The week ahead for traffic, transit

December 19, 2011

Many drivers and bus riders should find improvements in their commutes this week, once some initial confusion wears off. Metro has adjusted many bus routes and schedules. The District is in the process of opening two replacement spans at the 11th Street Bridge. Virginia is opening a new flyover ramp at the Capital Beltway/Interstate 66 interchange and reopening the left lane on the eastbound Dulles Toll Road at the Beltway.

Traffic patterns will be a bit jumbled this week, as many travelers squeeze in some final holiday shopping, or begin their holiday getaways. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts mild temperatures for the week, but says to watch out for showers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. There could be showers on Christmas Day, too.

Here are some more details about the changes in traffic and transit for this week, and also some advice about holiday travel.

Lets start with something good coming up.

Beltway/Dulles Toll Road

The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to reopen the left lane on the eastbound Dulles Toll Road where it approaches the Capital Beltway. This is the work zone for the high-occupancy toll lanes project that has been giving drivers so much trouble since the spring.

The work zone is being removed way ahead of schedule. Plans call for the prep work to be done overnight.

From 9:30 tonight till 5 a.m. Tuesday, the eastbound Dulles Toll Road at the Beltway will be closed to prepare for the reopening. Overnight detours will be set up. Eastbound traffic will be directed to take the Beltway’s outer look (I-495 south) to Exit 46B for northbound Chain Bridge Road. There, they will follow signs back to the eastbound toll road.

If the overnight work goes according to schedule, then by 5 a.m. Tuesday, all lanes on the eastbound will be reopened, and as they were before the construction began.

If bad weather cancels the overnight work, it will be rescheduled for Tuesday night, and the reopening would occur Wednesday morning.


Here’s another change that’s part of the high-occupancy-toll lanes project . A new flyover ramp takes traffic exiting eastbound Interstate 66 to the right side of the Capital Beltway’s inner loop. That will be safer than the old left-side entrance to the Beltway, and it will eliminate the need for drivers to cross many lanes if they plan to use the nearby exit for Route 7 into Tysons Corner.

But the HOT lanes remain a work in progress. The lane for merging traffic on the right side of the inner loop still needs to be lengthened, and the flyover ramp does not eliminate all traffic heading from eastbound I-66 to the inner loop’s left side. There still will be traffic from the I-66 HOV lane entering on the left side.

11th Street Bridge

The District is opening the freeway spans at the 11th Street Bridge. Drivers should find the new inbound span open today, and the outbound span is likely to open during the week.

But the work is far from over. During the next phase of construction, drivers on the eastbound Southeast-Southwest Freeway will have to take some detours to reach destinations in Anacostia. And commuters who have been waiting decades for someone to eliminate the gaps between the highways near the Anacostia River will have to wait a little longer, until the new bridge ramps can be completed.

Drivers who are northbound on Interstate 295 should reap an immediate benefit. The approach to the inbound bridge has been a congested spot for many years, because drivers moving right to reach the bridge encountered drivers coming from Firth Sterling Avenue SE who wanted to move left. The opening of the inbound span should eliminate a lot of that weaving.

Metrobus changes

The transit authority has made dozens of adjustments to Metrobus schedules and routes.

A few examples: To reduce crowding on Route D6 (Sibley Hospital-Stadium-Armory), a new weekday bus trip will leave Stadium-Armory at 8 a.m. heading for P and 22nd streets NW. Schedule adjustments on Route 94 (the Stanton Road Line) are intended to reflect the realities of heavy traffic by scheduling buses every 12 minutes rather than every 11.

Schedules for some off-peak trips will be adjusted by a few minutes to make better connections with Green Line trains, the transit authority said.

The full list of the changes that began Sunday is on Metro’s Web site.

Metro maintenance work

There’s no track work scheduled for the next two weekends, because of the holidays, but there is some work scheduled for off-peak hours this week.

Red Line: From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today through Friday, trains will share a track between Rhode Island Avenue and Fort Totten. The transit authority says delays of five to 10 minutes may result.

From 10 p.m. till the midnight closing tonight through Thursday night, trains will share a track between Takoma and Forest Glen, with minor delays likely.

From 10 p.m. to the midnight closing tonight, trains will share a track between Dupont Circle and Van Ness, with minor delays.

From 10 p.m. till closing tonight through Thursday, trains will share a track between Friendship Heights and Medical Center for rail fastener renewal. Expect minor delays.

Orange Line: From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today through Friday, trains will share a track between Cheverly and New Carrollton, with delays of five to 10 minutes.

From 10 p.m. to closing tonight through Thursday, trains will share a track between Smithsonian and Eastern Market, with delays of five to 10 minutes.

From 10 p.m. till closing tonight through Thursday, trains will share a track between East Falls Church and West Falls Church. Metro does not expect any delays.

Blue Line: From 10 p.m. till closing tonight through Thursday, trains will share a track between Smithsonian and Eastern Market, with delays of five to 10 minutes.

Green/Yellow lines: From 11 p.m. till closing tonight through Thursday, trains will share a track between U Street and Georgia Avenue, but Metro expects no delays.

Holiday getaways

Even though the federal holiday isn’t until the Monday after Christmas, travelers should expect to encounter an early rush hour Friday. Many workers — federal and otherwise — will try to get in some last-minute shopping or to get a jump on the long weekend.

Metrorail plans to add some trains to handle the early getaway, but otherwise, it will provide regular weekday service Friday. Regular weekend service is scheduled for Christmas Eve and Christmas, and there’s no scheduled maintenance on the rail lines. On Christmas Monday, Metrorail will operate 7 a.m. to midnight, and Metrobus will be on a Sunday schedule.

Bob Marbourg, WTOP’s veteran traffic reporter, said he thinks the Christmas getaway will be much more spread out than what we see at Thanksgiving time, when so much traffic crams into the Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday of that week. School holidays and family vacations influence the Christmas-New Year’s pattern.

Besides, Marbourg said, many people choose to spend Christmas around their own tree, rather than roaming to the homes of relatives.

For the many drivers who will be heading northeast on Interstate 95, remember that the Delaware toll plaza is less of a bottleneck because the highway-speed E-ZPass lanes have opened.

For those trying to reach Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport via Maryland’s new Intercounty Connector, remember that tolling — suspended during the Thanksgiving getaway — is back in effect.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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