Drivers tell me they’re still not happy with the delays and congestion on the eastbound Dulles Toll Road where it enters the Capital Beltway work zone north of Tysons Corner. I asked commuters for feedback on this after the Virginia Department of Transportation made some adjustments to ease the problem and complaints fell off.
Did the changes have the desired effect, had summer vacations diminished the traffic volume, or had commuters simply resigned themselves to the problem?
This comment, which I received but didn’t get a chance to publish during Monday’s online chat, summed up the responses to my question:
“My complaints have lessened because I am so utterly demoralized. this morning [that] it took 14 minutes to get from one-eighth mile before the toll plaza to I-66. Those of us who need the left lanes are being absolutely abused. But no more. Starting tomorrow, I will take back roads from Vienna to McLean to pick up I-66 East from Route 123. It will not be faster, but at least I won’t pay $1.25 for the pleasure.”
The complaints that started pouring in during June about the reconfigured work zone for the high-occupancy toll lanes project followed this pattern:
At first, the big issue was confusion over what lane to be in for the northbound Beltway, the inner loop. Then the complaints shifted toward drivers who were causing delays for everyone by trying to jump the line that was backing up to reach the northbound ramp. Finally, the complaints came in mainly from drivers on the left side trying to go straight ahead toward I-66 and feeling like the work zone was squeezing them into greater congestion.
VDOT made adjustments over several weeks, improving the signs, adding an E-ZPass only lane on the right side of the toll plaza and adding some space back on the left side.
John Garziglia of Reston, whose letter I published after VDOT made some initial adjustments in June, told me this in an update:
“While diminishing summer traffic has improved the situation somewhat, the work zone adjustments have not changed the situation. In sum, HOV traffic heading toward I-66 has the left lanes blocked and HOV/I-66 traffic is still forced into the same lanes with traffic trying to move over to the single lane now leading to the north on the Beltway.”
He thinks there’s still more room on the left side that could be added back for the drivers heading toward I-66, and that the alignment for northbound Beltway traffic should be reconfigured: “my suggestion is that rather than VDOT trying to push all of the traffic toward the now single lane that goes north on the Beltway, which is going to be backed up no matter what, VDOT use all of the available left lanes for HOV/ I-66 traffic, and merge the traffic into the lane going north on the Beltway with a very wide solid V line in the center of the roadway.
“This would accomplish two goals. First, with the very wide solid lines, it would be apparent to drivers which lane is the lane that leads to north on the Beltway (now, with traffic, it is still impossible to tell). Second, while the lanes going north on the Beltway would back up, there are lanes to the left for HOV / I-66 traffic to go around, rather than being in the same mix as the traffic going north on the Beltway causing further congestion.”
If VDOT could squeeze any more room out of that left-side work zone for drivers, it would be great, but I think that’s difficult, because it will be used increasingly for construction, raising issues about both driver and worker safety. And I’m afraid I don’t see much relief for the drivers heading to the northbound Beltway ramp, because the ramp is going to remain a single lane.
This is a very difficult situation. The congestion is the worst I’ve seen recently in a work zone in the D.C. area. And the HOT lanes construction is scheduled to continue well into 2012.