In his morning traffic report here on the blog, Mark Berman reported that traffic was moving slowly on southbound I-295/D.C. 295 because of congestion at Howard Road. That could relate to an observation by a commuter from Beltsville.
He wrote in response to my comments about the mid-December opening of the new inbound span at the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River. I said that the new traffic pattern this created on I-295 should eliminate some dangerous weaving. But Seltzer said, not so fast, doc.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I disagree profoundly with your comment in Sunday’s Post, in which you say that access to I-395 from northbound I-295, has improved because northbound drivers no longer need to change lanes.
While this perhaps benefits drivers from Virginia or Southeast D.C., it creates an extremely dangerous result for drivers from Maryland who for decades have been making what is essentially a U-turn at Howard Road or Suitland Parkway to cross the inbound 11th Street Bridge.
Using those exits is going to be foolhardy until the 11th Street Bridge project is completed. Careful Maryland drivers could perhaps try to use New York Avenue NE, but congestion always occurs en route to the Fourth Street NW entrance to I-395, even when there is no construction.
They could also use the East Capitol Street exit and find their way through city streets to the I-395 entrance at Third and I (Eye) streets SE. The latter choice is probably the safest and least congested, but it is also the least attractive to those who prefer safe trips on limited access highways. The U-turn at Howard Road or Suitland Parkway has now been closed off to safety-conscious drivers until the bridge project is completed.
— Alan L. Seltzer, Beltsville
I referred to his comments in an overview of the 11th Street Bridge project for Sunday’s Commuter page.
He wrote back to me this morning with some further advice for commuters. I agree with his conclusion regarding the great difficulty involved in that Howard Road U-turn, but will let him say it:
“I decided to try the U-turn on two occasions last week. I thought it might be dangerous, although less so than making a U-turn on eastbound Pennsylvania Avenue to get to I-395, and less aggravating than taking New York Avenue or weaving through town to get to Third and I (Eye) streets SE.
“Even before leaving home, I concluded that making a U-turn at Suitland Parkway might be okay, but doing it at Howard Road, as I’ve done in the past to avoid outbound Suitland Parkway traffic, would now be a bad choice.
“This turned out to be quite correct. It’s pretty safe to use the Suitland Parkway interchange, but using the Howard Road exit and making two lefts to re-enter 295 now borders on insanity. That exit is now safe for a U-turn only if one is outbound and intends to use northbound 295. A glance to my right after I’d safely moved left was entirely convincing confirmation.”
The new northbound traffic pattern is the reverse of the old one. Drivers who want to continue north on 295 now keep right. Drivers heading toward downtown D.C. now keep left. I think this is a big help for the northbound drivers.
But just as Seltzer said, it creates a new difficulty for the drivers coming south on 295 who want to reach the inbound 11th Street Bridge. They should kick the habit of making their U-turn at Howard Road and continue just a bit south to the Suitland Parkway exit and make their U-turn there.
Even then, it will be difficult at rush hour to move left into the inbound bridge lanes, but at least they’ve got a fighting chance. Plus, they can avoid extra traffic congestion at Howard Road.
This will be resolved in a very good way this spring, when the new ramp from southbound 295 to the inbound bridge is scheduled to open. But till then, the southbound drivers need to be very careful about their U-turns.