The week ahead: Thanksgiving getaways, new Beltway lanes

November 19, 2012

Many drivers will be heading into the sunset this week for their annual Thanksgiving getaways. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Thanksgiving isn’t one getaway anymore. It’s a series of getaways, and we’re already in the middle of them. Interstate 95 seemed extra crowded Friday night, perhaps with drivers who had the entire week off and were making a fast exit from the D.C. area.

Many more will be leaving throughout the day Tuesday, and the evening traffic is likely to be particularly heavy. Even Thanksgiving morning won’t be a solitary escape, though it’s still a pretty good getaway time if the travel distance isn’t too far. (Note that some stores will be open all day this year, so watch for early crowding around some malls.)

The Capital Weather Gang projects a really good week for the getaway, with mild temperatures. The region’s highway departments always suspend road work through the getaway and get-back period. But if you’re making your break Tuesday night, you still could encounter some orange cones.

Commuter traffic Friday should be very light, but it isn’t a holiday, so watch out for enforcement of the usual traffic and parking rules.

The big event in local travel is the opening of the 495 Express Lanes on the west side of the Capital Beltway in Virginia. I’ve written a lot about them and will give a summary below, along with a few other highlights for the week.

495 Express Lanes

I did three trips in the express lanes, starting about 7 a.m., and have these suggestions for potential users:

  • Study up. I kept saying that in the previews, and now believe it more than ever. Check your entry and exit points before you start driving.
  • The Beltway inner loop and outer loop entries are well-marked. There are plenty of signs. I counted four leading to the northern entry point on the outer loop.
  • Interchanges may be tricky. I had to concentrate to make sure I entered the express lanes rather than regular lanes at interchanges where the regular and express ramps are close together, such as at Gallows Road and Route 7. I wouldn’t increase their number. In fact, it’s the multiplicity of signs that may have thrown me the first day. One more day, and I’ll have it. 
  • Look left while in the lanes. That’s where new traffic will be coming from. And in most cases, that’s where you’re going to exit.
  • If you’re leaving the Beltway express lanes at their southern end in Springfield and planning to pick up I-95 South, you’ve got to move right across many lanes to reach the exit ramp.

Metro Thanksgiving weekend

No track work Thursday through Sunday. On Thanksgiving Day, Metrorail will be on a reduced scheduled comparable to a Sunday, with a 7 a.m. opening and a midnight closing. Off-peak fares will be in effect all day, and parking is free at Metro-operated lots and garages.

Buses also will operate on a Sunday schedule. MetroAccess will operate during the same hours as the rail and bus system. Subscription trips are canceled for the holiday.

On Friday, Metrorail and Metrobus will operate on a regular weekday schedule.

Remember that if you’re trying to take Metro to catch an intercity bus for the holidays, you want to take the Red Line to Union Station, the new bus hub. The old terminal near the NoMa-Gallaudet U station is closed.

 H Street NE parking

The District Department of Transportation has added H Street NE between Third and 15th streets and Benning Road to its performance-based parking zones. That means the rates at about 400 meters and the time restrictions will change to reflect demand in the entertainment district.

DDOT has installed more than 100 smart meters that allow payment by credit or debit cards as well as by coins. Motorists can also pay by phone.

All meters along the H Street corridor will require payment from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. There will be a two-hour parking time limit from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. After 6:30 p.m., there are no time limits on any D.C. meters, but parkers must continue to pay till 10 p.m. (I know some drivers find this confusing. “No time limit” doesn’t equal “no pay.” It just means you can pay for a longer period.)

 The rates are 75 cents per hour from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and $2 per hour from 6:30 to 10 p.m.

George Washington Parkway

The left lane on the northbound George Washington Parkway remains closed between Key Bridge and Spout Run. Additional lanes may be closed between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. weekdays. But there’s no work planned on the rock stabilization project Thursday through Sunday this week.

Rock Creek Parkway

The southbound left curb lane of Rock Creek Parkway is closed approaching Waterside Drive. Drivers are allowed to use one northbound lane to go south during the morning rush. There may be some temporary closings of Waterside Drive at off-peak times to allow for construction deliveries.

As part of the rehabilitation project, the contractor is working on the electrical lines for lighting along the parkway. The lighting north of P Street will be out for several months.

All the work is scheduled to be done in January.

Eastern Avenue paving

The District Department of Transportation plans to start the reconstruction and resurfacing of Eastern Avenue NE this week. The project includes two sections of Eastern Avenue: from Sargent Road to Galloway Street and from Michigan Avenue to Randolph Street. The project should take about a year.

Most work will be done from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays, though there may be some construction overnights and on weekends. Curbside parking will be temporarily restricted in the work zones, the transportation department said.

 Metro clocks back

Metro riders are happy to have their digital clocks back at the rail station kiosks. The older versions were taken down so a new display style could be installed. But some feared the time would not return.

The digital clocks are particularly valuable to the riders who cluster outside the fare gates waiting for the peak fares to become off-peak fares, because they need to know what time Metro says it is before they proceed through the gates.

Over the next few weeks, the rest of the new kiosk displays should be activated to show the status of service on the rail lines.

Disability parking

The misuse of disability parking placards is a problem in many jurisdictions across the region. This misbehavior sometimes can take away parking from the general public, but in the worst cases, it means that people in need are denied access to street space reserved for them.

Montgomery County has tried to increase its enforcement of disability parking rules during the past year under a program it calls “Respect the Space.” But county officials said they needed help from the state Motor Vehicle Administration, which maintains the information in the vehicle registration database.

Now, law enforcement officers across Maryland have easier access to the database, which makes it easier for them to detect fraud, theft or abuse of disabled parking privileges. They can quickly determine who has a disabled parking privilege and can see a photo of the person.

Restoring Route 29

The Maryland State Highway Administration has wrapped up work on the Route 29 bridges over Route 40 and Frederick Road in Howard County. Southbound Route 29 is back in its normal configuration.

All the work that began in March was done a lot earlier than the original target of summer 2013. Drivers won’t see the orange construction barrels or the speed-enforcement cameras.

Route 28 bridge

The biggest ribbon-cutting of the past week occurred Tuesday for the 495 Express Lanes. But the Virginia Department of Transportation held another one Wednesday for a project that is important to many commuters: the Route 28 bridge over Wellington Road and the Norfolk Southern Railroad in Manassas.

The overpass eliminates the at-grade railroad crossing, enhancing safety for drivers and pedestrians. VDOT said the construction was advanced five years thanks to the availability of nearly $20 million in federal stimulus money.

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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Mark Berman | November 19, 2012