Dr. Gridlock

May 02, 2011

The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, will be online to take all your questions about Metro, traffic throughout the region and other transportation issues.

Thanks for joining me on a day when there are many things in the news to draw your attention.

Good Afternoon, Doctor. You have reported about the delays going through the northbound side of the Newark toll plaza on the Delaware turnpike on the weekends have you heard anything about going through it during the weekdays around noon? Thanks

Let's start with this long-distance travel question as a reminder that this coming weekend is Mother's Day and the Interstates are likely to be particularly heavy. (Also, as in every spring, I think we're seeing a lot of people shifting position up and down the East Coast as they follow the seasons, and that affects I-95 traffic.)

The commenter knows that I'm worried about you drivers who are planning long weekend trips in heavy congestion -- cause I'm sure you'll find it at the Delaware Toll Plaza, where the highway is being widened to accommodate new highway speed E-ZPass lanes. They should be done this summer, but meanwhile, the construction squeezes traffic, especially as it emerges from the northbound toll plaza.

I'm not sure what the general pattern is at midday on weekdays. But I can see by looking at our traffic map right now that there is congestion around the northbound toll plaza, while it's relatively easy going on the southbound side.

One thing to try: For several days before you leave, check the Delaware Transportation Dept Web site for live traffic info and get a feel for what's coming up.

The Del site is:


I think the new ICC is sadly underused, which is a real waste. My husband & I hoped it would get traffic off some of our local roads (Muncaster Mill Road, Bowie Mill Road, Route 108), but there are so few cars on it now. I think the price is too high, particularly on weekends and evenings; also the large number of police cars aggressively looking for speeders on this speed-friendly road is a deterrent. How can we get these vehicles (particularly large trucks) off of our two-lane roads and onto the ICC?

I think the ICC will grow in popularlity, despite the high tolls, but we won't see that till after the whole thing is open by early next year. When the ICC links 270 and 95, it will be much more useful to a lot of people -- including truckers -- than it is now. I hope commuters also will be able to take advantage of the new MTA commuter buses using the ICC.

I've found myself choosing the ICC for my own trips between the Gaithersburg area and Silver Spring.

If the police cars discourage speeders from using the highway, I don't have any reason to complain about that.


This morning on the ramp from Columbia Pike in Arlington to I-395 North there was an electronic sign that said "Bridge Work to begin on or about 5/2/11." What bridge work are they talking about? I'm pretty aware of all of the construction in the area, but this one had me stumped. Thanks!

Yeah, that one has me a bit baffled at the moment. There are so many bridges under construction at the moment, I'm not sure what that sign refers to. The 14th Street Bridge recently went into a new phase, but that was a couple of weeks ago. Nothing new was announced for today.

The New York Avenue Bridge got narrowed from six to four lanes last week. The Humpback Bridge work on the GW Parkway continues and is supposed to be done in late spring.


Dr. Gridlock, do you know the thought that went into the construction project on Pennsylvania Ave SE taking a lane away and putting in grass and tree in the middle of the road?

That sounds like DC's Great Streets project, on Pennsylvania Ave SE from east of the Anacostia to the DC line. Beautifying the street and enhancing the neighborhood are prime goals of that project. So is making it easier and safer for pedestrians.

As I commute on Metro, I am pretty unfamiliar with rush hour traffic patterns. My husband will be arriving at Dulles at around 7 on Tuesday night, and I am planning to pick him up. I will be driving from work, on Independence Ave SW. I was thinking to take the 14th Street Bridge, to GW Parkway, to the Beltway, to the Dulles Toll Road. Is there any alternate route you suggest? Also, do you have any idea how long this will take me -- I am thinking somewhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours.

You're going to the airport on business, so you could go across the Roosevelt Bridge and out I-66 to the Dulles Access Road, even during HOV hours.

Whenever, travelers ask me about getting to airports to meet people or catch flights, I'm very conservative about travel times. They usually find they can spend an hour in the cocktail lounge with all the extra time I tell them to build in for the trip. And in fact, you never know what's going to happen in a long rush hour trip across this congested region.

Your trip is about 25 miles. I'd leave an hour and a half for it -- but I think you're likely to beat that time, especially using the Dulles Access Road -- the one for airport bound people that's in the middle of the Toll Road.

I drove on it the day it opened. 55 is simply an unreasonably low speed limit on that road and it will be even more so once the next portion is opened. I understand a lower limit westbound as you approach I-370, which is a rotten road, but there is no excuse, other than greed on the part of the state, for not posting that road at 65 mph.

I've been on the road plenty of times and have seen plenty of speeders. From the lane maneuvers I've seen them make, I do not consider them above average drivers and have no reason to believe they can handle those high speeds.

How do you think the BRAC/I-395 situation is going to play out?

Very, very badly. None of the significant improvements to reduce traffic congestion will be in place by Sept. 15, the deadline for completing the military personnel moves. So any of the construction projects you've heard about -- particularly the construction of a new HOV ramp -- will be underway while the heavy traffic is already at Mark Center.

I think mid-September traffic on I-395 around Seminary Road will be quite a story.

You said: "....no reason to believe they can handle those high speeds." For 65 MPH? Really? Then take their licenses away.

Fair enough. Do you think that would keep them off the roads?

Travelers, Just an FYI in case you plan to be out on I-95 in Virginia anytime soon. There was a bad accident. Here's our 12:10 p.m. update:

Virginia State Police say a tanker truck spilled oil onto I-95 North  just east of exit 174 for Eisenhower Avenue. The road will remain closed until the cleanup is complete. Spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the cleanup is estimated to take four hours. Traffic must exit at Telegraph Road.

You tout the Purple Line, yet last week the developers finally unveiled a bit of their mega-projects for both sides of Connecticut Avenue near Jones Bridge Road. Massive apartment complexes, etc. With trains crossing at grade and these ne car magnets, Connecticut Ave. will be even more of a mess at the rush hours. How can you continue to support this?

If the Purple Line focuses development around some of the key transit stations, it will be performing as intended. It's up to the communities and the county to work out exactly how much development makes sense at any particular location. There are similar disputes about development proposals in my Silver Spring neighborhood near a Purple Line stop.

The speed limit should definitely be 65, and it doesn't help to have cops pulling people over when they are going 56 mph. The enforcement is so punitive and ridiculous that combined with the high toll and low speed limit, it makes using the road pretty unattractive. If MD hopes to recoup any of the cost of building this beautiful road, they should really figure this out before they open the whole thing and find that it's a total bust.

Did you get stopped for going 56 mph on the ICC? If so, that would be unfair, since police would have been missing a chance to catch scores of other drivers going more than 70 mph.

Do any exist? As a resident of western Fairfax county, I am surrounded by large, high volume highways (28, 7100, 267, 66). But to get over the Potomac to northern destinations (PA = parents, home), I have to go out of the way northwest to route 15, which is slow around Leesburg and a 2-lane road for miles in Maryland. Or, I drive additional miles going inbound to 495 then taking 270 north, but I may have to deal with congestion. Will we ever see a bridge in the middle (I'm thinking north of Herndon, looping to north potomac, the logical outer beltway).

Virginia has some interest in the bridge -- at least as a concept. Soon as anyone says exactly which Virginia communities will get torn up to build the bridge and it's approaches, that's likely to be the end of it. Maryland shows no interest in a bridge.

Not trying to be overly argumentative, but do you really consider 65 mph to be a very high speed? Most Interstates are signed at or above that as a speed limit, including plenty of roads in the DC area (I-395 express lanes, I-95 between the Beltways, US-50 east of the Beltway, Dulles Greenway.....)

I think Maryland could consider raising the speed limit at some point. If a traffic study showed it was safe. I wouldn't open a new road and peg the speed limit at the maximum possible.

It takes me nine minutes to get from one side of the ICC to the other. How much time would a 65  mph limit save?

Dr. G., what do you expect to see with respect to increased security (including those notorious bag searches) on public transit systems such as Metro and Amtrak in light of UBL's demise?

The transit agencies are telling us today that they've stepped up security. But our reporters and commenters are saying they haven't seen any great blue surge on the trains or in the stations.

You know I think the bag inspections are a bad tactic and should be abandoned. The policy treats Metro riders as terrorist suspects and requires some randomly chosen riders to prove their innocence.

Nobody thinks a police officer or TSA officer is going to open up a bag full of bombs at an inspection table. That terrorist would be awfully docile to allow that to happen.

If the idea rather is to create a hubbub around a station entrance that might make a terrorist nervous, that can be accomplished in other ways by a police presence without humiliating the paying customers.

That said, I think it's very prudent of law enforcement to step up patrols and encourage riders to be on the lookout for activity that is suspicious.

Not on the ICC, but I got pulled over once for going 56. I'm not kidding. I'd been driving behind a cop for a while and when I passed him he pulled me over. He said he was maintaining a speed of 55 so I must have been going 56 when I passed him.

Sounds like an officer with an attitude.

Hi Doc! Do you know what will become of the left exit from the inner loop to westbound I-66? Will it be for HOT lanes only, or will the left exit still be an option for us cheapskates? I'm worried that the left exit will go away and all westbound traffic will be funneled onto the right-hand loop exit. The right-hand exit is a tight loop and, if it's the only choice, will cause major back-ups on the beltway!

I hate the left-hand exits around here. I think they're generally pretty dangerous, because they put slower moving traffic into the fast lane. And yes, I think that left onto I-66 will go away in the new configuration for drivers in the general purpose lanes.

Travelers, thanks for joining me. I have to break away now. There still are comments about BRAC, the ICC and speeding in the mailbag, and I'm hoping to address some of them on the Dr. Gridlock blog later. Write to me any time at drgridlock@washpost.com.

Stay safe.

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Robert Thomson
Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He offers therapy for that most intimate relationship: the one between you and your commute. You can read his work on his namesake blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.
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