Dr. Gridlock

Oct 31, 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.

Welcome, travelers. Before we start, please remember to be extra careful driving this afternoon and evening, and watch for trick-or-treaters, who may be wearing dark costumes.

Similar to this forum, is Metro going to have lunchtime chats with Mr. Sarles, similar to those held with his predecessor? I don't know why they ever stopped doing them.

I remember the old lunchtime chats. I know of no plans to resume them with GM Richard Sarles or anyone else at Metro.

Why can't I make a right turn from L street to 13th avenue from 9PM to 5AM? I think there are several other cross streets on L that have similar signs. These are permanent signs, not just event signs.

This question comes up from time to time. The signs were put up years ago to prevent cruising in what was a prostitution zone.

Please tell me that VDOT will soon open an extra lane on westbound I-66 over the beltway. It has been a month since the left exit to I-66 closed and it is clear that the change caused a major bottleneck.

Yep, there's more to come on westbound I-66 at the Beltway. I did a posting on this after it came up in last week's chat, but I've also got a very good description provided by another traveler. I'll post that next.

Last week a reader complained about the Inner Loop ramp to outbound I-66 (the redesigned two-lane loop-around) and bemoaned the backups that occur when the two-lane ramp merges with two lanes of westbound I-66 and then funnels into two lanes to cross the Beltway. I drove through there yesterday (Thursday, Oct. 27, as I'm submitting this early) and I noted that I-66 there is a temporary configuration. The two-lane ramp is permanent, but I-66 will have more lanes, probably four, when all the roadwork is done. The use of orange signs, rather than yellow ones, to warn drivers of lanes ending and the like underscores this fact, as orange signs are used during construction to warn of a temporary condition. The full set of westbound I-66 lanes over the Beltway can't be opened yet because of the need for safety buffer areas to protect workers and the need for them to store the construction equipment. There's going to be another ramp coming from the southbound HOT lanes that will join westbound I-66 from the right partway across the Beltway, and then there's going to be a ramp from the northbound HOT lanes that will join I-66 on the left (via the ORIGINAL ramp from the Inner Loop, the one that was abandoned back in the early 1990s and is now being rehabilitated). Both of those are still under construction. So there has to be room for the workers to build all that, which explains the current configuration! I think a fair point to people driving through the work zones is that you should never assume any reconfiguration is the final change until all the work is completed, and in this case all you need is the two eyes in your head to tell you it's not done!

Thanks very much. That description, I believe, matches up with what Jamie Breme at VDOT told me after last week's chat.

And drivers on the eastbound Dulles Toll Road can take heart from your point about not assuming that any configuration is final. There will be some improvements for them in the spring -- if they can wait that long.

Dr G, Are there any long-term plans to improve the beltway in Maryland? I'm thinking from the American Legion to I-95. The backups around the 270 are usually pretty bad, especially in the areas where the #'s of lanes drop down to 3, or 2. With the HOT/HOV improvements going on the highly congested Tysons-Springfield region, is Maryland thinking about doing anything to match?

I had a similar question recently and I'm checking with the Maryland State Highway Administration about plans for the western side of the Beltway. That area needs relief no matter what's going on in Virginia. No specific plans have been announced, though there has been study.

One thing: I think many of us have been assuming that the expansion of the Virginia Beltway with the HOT lanes project is going send a lot more traffic over the Legion Bridge into Maryland. That's not what the HOT lanes folks are assuming. They see the HOT lanes mostly as a resource for drivers who need to go a few exits along the Beltway on particular days when they need to be sure they can reach a certain place at a certain time.

They do not believe it's going to open a spigot for a lot more traffic to flow into Maryland.

Took the bus to NY Friday afternoon -- things were smooth sailing through Delaware (yea!!) but what was going on with the NJ Tpke? Construction between exits 6 and 8 caused significant delays. Will this be done by Tksgiving?

I'm pretty sure what you're describing is the widening project on the turnpike. Most of the work is off to the sides, but like our HOT lanes project, there still are slowdowns where the shoulders disappear and lanes shift.

New Jersey, like other states, suspends construction around the big holidays, but you'll still find the same land configurations.

The Delaware toll plaza will be very interesting. This will be our first Thanksgiving since the new highway speed E-ZPass lanes opened. Like you, I've had great experiences getting through there. (Most recently on Sunday.) But the issue will be whether the E-ZPass lanes begin far enough back to handle the huge volume coming through at Thanksgiving. It's possible that at the busiest times, drivers with E-ZPasses could be stuck far back in the general purpose lanes waiting to reach the point where the E-ZPass lanes split off.

I'll be doing my annual holiday travel guide on one of our Sunday Commuter pages before Thanksgiving.

Hello Dr Gridlock, two questions from an out of towner! Considering coming to DC on Thanksgiving Monday to hit the smithsonian. We would be getting Metro at one of the furthest-out stations; will it still be crowded at 9 AM (should we wait til a little bit later?) Also, I will be driving down 95 S to 495 this Friday, planning to hit the beltway around 9:30 or 10 AM. What should I be prepared for traffic-wise? Thanks if you can offer advice, from a small-city driver!

Welcome. I hope you have a great time here. Let's see, I think I'd wait till 9:30 am. on that Monday. It's not just the crowding. You'll also pay the off-peak fare between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays.

If you plan to use the train system much during the day, you might consider getting an all-day pass. Take a look at the fare information on this page from Metro's Web site:


The I-95/Beltway interchange can be difficult, but you should be okay around 9:30-10 a.m. on Friday. If you go west on the Beltway, in the direction of Silver Spring and Bethesday, you will quickly encounter the construction zone for a Beltway bridge project. You'll want to make sure you don't stay in the far right lanes, because they don't go through. If you're continuing down I-95 using the Beltway in the direction of the Legion Bridge, you should also be okay. There are a few work zones in that area, but you should still be okay at that hour.

Since I will no longer be received peak of the peak rush hour service as of June 2012 on the Blue Line from Franconia/Springfield to Farragut West and return, will I still be paying $10.40 a day for non-rush hour service?

There hasn't beenany discussion of changing fares. The realignment of service on the Blue and Yellow lines actually will put a few more trains into service, using some excess space in the schedule at L'Enfant Plaza.

1. Why does the Post continue to use the word accident instead of the more accurate crash? 2. When told the road caused a crash why do Post reporters not ask the "official" how the road chose whom to cause to crash? I mean, every vehicle did not crash, including the one immediately preceding the crashed vehicle. ("The first thing we must recognize is that crashes are not accidents." -Ricardo Martinez, M.D., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator, 1997) Thanks!

Yes, I think that's a good point.

I didn't see any information in this morning's blog about the significant Metro delays on the Red Line. Was it there and I missed it? If not please keep us current on the delays-it does matter to us even if we can't do anything about it. Thank you.

We didn't hear about any significant delays on the Red Line this morning. Riders are among our sources for the morning traffic/transit report.

We invite travelers to send us messages via e-mail or Twitter telling us what they're experiencing. Tweet @drgridlock or e-mail transportation@washpost.com. (Drivers, please don't do that while you're behind the wheel.)

The evening news was reporting that lanes would be opening again on 123 in Tysons - but I"ve not seen anything. In fact, the news was also reporting that the new exit would be open soon, but I drove that connector bridge over the weekend and it was far from being close to opening - even with weather delays on Saturday. What gives?

Bad weather last week led to delays on that Tysons work involving the HOT lanes project. It's been rescheduled for this coming weekend. I'll have a blog posting about it.

(A lot of the road work progress depends on favorable weather. Many of the project managers I've spoken to over the past couple of months have talked about the impact of all the rain on their progress. As we get late in the year, projects that involve paving and lane striping are particularly dependent on warm days.)

This morning there was an email saying the escalators at Q Street were not operating, followed by one saying it was cleared. When I arrived at the station about 9:15, two escalators were blocked off and the third was being shared by those entering and leaving. The line for the elevator was very long, so I had to go back down and across to Dupont South (I cannot climb long flights of stairs) where thankfully one escalator was running up, delaying my arrival at work. I know the escalators are a problem, but please can't they get their messages straight?

I don't know what happened this morning with the escalators. I've had the experience of climbing the escalator from the mezzanine to Q Street on a summer day. (I'd like to live longer, so there won't be any repeats of that.)

One of the escalators on the Q Street side is out for a modernization till January.


It appears that soon, all of the beltway lanes will be shifted to their "outer" configuration, making way for the installation of the actual HOT lanes. However, Transurban/Flour has been silent on not only how specificall the lanes will work for high-occupancy vehicles, but not a single peek about how much it will likely cost to drive on the lanes. I think we all realize that the tolls will vary throughout the day, but they must have some idea of what they think they will charge when the lanes open in a little over a year.

I'm planning to see some folks this week on the Beltway HOT lanes project, so I'll ask for an update on the pricing. As you note, there's still more than a year to go on this, but I do sense drivers getting curious about exactly how the new lanes will work. (The most common questions I get are about how cheaters will be kept out of the lanes.)

Man - we have to be patient with a horrible traffic configuration and be patient because it's not final? I made the mistake of taking the Spring Hill exit one evening as a "short cut" to 66. What a nightmare. I was merging on from the toll and needed to get over like 4 or 5 lanes of traffic. All the while folks were boxing me in and honking at me - like how dare I want to actually drive the lane I am currently in. Never again. And I feel really bad for folks who have to deal with that on a daily basis. It's seriously like my 4 year-old was the traffic planner.

I get more complaints about that work zone than any other in the D.C. region. What you see now is what it's scheduled to be like through the winter. Then things should start getting better in the spring.

This morning all of the escalators at Dupont Q street were off. When I got off my train at 8:30 I heard a clear announcement saying what was broken and my options. Thanks station manager and Metro!

Has there been any discussion about the ability to split the direction of the reversible lanes on I-95/395 during the HOT Lane meetings? If the lanes are going to be extended, that means the lanes will be unavailable for an even longer period of time if VDOT cannot split the lanes.

The HOT lanes folks tell me that the reversible pattern for the HOT lanes would be pretty much what they are now for the HOV lanes, both weekdays and weekends.

It's possible that the time periods when the lanes are shut could be reduced eventually. That's one of the potential advantages of an operation based on making money. It's in the interest of the operator to have the lanes in service as much as possible.

But I wouldn't count on much of a change in the early going. The top priority is to maintain the safety of the operation. They will do nothing that raises the possibility of drivers heading straight for each other at high speed.

It's a bit hard to tell the number of lanes at any given point, but for those interested, here is a map of what the Beltway/I-66 junction will look like when all the work is done. http://www.vahotlanes.com/images/accessmaps/access-I66-east-west.jpg

Thanks for that. The project managers say that the most difficult parts of the HOT lanes work is the reconstruction of the I-66 and Dulles Toll Road interchanges. It's a huge amount of acreage, but there are so many lanes, ramps and bridges within the work zone -- and more that need to be added.

I wrote in last week about going to Dulles via the Beltway and toll road on Nov 12. Is it too early to know about beltway etc construction that will mess things up? Thanks

Yes, it's too early. Please remind me again next Monday.

I always find the Halloween PM commute home to be the worst commeuting night of the year. How does parents all leaving work a few hours early really create such a mess for me leaving around 6:00 PM? I can never understand. Any hope for tonight?

Unless they've canceled Halloween and not told me, I'd expect the same conditions tonight.

The Post ran a map today showing the street closings scheduled for late this afternoon in Georgetown. Here's a link: http://wapo.st/t3HdLp

(The worst annual p.m. commute I hear about is the one for the lighting of the national Christmas tree on the Ellipse. This year, it's scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 1.)

Is this the only option to reduce congestion? I ask because extending a pair of reversible lanes may help during rush hours, but the most frustrating backups along the I-95 corridor between Dumfries and Richmond occurs on weekends, and in both directions. There really needs to be some study into creation/improvement of alternative routes or a full expansion of I-95 south of Dumfries. There is no viable alternative route along this corridor aside from route 1, which quickly gridlocks when I-95 is jammed.

The HOT lanes project is the only proposal on the table. When I talk to project advocates about the benefits, they don't talk so much about easing congestion. They're more narrowly focused on providing drivers with a reliable trip, meaning that if you're willing to pay, you should be able to count on the trip taking the same amount of time today as it did yesterday.

Okay so I understand the need for trackwork but I have a question. I thought that the shutting of entire stations was supposed to make it so the rest of the line being worked on would not have delays. In other words, if the NY Ave to Takoma is shut down (just an example) then there would not be single tracking on the rest of the line due to other track work. This is definitely not the case and has made driving the only option on the weekends.

I think some of the early statements from Metro conveyed the impression that the closing of stations on one line was going to make the overall situation better on weekends. The advantage to Metro of shutting stations is that it lets the crews get more work done. In the long run, that should speed the restoration of the system. That's good.

But as far as I can tell, it doesn't mean there are fewer disruptions on any given weekend.

Travelers, thanks for joining me again. Remember, I'm planning to do the annual guide for holiday getaways, so if you've got suggestions or questions, send an e-mail to me soon at drgridlock@washpost.com. (Of course, you can write to me about any of our local transportation topics.)

Some of you wrote in with follow up comments and questions on topics today -- topics involving the HOT lanes or Metro, for example. I'll try to post some of those on the blog.

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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