The week ahead: express lanes, slow lanes, Metro projects

December 10, 2012

The Beltway express lanes, on the left in this view of the inner loop, offer a new access point to Tysons for holiday shoppers. (Dayna Smith — For The Washington Post)

Monday should be the worst travel day of the week, according to the Capital Weather Gang’s forecast. The gang predicts the rain will end, and the temperature will drop.

We’ve gotten past the traffic congestion that comes with the annual tree-lighting on the Ellipse, and the December holiday getaway traffic hasn’t started. Some of the usual trouble spots remain, but watch out for the unusual ones: the temporary traffic congestion around the big shopping areas, where you will encounter many distracted drivers thinking about holiday gift lists.

Join me at noon Monday for our weekly discussion of travel issues in the D.C. area.

495 Express Lanes

Here’s some of what I said on Sunday’s Commuter page in an early review of the new express lanes on the west side of the Capital Beltway in Virginia:

Rush hour after rush hour, I see drivers crawling along the regular lanes while a happy few roll by in the express lanes. There are moments, even at rush hour, when the new lanes are empty. Then a cluster of cars will appear. Perhaps this is because the cars have been waiting at one of the traffic signals that control most of the access points.

So far, the traffic hasn’t really tested the dynamic tolling system, in which the price of a ride rises with the level of congestion, so the lanes will not become too crowded. The cost has been fairly consistent from rush hour to rush hour.

Tuesday morning’s scenario was typical: At the northern entry point approaching the Dulles Toll Road, the prices displayed on the overhead sign were 30 cents for the short trip to the Jones Branch Drive exit, 95 cents to Interstate 66, and $1.80 to the southern exit approaching Springfield, 14 miles away.

At the Gallows Road entry point, a driver about to head north would see the toll is 60 cents to I-66, $1.10 to Westpark Drive in Tysons, and $1.55 to the exit point north of the Dulles Toll Road.

New exit for Tysons shoppers

If your holiday shopping takes you into Tysons, consider using the new access point from the express lanes to the Westpark Drive bridge. (When you look at the toll signs, look for the rate to “Westpark.”)

I spotlight this because many drivers think of the express lanes just as a new option for commuters who want to get around Beltway traffic congestion. But they also may prove helpful for off-peak shoppers in search of a shortcut that will land them in a convenient spot between the two mega-malls.

Dulles Metrorail

With the 495 Express Lanes open, the main transportation construction work in Tysons is for the Dulles Metrorail line. Most drivers notice this when they’re in the slow traffic along Route 7, but the major lane closings for the project occur overnights and during off-peak hours at midday. Here are a few of them.

On the west side of Tysons, the left and center lanes of westbound Route 7 between Westpark Drive and Spring Hill Road will be closed from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights, and from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday night.

The right and center lanes in the same area will be closed from 1 to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights, and from 2 to 7 a.m., Friday night. Left turns from westbound Route 7 onto Spring Hill Road will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights, and from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday night.

Along Route 123 on the east side of Tysons, watch for various lane closings from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Friday.

Anacostia Freeway

Some of the worst rush-hour traffic I’ve seen lately occurs along Interstate 295 and D.C. 295 on the east side of the Anacostia River. Drivers have written in asking what’s going on, but there doesn’t seem to be anything right along that route that would obstruct them at rush hours.

The latest development at the 11th Street Bridge project was the closing of the westbound lanes on the Southeast Freeway just to the west of Barney Circle, on the Capitol Hill side of the river. But the congestion does not appear to be related to that. Let me know if you think you have the solution on this one.

I-95 in Stafford County

The right lane of southbound Interstate 95 will close from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. is closed Monday through Friday near mile marker 147, just south of Exit 148 at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. The Virginia Department of Transportation is repairing the slope of the roadway.

Eastern Market elevator

The entrance elevator at Eastern Market station is undergoing rehabilitation. It is scheduled to be out of service for about two and a half months. Free shuttle buses are available for riders with disabilities and for senior citizens. To request a shuttle, see the station manager or call 202-962-1925.

Dunn Loring bus bays

Metro has relocated the bus bays at Dunn Loring station to make room for a residential and retail construction project. The bays will be in their temporary sites for two and a half years. These are the locations.

  • Bus Bays A/B/C/D/E/F are on both sides of Gallows Road and the north side of Prosperity Avenue.
  • Metrobus routes 2T, 2C and Fairfax Connector 401, 462 and 463 also are on Gallows Road.
  • Metrobus routes 1C, 1B and 2A are on Prosperity Avenue.

The construction, which will take four to five years to completely finish, will include a new parking garage.

George Washington Parkway

The National Park Service announced that the rock stabilization project along the northbound side of the George Washington Parkway in Rosslyn is done. All lanes are open between the Key Bridge and Spout Run.

Arlington Memorial Bridge

The National Park Service says it is almost done with the repairs that have closed lanes on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. This week, drivers may encounter some temporary lane closings on both sides of the bridge as the project goes through its final punch list items.

Rock Creek Parkway

The rehabilitation project on Rock Creek Parkway continues at Waterside Drive. The traffic pattern through the work zone is in a new configuration Friday that will remain until mid-February.

Bike lane lines

During my online chat last Monday, a cyclist complained that the District’s resurfacing along Pennsylvania Avenue NW had erased the markings for the bike lanes.

District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle said the District has been repaving the avenue in advance of January’s inauguration parade and was in the process of re-striping it. The most complicated part of that process was the bike lane lines, but he expected they would be finished soon.

SoberRide returning

The annual Holiday SoberRide program, offered by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, will operate between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. each night from this Friday through Jan. 1. The program is an invaluable aid in helping keep the roads safe by giving adults who have had too much to drink an alternative to driving home.

During SoberRide’s hours of operation, D.C. area residents can call the toll-free number, 800–200–TAXI, and get a ride home in a cab.

It’s free for the first $30 of the ride.

Last December, 2,032 people took advantage of the service.

Metro weekend work

The last major project of the year is scheduled for this coming weekend on the Yellow and Green lines. Free shuttle buses will replace trains between Waterfront and Archives and between Pentagon and Archives. The upper level of the L’Enfant Plaza station, where those trains normally arrive, will be closed.

This is the second weekend of a rail switch replacement project. Metro also will be inspecting the Yellow Line bridge over the Potomac River.

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 · December 7, 2012