Dr. Gridlock

Nov 21, 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, to our pre-Thanksgiving edition. We've got our regular commuting questions about the local roads and rails and also some getaway issues for the holiday.

Why doesn't metro post at stations delays due to single trackIng - when I entered at White Flint yesterday I saw no mention of single tracking starting at Dupont

I don't know why you didn't see such a sign at White Flint. When visible, such signs are very helpful. I usually see them on the mezzanine level at stations, before going through the fare gates.

For example, before the recent weekend when part of the Green Line was shut down, I saw a sign placed on a pole at the Mount Vernon Square station announcing the upcoming work.

Also, announcements about upcoming work should be on the passenger information displays, visible on the mezzanines as well as on the platforms.

(One thing I can tell you: I do a Dr. Gridlock blog posting on Friday mornings called "The weekend and beyond" with highlights of upcoming road and transit work that may delay your trips. I always include the upcoming Metrorail work for that weekend.)

Wahoo! But my parents are coming to me and I'd like to give them a heads up. Wilmington, NC to Alexandria, VA. Their plan is to leave around 11am Wednesday morning which without any complication would put them at Duke Street and 395 about 4:30. What's the reality of inbound traffic on Wednesday afternoon? (aka how much extra time can I count on for cleaning?) Thanks!

First, I'm impressed with the quickness of their usual travel time. I couldn't make it that quickly coming up about 360 miles on I-95.

I do think they're likely to run into some northbound traffic, probably most noticeable once they reach the Richmond area. (Do they take I-295 around the city or go straight through on I-95? I'm never sure which is better.)

In the D.C. area, we tend to think of I-95 as our holiday escape route. But for many holiday drivers, the region is just an annoyance they have to get around on their way to their destinations up north. And people do start those Wednesday trips early. So our local drivers should be aware that they will encounter such pass-through traffic as well as the DC escape traffic.

Your family should encounter volume in Northern Virginia, but no construction related delays.


The recorded voice on the Dulles airport train is that of a lady with an obvious speech impediment. Was this intentional, in that this might attract closer listening to the announcements?

You've heard Dulles Airport train announcements? I thought Metro hadn't even named the stations yet.

What's your best prediction for the level of traffic Tuesday morning from NoVa to NYC? I hope to be on the road by 9:30am. Thank you!!!

I think you will be okay, arriving in NYC before the afternoon rush. You probably will encounter some of the early holiday getaway all along the way.

It's possible you might want to consider one of the I-95 alternatives that I listed in our annual holiday getaway guide: http://wapo.st/rGiQRC

But I think you'll probably be able to deal with the regular route up I-95 to the New Jersey Turnpike. The main change this year is that the highway-speed E-ZPass lanes now are open at the Delaware toll plaza. But then farther along, there's a highway widening project underway on a portion of the New Jersey Turnpike, around exits 6 to 9. It resembles our Beltway HOT lanes project. The work is off to the sides, but the lane shifts and disappearing shoulder slow down traffic.


Dr. Gridlock, I was thrilled to read in your Sunday updates that the second lane to the Inner Loop from I-267 at the Main Toll Plaza would be restored this morning! I was hoping that this would alleviate the horrid congestion there, especially for those of us trying to get through to I-66. In fact, I (almost) couldn't wait to drive in this morning. But instead, I saw the sorriest sight one can see on Washington roads -- an open, unused lane. Any why? Because there were no signs alerting those beleagured Northbound beltway drivers that they had their other lane back. So they stayed in a single-lane back up all the way to the exit, and the overall congestion remained. I'm so glad that VDOT got the lane done ahead of schedule, but there must be signage to go along with it. Also, it was not highlighted in WTOP's traffic report or even as a news story (the ICC had the spotlight today). Please tell VDOT thanks and get those signs up!

That's a good idea: a sign that says "Use two lanes" for traffic heading from the eastbound Dulles Toll Road onto the ramp for the northbound Beltway (inner loop).

I'm very much hoping the restoration of the second lane will help a lot in that area, with its work zones for the HOT lanes project.

VDOT has been a bit low-key about it. That may be prudent. There's still the issue of the work zone over on the left side of the highway that squeezes traffic after the toll plaza.

Driving south on I-95 is horrible on a weekend on the best of days, Thanksgiving will be awful. Do you have any suggestions on how to get to Richmond from Silver Spring without going down 95 that might get me there in time to have some Turkey?

From Silver Spring, you could take Route 50 east and then go south on Route 301 across the Nice Bridge.

But the thing I always point out, because travelers so often pointed it out to me, is that there are no undiscovered shortcuts at holiday time. It's good to know alternatives, but there's going to be heavy traffic everywhere.

The key thing -- again, as so many travelers have pointed out to me -- is the timing of your departure. Long-distance traffic should start to pick up on Tuesday, but the worst time will be Wednesday afternoon and evening. (So many of you know that the timing advice is good, but you still have to wait for the kids to get out of school.)

If you're going a relatively short trip, like DC to Richmond, consider going south on Thanksgiving morning. There's usually very little long-distance traffic.

Your Sunday column on the ICC was very helpful because you included a map. It would be even more helpful if you could provide close up maps maps of each interchange/exit. We have family coming in from Baltimore for Thanksgiving. Thanks, Joan Meunier Gaithersburg

My edition of our Commuter page on Sunday did not have a map. It had a photo of the Intercounty Connector. I agree that maps are very helpful, and most helpful with the ICC would be a map showing the new interchanges scheduled to be available on Tuesday morning, at The opening will create highway connections at Layhill Road, New Hampshire Avenue, Route 29 (Columbia Pike) and Briggs Chaney Road and I-95.

The temporary interchange at Norbeck Road is now closed.

I wrote this user's guide for ICC drivers:


If I can get my car repaired in time today, I'll be out there checking it out on Tuesday morning.

What's your prediction for the ICC's impact on traffic this weekend? And, do you know how far it is from the 95/495 area (College Park) to the ICC/95 connection? Thanks and happy holidays to you.

I'd recommend the Intercounty Connector for those of you who live north of the Capital Beltway and are looking for a less crowded east-west route. For example, if you live on the west side of the region -- say, Gaithersburg -- and you've got a holiday flight out of BWI, why not try the ICC? It's free through Dec. 4.

The connector is about 16 miles from end to end, counting the segment that opens Tuesday morning. From the College Park area up I-95 to the ICC entrance is about 4.5 miles.

My brother is driving down for Thanksgiving Thursday (probably little traffic) but heading back to NYC Monday. I'm worried about traffic then - he's got 2 little kids and a really old car. Do you have any route suggestions other than the DC beltway-95 option? I really appreciate any help or advice you can give us. Thanks!

Use the link above to explore some of the I-95 alternatives listed on our holiday getaway page. But I'm also thinking: Kids and a really old car ... perhaps it would be better to stick with a big road like I-95 in case of breakdowns, rather than explore something a little less familiar and a little off the main line?

Traffic on Monday should be heavier than normal -- because lots of people will be doing what you're brother is planning -- but it should be a lot more manageable than Sunday afternoon.

We were originally planning on leaving for our Thanksgiving in the outer banks on Wednesday, but we're now planning on leaving Tuesday evening to avoid traffic. Will we still run in to back-ups if we are leaving around 7pm Tuesday?

I think you'll run into some traffic, yes, but you should be fine. With you're timing, I'd worry mostly about checking the weather forecast to see where those rain showers are, and to make sure the driver stays alert.

(You know, I always advise people to do their holiday traveling at off-peak hours, but remember that if you're driving around midnight, your body may be telling you that you should be asleep. Get plenty of rest, and if possible, switch drivers.)

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I'll be traveling back to College Park from the Strasburg, Virginia area. Rather than head east on 66, I was thinking about going north on 81 to Winchester, up to Harper's Ferry and Frederick via 7 and U.S. 340 and then back to College Park via 270, the ICC, and 95 south. Google maps tells me it would be 26 minutes longer, but I'm thinking it might still be worth it given how bad traffic might be on the Beltway. What do you think?

I think the ICC is likely to be the best part of your trip. But I'm not sure that -- in combination with the other routes to get you to the ICC and from the ICC -- it will turn out to be worth it. For example, I think 270 and 95 are going to be plenty crowded Sunday.

Many of us are trying to figure out the trips on which it will make sense to use the ICC. What I don't want to do is wind up recommending something that's the equivalent of driving 60 miles to save a penny per gallon on gas.

Are there any good WTOP-style or equivalent (i.e. frequent traffic reports) radio stations for those of us traveling up and down the East Coast during our Turkey Day travels? Perhaps you can recommend a radio station or two for the I-95 corridor in particular for those times when WTOP slowly slips into an unfortunate abyss of static? Than..........kssssssshshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh............

There's one easy one that comes to mind: If you're going north into the NYC area, WCBS 880 AM. Like WTOP, it has traffic and weather every 10 minutes.

There are others along the way in Baltimore and Philly. Readers, write in and tell me what I'm forgetting, and what would you recommend driving south on I-95?

(I'll do some listings of this sort of thing on the Dr. Gridlock blog.)

Oh, and there's always the 511 phone information system for traffic updates. Many states along the East Coast use that system.

It's our turn to head north to Long Island on I-95 this year for Thanksgiving. My husband and I are planning to hit the road after work on Tuesday. Is this a good or a bad idea - and if it's bad, what might be a bettter option. (We have the detours down, and with the help of GPS both in the car and on the iPhone should be able to route ourselves aroud any unusual clogs.)

Tuesday evening traffic has been getting heavier in recent years, but I think you'll still be better off than the folks leaving on Wednesday.

Plus, with the time you're leaving, you'll miss the Long Island commuter traffic toward the end of your drive.

You've got an iPhone ... I've been finding the Google traffic maps very helpful on long drives.  (The passenger is always responsible for checking, not the driver.)

Is there a good alternative to traveling on 95 South to Richmond (then to 85). I'm leaving Tuesday evening, probably in rush hour.

Depends on your starting point. Some of the I-95 dodges in Virginia are Routes 29, 28 and 17. Then over on the Maryland side, the eastern side, there's Route 301.

The more travelers can avoid Wednesday drives, the less they'll need those I-95 alternatives, which often add a lot of miles to your trip, depending on the starting point.

Everyone leaving Tuesday or Wednesday should be sure to check the weather. Our Capital Weather Gang was predicting some showers on Tuesday and possibly some thunderstorms on Wednesday. Thanksgiving Day looks very good. (Sunday, for the return, not so good, but it's still early.)

Does the end of ICC dump drivers on to I-95 or Briggs Chaney?

The eastern end of the new ICC section has an interchange right at I-95.

What is the best route to Boston this year (traveling on Wednesday late afternoon around 3pm)? Do you still recommend the route through northern NY (through Newburgh I believe)? We have an 18 month old and are trying to make this as painless as possible! Thanks!

When the GridSpouse will let me do it, I like to swing way north of NYC and cross the Hudson on I-84 at Newburgh, then take 84 through Hartford, Conn., and connect with the Mass Pike at Sturbridge.

She doesn't like it, because it adds miles. She's quite happy having me drive across the GW Bridge and onto the Cross Bronx Expressway, which I just hate.

At least a few weeks ago, there was a lot of construction on 95 through Richmond - single lane traffic resulted in a slowdown. Signs were pointing drivers to 295.

Thanks for that advice.  I've said that road work along much of the East Coast gets suspended from midday Wednesday till Monday, and that certainly has a positive effect. But the long-term stuff -- the lane shifts, lane narrowings, jersey barriers -- don't get pulled up.

Also, many of you are talking about earlier departures, on Tuesday. You might still encounter some temporary lane closings in work zones.

We don't use the beltway very often, but will be leaving DC at around 3:30 pm on Wed and taking the beltway to Route 50. Is there any construction on that part of the beltway? What is the timing to get to route 50 likely to be? Thanks.

I think you'll find the traffic very, very heavy, but not because of any construction. You will pass through the work zone on the inner loop for the Northwest Branch bridge, after University Boulevard in Silver Spring.

There are land shifts and narrowings there.

Weekday traffic on the Beltway's inner loop is almost always horrible from Bethesda around to I-95, and on Wednesday afternoon, you'll also face a lot of holiday traffic mixed in.

I don't care what Metro should do. I care about what they actually do. This weekend at Pentagon City, my husband missed his Largo-bound blue because there were no signs, announcements, declarations, etc., that Blue trains would be leaving from the southbound platform and Yellow trains from the northbound (the typical DC-bound side). He had read extensively about the track work because he has to be at work at 8 a.m. on Saturdays but nothing said trains would be split on different tracks at Pentagon City. He was 25 minutes late to work because he couldn't run to the other side of the station in time to catch the never-announced Blue. Stop making excuses for Metro. I don't care that you saw signs at one station. Hold Metro accountable for when they fail and not just when they occasionally succeed.

If Metro doesn't have signs or make announcements  about the scheduled delays, that's a problem. No doubt about it.

I think you're refering to my comment to the other traveler who didn't see any signs in White Flint. I wasn't in White Flint, so I can't comment on what the traveler didn't see in White Flint.


Why couldn't the ICC be open already? I was driving from Baltimore to Rockville around the time the Redskins game got out. My Garmin traffic info had me get off 95 north of 495 and then take side roads to 270. The ICC would have been so nice but it wasn't available. 2 days. All I needed was 2 days. But I'm so looking forward to the ICC tomorrow.

I've gotten a bunch of questions from travelers who would benefit from the ICC being open a bit earlier, but the Maryland Transportation Authority is still saying 6 a.m. Tuesday for the opening. (The work just before a roadway opens usually involves some last minute paving and lane-striping. It's particularly dependent on favorable weather. So if they open at 6 a.m. like they said, they'll be doing fine.)


Why after nearly 15 years of having FedEx Field host Redskins game is it still so bad to leave the stadium? It took us 62 minutes to get out of the parking lot following Sunday's game against the Cowboys. There is too much cross-traffic, not enough capacity on the roads and NO coordination between the stadium staff and local authorities. Why can't anyone figure this out?

They could certainly work on their coordination, but I just can't see Maryland wanting to expand the road network strictly to accommodate traffic to and from football games at FedEx.

That's always been an issue in road design. Should they be designed for the worst possible traffic they'll be asked to handle -- which is really expensive -- or should they be designed for something less drastic, so you're guaranteed at least some congestion in peak periods?

Do you think the miserable drive from DC to NYC will be less miserable on Wednesday night (say 8or later) or very early on Thursday morning (say 5:30 or so)?

Thanksgiving morning will almost certainly be better than Wednesday night. Plus, I think you'll have better weather on Thursday morning.

Travelers, I have to wrap up now. There are still plenty of getaway questions and comments in the mailbag. I'm going to pay special attention to answering them on the Dr. Gridlock blog during the next two days.

Also, you might find some useful information in the Webcast Dana Hedgpeth and I did last week with travel advisers who connected with us via a Google Hangout. The link for that show:


Stay safe and have a happy Thanksgiving. I'll be back with you for a chat next Monday at noon. Please share some of your holiday travel experiences.

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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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