The Washington Post

Dr. Gridlock

Nov 14, 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. We've got questions today about travel within the D.C. region as well as some about the long-range Thanksgiving and holiday getaways.

If you didn't see what you were looking for in my holiday getaway guide in Sunday's Metro section -- or if I said something that left you puzzled -- ask here or write to me at

Also, I'd like to thank the travelers who continue to add write in and enhance my knowledge of the routes and the travel issues at holiday time. I share that additional information with travelers on our Dr. Gridlock blog, and also store it away for use in my next getaway guide.

Here's a link to Sunday's getaway guide:

Do you have any recommendations for long-term parking at Dulles? For example, have you used any of the off-airport parking companies ? Usually, my husband and I always park in one of the Dulles economy lots, as $10 a day is not that bad when we are traveling for a long weekend. However, we will be taking a 13-day trip over the holidays, and $130 sounds pretty steep. What would you do?

I've never used any off-airport parking at Dulles, and can't recall hearing from travelers who have, so I wanted to post this question early and invite your comments.

(I've never sought out 0ff-airport parking at Dulles because I've never had any trouble finding space in the economy lots and getting the shuttle over to the terminal.)

Hi there! I was wondering when the construction on Pennsylvania Avenue will end (if ever); it seems to me that construction has been going on for over 2 years without any significant improvement in the flow of traffic. Also, there is one lane only in rush hour after Branch Avenue, which makes for an extremely long commute. The alternative (the Suitland Parkway) is just very congested.

I believe we're talking about the District Department of Transportation's Great Streets project on Pennsylvania Ave from east of the Anacostia River to the Maryland line. So I just checked back on the DDOT announcement about the project.

As the reconstruction was getting underway in May 2010, DDOT said the work should take about two years.

I had wanted info on issues on 495 and the Dulles Access road - - I finally found the blog (it is *hard* to find), and decided with all of that going on to just get a hotel room! The cost to park/fly is what the parking would be, so that'll be better all around. I'd sure have hated to find the access road blocked and detoured at 3 am!

For anybody having trouble finding our Dr. Gridlock blog, here's the Web address:

Thanks to our traveler worried about a potential overnight drive from Annandale to Dulles Airport on Nov. 12. Good to hear back from you. You could see from the posting how worried I get about answering question about routes and timing on airport trips, and I'm always urging travelers to allow themselves plenty of extra time -- especially since, no matter what I suggest, your experience may vary.

Here's the Web address for that particular blog posting on the Dulles trip:


What exactly were you smoking when you wrote that most cars taking the future VA Beltway HOT lanes will only be doing small trips and not heading into Maryland? Really!

If you have some different information, please let me know.

What I based my answer on for Sunday's column is my understanding of the business model for the operation of the HOT lanes. They don't anticipate a lot of revenue from long-distance drivers. They see their users as people going a few exits on the HOT lanes in Virginia.

Am I reading correctly that tolls will not be charged over the entire segment of the ICC during the first two weeks it is open? Just trying to make my plans for Thanksgiving travel. Thanks!

Yes. When the rest of the Intercounty Connector opens to I-95 next week, there's a free introductory offer. No tolls will be charged for the entire length. Tolling won't start till Dec. 5.

So this is potentially useful information for the Thanksgiving getaway. Let's say you live in Gaithersburg and you want to catch a flight from BWI. Might as well get on the ICC in Shady Grove and use it over to I-95 northbound. Skip the Beltway.


Coming north from DCA on Saturday night, the Parkway was closed at Spout Run with very little, and in my view, inadequate, notice. We saw signs saying the left lane was closed, but then very suddenly ran up against barriers closing both northbound lanes -- and headlights shining at us from behind the barrier. If they are going to do this again, they really need better signage.

Yes, I'm sorry. Another traveler pointed that out to me this morning. In my Friday morning guide, I had an advisory about weekday lane closings, but not about the full northbound closing that would occur over the weekend.

It's possible there may be another full closing this coming weekend of the northbound lanes from just after the Spout Run exit up to Route 123. Meanwhile. off-peak single lane closings are scheduled to continue this week.

One of the things I hate most about the end of Daylight Savings Time is the way it shifts the sunset an hour earlier. When the sun it out in the spring/fall it can cause big delays in the commute for anyone having to drive into the sun. I am somewhat surprised that we don't have any technology that can help us drive without being blinded. It can be a challenge seeing the stop lights or when rounding a turn. Are there any tips or tricks that work beyond the typical sunglasses or wearing a hat with visor?

If readers have tips, I certainly would like to hear them. I know this is an issue, especially right after the time change, so I always print a reminder for travelers before their first commute after the clocks fall back.

I just follow the same advice safety experts give when a driver fails to dim the high beams: Don't stare directly into the light source, and slow down so you can see far enough to stop in an emergency.

Some drivers who have the time and patience could delay the start of their afternoon trips so the sun has a chance to move out of their way.

Hi Dr. Gridlock. I have two questions. First, do you have any updates on when the new (partial) 11th Street Bridge will be open and the on-ramp to 295 fixed? The interim solution is causing an enormous back-up that spans the entire freeway and 3rd Street tunnel. It's beyond ridiculous; it hasn't eased at all since they closed the old on-ramp nearly a month ago. Second, have the officials or planners who made/approved the interim solution made any public comments to acknowledge that it's not as smooth as they thought or that it is what they were expecting? It just really seems like beyond-reasonable. Thanks.

I haven't been over there lately, and I've been meaning to do it. Will try this week. What I know about the schedule is that the two new spans that long-distance commuters have been waiting for should open by the end of the year.

That should make it considerably easier for those of you who use the bridge to commute between Maryland and Virginia. The third span, the one designed to connect neighborhoods on both sides of the Anacostia River, is scheduled to open in the winter of 2012-2013. Then all elements of the project are scheduled to be wrapped up in summer 2013.


Hi Dr. Gridlock, I ask you at every chat about the 11th Street bridge project. Any updates? Fall is here, yet the Sousa Bridge still slows most of my evening commutes to a crawl. Thank you!

This is a related question. The opening of the first two spans on the 11th Street Bridge should considerably ease traffic on the Sousa Bridge. Few outbound drivers would want to get in that long line on the left side of Pennsylvania Avenue for the left turn onto 295 once these new spans offer a highway link between the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and 295. And those are the spans scheduled to be done by the end of this year.

I understand the full ICC will be open November 22. What information do you have on specifically what time it opens (my husband would want to take it about 4:45 am) and how much it will cost when the grace period is over. Will they not charge for I-270 to GA Avenue during this period, or will that still cost?

The ICC should be fully open by the time you need your husband wants to use it on Nov. 22, but check back with us next Monday, in case we have updates. It's always possible that with a big construction project like this, the schedule could slide a bit. Last-minute work is often very dependent on favorable weather.

(For Sunday's Post, I'm planning to write up an ICC users' guide. Look for that on the Commuter page, page 2 of the Metro section -- and online.)

Yes, during the trial period that lasts through Dec. 4, the whole route of the ICC will be free, including the previously opened part between Georgia Avenue and I-370.

After tolling starts on Dec. 5, a trip from one end to the other will cost $4 with an E-ZPass transponder and $6 without. ("Without" is where Maryland takes a picture of your license plate and sends you a bill.)

"Coming north from DCA on Saturday night, the Parkway was closed at Spout Run with very little, and in my view, inadequate, notice." Really, WTOP seemed to be running nonstop announcements of this every ten minutes beginning Friday evening and all day Saturday...

WTOP's reports every 10 minutes are an important source of local travel information, But I should have had it on the blog, too.

Each Friday morning, I try to compile traffic and transit highlights into a blog posting called "The weekend and beyond," but I had only the weekday schedule for the GW Parkway.

Doesn't help with seeing traffic lights, pedestrians, etc., but I still think it's very important: Turn on your lights in late afternoon so other drivers can see YOU. A lot of people don't turn them on until the sun sets and it can be very difficult to see their cars.

Oh, yes, I completely agree with you. It's important to remember that other travelers are struggling with the same visibility problems, so do what you can to make yourself visible to them. And thanks for mentioning pedestrians. It's not just an issue of driver seeing driver. It's also more difficult to spot pedestrians and cyclists.

Why don't local radio stations include Metro information as part of their traffic updates at the top and bottom of the hour? When we had the Orange Line disaster a few weeks ago during the evening rush hour, I was listening to WMAL, and they did not mention it during their traffic updates. Seems to me that many commuters would have benefited from being made aware of what was going on.

I sometimes hear transit updates on the radio. Sometimes, though, they are mentioned outside the boundaries of the scheduled reports to commuters.

I'm not sure why that is, but for the sake of discussion, I'll make a guess. There's a reason that radio folks talk about "drive time." A huge portion of their audience during rush hours is in cars. (How many of you tune in for a radio report on the commute before leaving home or office?)

When I hear from readers who complain about radio traffic reports, they almost always are complaining that the reports don't encompass the road they are traveling. I rarely hear from travelers seeking regular reports about transit services.

Sometime during the late summer, the National Park Service placed "No Biking" signs (a picture of a bike with a red slash over it) on the roadway south of Alexandria. However, there appears to be no enforcement of that prohibition, including this weekend when I saw a Park Police car drive past three bicyclists drive pedaling on the main road. Seems to me it's almost worse to have an unenforced rule than no rule at all -- drivers have the expectation that bikes aren't allowe on the main roadway, yet there they are. Any idea why the Park Service would bother to put up signs it doesn't enforce, or if that situation will change?

I'm assuming you're talking about the George Washington Parkway. Over the summer, we discussed the park service announcement reinforcing the existing rule barring cyclists from the GW Parkway lanes, because it's unsafe for them and for drivers.

If I could poll readers, I think I would get a 100 percent "Yes" response to the question: Have you every seen police overlook a person breaking our traffic or transit laws? (That would include the speed limit on the GW Parkway, for example.)

We need enforcement of the rules, or some people will lose respect for those particular rules and others. But I think it's unrealistic to expect we'll see the rules enforced at all times in all situations.

Last winter I parked at the Crowne Plaza Dulles in Herdon and the rate was $40/week. They have a shuttle twice an hour. I don't know of any "official" off site parking companies like they have at BWI.

Thanks for this response to our earlier exchange on off-airport parking at Dulles.

The overhead message boards along I-270 this morning said that the ICC will open all the way to I-95 at 6:00am on Nov 22nd.

Thank you. I have not seen references to a 6 a.m. start time, and will check on that. It would definitely affect our questioner above.

Dr. Gridlock, I live in Chantilly VA and plan to take 66 West at Fairlakes to 81 South to Roanoke for Thanksgiving. When do you recommend the best time to leave?? I am considering three options; 1) before noon on Wednesday, 2) Late Wednesday night (after 10 PM), or 3)Thursday Morning (7am). What do you recommend??? 

Thinking only of traffic volume (and not other important issues like weather or an event you're traveling to), option 3 would be the best. The traffic volume on Thanksgiving Day tends to rise a bit in the early afternoon as people use the highways for fairly short trips to feasts, but that's rarely a big issue. Wednesday after 10 p.m. would be my second choice. But be careful about driving at hours when you'd normally be sleeping. Make sure you can stay alert for the entire trip.

With a Wednesday morning depature from Chantilly, I'm pretty certain you'll encounter some significant traffic before Roanoke.

Have a safe trip.

I'm picking up someone from Dulles this afternoon and need to drive from downtown. Do the HOV restrictions on 66 apply to drivers who need to get to the Dulles access road? If so, what are my options? I was thinking that the GW Parkway might be an alternative, although it would be more of a detour. Thanks!

You're allowed to use I-66 to the Dulles Access Highway if you have business at the airport, which you do.

I think Dr. Gridlock's comment about most of the HOT lanes traffic not continuing into Maryland is reasonable. If you go to the project's website ( and look at the maps of what is being constructed, it's clear that the project's main function is to improve access to Tysons Corner by providing for an HOV connection to that area. Access to Merrifield is a secondary benefit via a new ramp to be constructed that will allow northbound HOT traffic to exit onto US-29 and US-29 traffic to enter the southbound HOT lanes. (Currently you have to get off at US-50 and loop around via congested Gallows Road or via Fairview Park.) I think there is a very strong possibility that the slug lines along I-95 will expand to include riders and drivers headed to Tysons via the existing HOV facility on I-95, the big new loop-around ramp now under construction in Springfield, and the HOT lanes. In other words, yes, there will surely be some drivers using the HOT lanes as express thru lanes. But I think the planners anticipate that the primary users will be people commuting to and from destinations in Virginia along the HOT lanes, and I also think Dr. Gridlock is right that they anticipate that the average non-carpool user will be an occasional user for whom the cost of the toll is outweighed by another consideration (example: a parent has to work late and the cost of the toll is less than the day-care late fee he might pay if he uses the regular lanes and sits in traffic).

That pretty well matches my understanding of what the HOT lanes operator, Transurban, is expecting. When the Beltway HOT lanes were still under debate a few years ago, I expected that a lot of long-distance drivers would be using them. But Transurban officials consistently talk about a different market -- a more local market of commuters, such as you describe. Many drivers will come up from communities on the south side of the D.C. region and get off at I-66, the Dulles Toll Road and the three HOT lanes exits in Tysons Corner in this model.

They're not looking, for example, to have a lot of customers on their way from Florida to New England.

Maybe not the most specific tip, but I've heard that some of the airport hotels offer parking and shuttle deals. I've also heard that some people just park in a hotel lot and take a cab, but I don't know that it's the safest option. You're taking the chance that the hotel doesn't "audit" its parking lot.

Thanks, and if readers have other ideas on this, please let me know at

When we discuss airport parking, I've been more concerned about availability and convenience, rather than costs -- thinking that given the cost and hassle of air travel these days, I'd pay a few bucks extra for reliable and convenient parking.

For example, when I'm taking a relatively short trip from BWI, I'll use the daily parking garage rather than open of the economy lots.

I commute from Baltimore to DC everyday driving a portion and taking transit for the final leg. I always listen to the radio in the morning to learn about traffic leaving Baltimore 295 / 95 South and I listen for anything about the MARC trains. It would be VERY helpful if radio traffic reporters could just briefly mention if there are delays on the MARC system.

Be sure to check our Dr. Gridlock blog in the morning if you're looking for MARC reports. Our morning commute reporter, Mark Berman, follows the MARC and VRE news closely.

Travelers, thanks for joining me today. I've got to break away to get over to a pedestrian safety event this afternoon.

I can see the other questions and comments in the mailbag about Thanksgiving travel. I do expect to address them on the Dr. Gridlock blog this week. And we plan to try a new form of video show on Thursday to address such questions. So please look for that, and continue to send your getaway questions to

Stay safe, and join me again next Monday, when I expect we'll be talking more about the getaway and the opening of the Intercounty Connector.

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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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