HOT lanes project helped I-66 drivers at Beltway interchange


I-66 drivers, seen here on the westbound side near Vienna, got the benefit of the rebuilt Beltway interchange, whether or not they use the express lanes. (Karen Bleier/AFP-Getty Images)

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am seeking your guidance on getting from eastbound Interstate 66 onto the regular lanes of the Capital Beltway’s inner loop.

At one time, drivers exited from the right lane inbound on I-66 onto the outside lane of the inner loop. Then, after creation of the high-occupancy vehicle lane on the left side of I-66 meant a very dangerous cross-over from the HOV to the right-side exit for the Beltway, a new left-side exit was created onto the inner loop.

Everything was great. But now we have the 495 Express Lanes, and this left exit is marked for the express lanes. I do not know whether I can use this exit and still have access to the regular inner loop lanes. Please advise.

Leonard Hofland, Charlottesville

DG: Using the I-66/Beltway interchange isn’t anywhere near as hard as I feared it would be when the 95 Express Lanes (the high-occupancy toll lanes) opened last fall.

I thought the interchange, one of the region’s greatest trouble spots for traffic, might just melt down as I-66 drivers weaved hazardously across several lanes to get to the correct exit for the Beltway. But my own travels, as well as daily views of traffic maps and cameras, suggest that nothing so dire occurred. In fact, the interchange traffic is moving fairly well.

To reach the regular lanes of the Beltway from I-66, use the right-side exit. To reach the express lanes, use the left-side exit. (You no longer can use that exit to reach the regular lanes.)

This is one area where the construction of the express lanes had a big benefit for drivers who use the regular lanes. They no longer enter the inner loop on its left side, where they had to merge with the fastest Beltway traffic. They now enter the inner loop on the right side, and if they’re heading north to Route 7 in Tysons Corner, as many commuters are, they can just stay in that entry lane. If not, they just get more time and distance to merge left.

This also benefits drivers already on the inner loop heading north. They no longer have to deal with slower-moving traffic entering from the left side, and then cut right across several lanes so they can reach that Route 7 exit in time.

There are still plenty of drivers such as Hofland who use the interchange just occasionally, so they also should know this: The left exit from eastbound I-66 now goes only to the express lanes, for which you should have an E-ZPass.

The express lanes are very useful if your destination is in Tysons or you just want to get past the Beltway congestion around Tysons for a trip farther north. It’s okay to get into what’s otherwise an HOV lane as you approach that left-side entry point. In fact, there’s a black and white sign overhead that tells you when it’s legit for a solo driver heading for the express lanes to move left.

Parking for Metro

This letter responds to my comment in the June 2 column that Metro shouldn’t be in the parking business.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I respectfully disagree about Metro’s parking responsibilities. Perhaps the agency shouldn’t be in the “business” of parking, but indeed Metro should be part of an energetic coalition of planning and services that move people through the metro area in a sensible, cost-effective, environmentally reasonable and efficient manner.

This means thinking through scenarios of how and when people need to travel (work, errands, vacations), how they get there, and so on.

Notice that parking in Silver Spring was amply planned for by Montgomery County government and now it is possible to go, park, shop and use restaurants. Bethesda did not do so well. Parking restrictions are horrible; parking is not plentiful enough.

In the District, parking is private and not plentiful enough. That said, drive up and down Interstate 95 during rush hour, and it is apparent that more public transportation is needed. Regional traffic requires the public and private sector to work together, get creative and make it work vastly better than it does now.

Judy Tiger, Takoma

DG: I agree with Tiger’s theme about getting the public and private sectors to work creatively on improving regional mobility. But I will quibble on a couple of points.

Metro should focus on operating trains and buses, not lots and garages. If we think it’s worth devoting huge hunks of prime real estate around transit stations to car parking, then the operation should be in the hands of people who specialize in catering to parkers.

But this is the long-term issue. Is it indeed worthwhile for the region to devote so much prime space to warehousing cars? Part of the traffic congestion we find so bothersome on highways such as interstates 66 and 270 is generated by drivers heading for the outer Metro stations, the ones that we’ve surrounded with concrete fortresses to stack the commuter cars.

Even at the closer-in stations, many commuters are driving short distances to park at Metro stations because they think they don’t have convenient alternatives. Looking forward, it will be much more cost-effective, and greener, to concentrate on providing people with sidewalks, trails and transit to help them reach Metrorail while leaving their cars at home.

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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Lori Aratani · June 20, 2013