The week ahead: Commuters are back, so are shoppers

November 26, 2012

During the holiday season, be extra cautious in crowded lots, where many drivers and walkers are distracted. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

[This post has been updated.]

Welcome back. Let me know about your holiday travel experiences while they are still fresh in your mind. Here’s my observation from traffic maps and personal experience:

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings were all pretty good, if you left the D.C. area early enough. Conditions on Interstates worsened in the afternoons and evenings. Even Thanksgiving Day had difficult patches at midday, particularly on Interstate 95. Sunday was the worst of all days, especially in the afternoon and evening on I-95 south or north of D.C. But traffic was much improved  by late Sunday night.

Commuter hot spots

There were enough people back home by Monday morning to generate commuter congestion in some of the usual places. Traffic on the west side of the Capital Beltway was worsened by a crash on the outer loop at the George Washington Parkway. The outer loop through Silver Spring was its usual bad self, while D.C. 295 South was difficult from Route 50 down to South Capitol Street.

Beltway HOT lanes

The 495 Express Lanes remain lightly traveled, though I did see more clusters of cars during the Monday morning commute than I had seen last week. The highest toll rate that I’ve observed is $1.65 for the entire 14-mile trip.

I think Tysons commuters have yet to discover some of the shorter and potentially advantageous routes that use the new access points at Jones Branch and Westpark drives. Gallows Road to Westpark was 65 cents at the height of the morning rush. Drivers heading south from Maryland would have paid 30 cents for the direct link to Jones Branch Drive.

You now can check the toll rates before leaving home or office by going to this page on the lane operator’s Web site: www.495expresslanes.com/on-the-road

The traffic cameras on that page provide the clearest views of any in the region, though it’s not always plain to me which directions I’m looking at.

Looking ahead …

The Capital Weather Gang says we’re in for some rain on Tuesday, but otherwise, the commuter forecast is good. It will be chilly, though. (See the story by Ashley Halsey III on bike commuting in the cold.)

Shopping traffic

Each holiday season, the Virginia Department of Transportation customizes the signal timing at several hundred intersections to better balance the commuter traffic and the surging number of shoppers.

The signal timings are affected around these shopping areas: the Tysons malls, Reston Town Center, Fair Lakes Shopping Center, Fair Oaks Mall, Potomac Mills mall, Manassas Mall, the Route 234 shopping centers, Springfield Mall, Cascades Town Center, Potomac Run Center, Dulles Town Center, the Leesburg outlets, Dulles 28 Centre, Central Park shopping center and Spotsylvania Towne Centre.

Maryland uses a different system, with signals responding to current demand throughout the year. No matter how the signals operate, they have to be red some time, and they can be overwhelmed by holiday traffic.

Besides those Virginia shopping areas, other hot spots include Rockville Pike, Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 100 near Arundel Mills, and I-295 and I-95 near National Harbor.

Dulles Metrorail project

The Dulles Metrorail project, builder of the Silver Line, plans to close the eastbound Dulles Connector Road (Route 267) between the Capital Beltway and the entrance tram from northbound Route 123 overnights this week.

The closing hours are 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday nights. Traffic will be detoured onto the southbound Beltway (outer loop), then will exit to northbound Route 123 and take the exit back onto eastbound Route 267.

95 Express Lanes

The 95 Express Lanes project, which will create high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 95 south of the Capital Beltway in Virginia, is scheduled to start overnight pile driving this week in Springfield, near Alban Road and the Fairfax County Parkway. This will continue weeknights from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and on Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

During the work, the Fairfax County Parkway ramp to I-95 South will remain open to travelers, but the two right lanes of the southbound Interstate may be closed. Traffic stops of 15 to 30 minutes after midnight may occur for about a month. The entire project is scheduled to be done in 2014.

H Street 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. Rates at about 400 meters and the time restrictions for them 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 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 drivers must continue to pay till 10 p.m. (I know some people 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 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Eastern Shore traffic

The Maryland State Highway Administration is replacing the bridge deck on westbound Route 50 over Route 301 in Queenstown on the Eastern Shore. On Monday and Tuesday nights, traffic on Route 301 will be detoured while workers install steel beams.

The first nighttime detour will be for traffic on northbound Route 301, and the second will be for traffic heading south. The Monday night detour will direct motorists to continue on eastbound Route 50 to a left on Route 213 before returning to Route 301. The Tuesday night detour will send the southbound traffic to a left on Route 456 to northbound Route 301, then Route 50 and back to southbound Route 301.

Rock Creek Parkway

The left southbound lane of Rock Creek Parkway is closed approaching Waterside Drive as part of a rehabilitation project. 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.

The contractor is working on the electrical lines for lighting along the parkway. The lighting north of P Street is out. Work is scheduled to be done in January.

Beltway/Telegraph Road

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge project has some major work coming at the Beltway’s Telegraph Road interchange. From 9 p.m. Friday till 9 p.m. Sunday, Telegraph Road North is scheduled to close between the ramp to Eisenhower Avenue and Duke Street. At the same time, Telegraph Road South will be closed between Duke Street and Mill Road.

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 23, 2012