trebleclef Lane two years ago.  A new sound barrier standing about 20 feet high runs right behind his backyard.

“There is the old saying ‘not in my backyard.’ But here it is,” Schmidt says.  “When we purchased the house, the state website for the ICC spoke of two plans that ran north and south of Rt. 198.  This plan was not on the main page.  I assumed it wasn’t an option.”

Schmidt says he might have done more thorough research, because he would not have bought his home had he known where the ICC would be built.  Instead he recently spent $13,000 for new windows to block the sound of traffic from filling his home where he lives with his wife and baby boy.

“It’s 100 times better than it used to be but unless we went with even more expensive windows with more layers of glass, even that wouldn’t have solved the problem completely,” says Schmidt, who says dust kicked up by passing traffic and carried by the wind often covers his home, another reason to keep the windows closed.

Two doors down Trebleclef Lane lives Jeff Owrutsky, who bought his home in the early 1990s.  Over the past 20 years he witnessed the long-running public process that ended with the construction of a highway he actively opposed.

“This has been on the books since the ‘50s so we got wind of it before we moved here.  Certainly everybody said they would never build it but I guess you can say they have now,” Owrutsky says.  “A lot of the problem with this road is that it cost so much money.  It’s busting the bank in terms of our whole transportation budget.”

Owrutsky says he is getting used to his new environs but misses what his backyard used to be like.  “It was dense, full of trees, and there’s also an auto park over there.  It used to be that the trees would shield us from all the lights of the auto park.”

The ICC was designed to reduce traffic congestion on heavily congested east-west roads in Montgomery County, but the Maryland Transportation Authority says traffic analyses will take months to complete and there are no studies available.

In interviews with, residents near one of those roads, Briggs Chaney Road., say it’s difficult to tell whether traffic has dwindled over the past four months.

“I don’t see a major difference since the ICC road has been open.  When I go to Rockville, I take Rt. 28 and I think it is more congested,” says Alfiya Akhmed, who has lived on Briggs Chaney for seven years.

Some have noticed a positive change.  “Before we were kind of congested but now there is less traffic on Briggs Chaney,” says Gladstone Botsoe, a commuter who uses the road three times per week.  But commuter Rob McKellar says the traffic seems about the same, and he blamed the tolls on the ICC for keeping people on the local roads.

“With the economy the way it is I don’t think people want to pay.  I wouldn’t pay to go on that road,” McKellar says.

About six miles southwest of where Briggs Chaney Road runs parallel to the ICC, a stream runs through Northwest Branch Park, where many trees have fallen or are tilting down, their roots exposed above the stream bank.  Environmentalists say the ICC will exacerbate the problem of storm water run off that has already caused so much damage to the ecosystem.

“It’s hard to say whether any particular thing has caused the increased damage, but you have to figure that all those acres of concrete with run off is going to have an effect that is different than acres of forest where the water seeps in slowly,” says Anne Ambler, the president of Neighbors of Northwest Branch.  She and Dave O’Leary, the chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, described to the cycle that may transform the forest permanently for the worse.

“When we have lots of pavement… the storm pours in really quickly and the streams will come up quickly and gouge out the sides of the streams.  This water level will bounce right up and could be two or three times as deep as it is now.  Where we have these sharp bends in the stream that water pounds against the sides, undercuts the banks, and trees will fall in,” O’Leary says.

As more trees tumble into the stream, roots and all, the stream grows wider, causing further erosion.  As more trees fall, more sunlight breaks through the canopy, causing the growth of invasive species which now blanket the forest bottom.  The invasive plants prevent the seeds of older trees from taking root, and the forest will fail to sustain itself.

“Over the next couple of decades we will see this whole area transform.  A forest will become a few trees, different vegetation on the ground, the water is polluted.  What was appealing in 1990 or 1995 is much less so in 2015,” O’Leary says.

The state has five ongoing storm water management projects just for the area of the Northwest Branch, but Ambler says the problem is to a considerable degree irreversible.

“Progress is not a question of putting down more concrete.  The situation where we find ourselves now with climate change, progress would mean concentrating preserving our fresh water which is scarce and investing in other forms of energy,” she says.

Listen to an extended audio report on this issue here.


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The Takeaway

John Burns on Libya's Present and Future

Monday, August 22, 2011

John Burns, London bureau chief for The New York Times, joins us live from London to discuss the situation in Libya. Burns recently spent several weeks in the hotel in Tripoli that is currently housing Western journalists. He speaks on the dangers facing foreign correspondents in the city, the hopeful and relieved mood of Libyans and both the nation's and Gadhafi's futures as the threat of the ICC looms over his head. 

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The Takeaway

Bombing Libya 100 Days and Counting

Monday, June 27, 2011

The International Criminal Court decided this morning to issue a warrant for the arrests of Col. Muammar Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, and Gadhafi's intelligence chief, on charges of crimes against humanity. It has been 100 days since NATO began air strikes against Libya and Col. Muammar Gadhafi's forces.