The week ahead: Holiday travel, July 4 schedules


Reenactors portraying U.S. soldiers fire a cannon during a reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. Thousands of visitors are expected to attend dozens of events at Gettysburg throughout the week. (Matt McClain / The Washington Post)

While the commute has begun to calm for the summer, there will be plenty of travel in the D.C. region this week. Some drivers will be paying more for that, and some less.

Some will travel far, for July 4 weekend getaways, or perhaps to see events marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pa. Watch for extra traffic all week on Route 15 north from Frederick.

Others will stay closer to home to visit the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival on the Mall — and then, there’s always the fireworks on Thursday night.

The Nationals are home at Nationals Park all week. On July 4, the game starts at 11:05 a.m. See also the Free and Easy recommendations for this week in the Going Out Guide.

Each day’s forecast includes a chance of rain. The chances will decline and the temperature rise through the week, the Capital Weather Gang says.

Join me at noon Monday for our weekly online discussion of traffic and transit issues in the D.C. region.

HIGHLIGHTS: Taxes, tolls | Holiday getaway | Late-night Metro | Bus fare changes | Texting law | Beltway bridge | Sober Fourth | Metro holiday service

Paying more, or less

Gas taxes rise Monday in Maryland, while falling in Virginia. In each case they are the result of transportation tax changes approved by the state’s general assemblies and governors. I don’t expect the changes to create a vacuum sucking drivers south of the Potomac River, but watch for some extra activity in the weeks ahead at gas stations in Northern Virginia’s big employment centers, such as Tysons, where Maryland drivers might fill up.

Also as of Monday, tolls are up at tunnels and bridges operated by the Maryland Transportation Authority. This may lead to unpleasant surprises for holiday travelers on some popular routes away from the D.C. area.

The cash tolls for two-axle vehicles on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Nice Bridge (Route 301 over the Potomac River) will rise to $6. At the Fort McHenry Tunnel (I-95 in Baltimore), the new rate will be $4. For the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95 north of the Susquehanna River), the new rate will be $8.

Thanksgiving lite?
With the Independence Day holiday falling on a Thursday, many people will be making a four-day weekend of it. But it’s unlikely this will result in a Thanksgiving-style getaway Wednesday.

One of the factors that makes the Thanksgiving escape so dramatic is that many families wait until the kids get out of school or the workday ends before they leave the D.C. region. This week, most students already have begun their summer vacations, and many of their parents will be taking the entire week off.

During my online discussion last Monday, several travelers joined me in speculating about this coming Friday’s traffic. I think Friday will be a better than normal travel day for both commuters and weekenders, because so many people will already have gotten where they’re going. Wednesday afternoon’s traffic should be heavy, but not as fearsome as the November rush. The return traffic Sunday afternoon and evening is likely to be quite heavy, and a very early or very late departure probably would reduce travel time.

Metro late night
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles announced last week that the transit authority is easing up on the weeknight track work schedule. Trains no longer will share tracks around work zones as early as 8 p.m. As of this week, the start time will be 10 p.m.

This week’s schedule is truncated by the holiday, but it does include late-night work Monday and Tuesday on sections of all five lines starting at 10 p.m., resulting in delays of about 10 minutes. These are the areas where single-tracking will occur.

  • Red Line. Between Van Ness and Dupont Circle.
  • Blue Line. Between Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield.
  • Blue and Orange lines. Between McPherson Square and Smithsonian.
  • Green and Yellow lines. Between Georgia Avenue and Fort Totten.

Metrobus changes
Many routes across the region change their timetables this week. See a full list on this posting.

Bus fare changes
Fairfax Connector. Effective Monday, the Fairfax Connector bus system has reduced fares on six routes to match the fare structure of other regional bus services and increase its ridership. Routes affected are: 394, 395, 493, 494, 495 and 981.

Routes 394 and 395 now match the regional Metrobus express fare. ($4 case, $3.65 with SmarTrip.)

Routes 493, 494, 495 and 981 match the base fare for Fairfax Connector, which is already the same as the base fare for Metrobus. ($1.80 cash, $1.60 with SmarTrip.)

DASH. Alexandria’s DASH buses will get a little more expensive when a fare increase arrives on Sunday. In addition, service will change on several routes beginning on Sunday.

The cash fare will go up to $1.60 from the current $1.50. The monthly pass will also increase, going up to $40 from $35, though monthly riders can stave off that increase through a promotion DASH is running. Electronic DASH passes will remain $35 for July, August and September. If you buy a monthly paper pass, it goes up to $40 beginning with the July pass.

There’s more about DASH changes on Mark Berman’s posting.

Texting and driving law
Under a new law that takes effect in Virginia on Monday, police can pull over any driver  they see texting. Officers no longer need to see some other violation first. The fine for the first violation is $125, and $250 for the second.

This doesn’t apply to drivers of emergency vehicles, stopped vehicles, use of factory-installed GPS devices, or use of handheld devices to report emergencies.

VRE car changes
Virginia Railway Express has made some changes in the number of cars on its commuter trains on the Fredericksburg Line. Here’s the new lineup.

  • Train 304, leaving Fredericksburg at 5:40 a.m., eight cars.
  • Train 306, leaving Fredericksburg at 6:05 a.m., seven cars.
  • Train 308, leaving Fredericksburg at 6:30 a.m., seven cars.
  • Train 307, leaving Union Station at 4:40 p.m., seven cars
  • Train 309, leaving Union Station at 5:15 p.m., eight cars.

Beltway/Route 193
The Maryland State Highway Administration is rehabilitating the University Boulevard (Route 193) bridge over the Capital Beltway in Silver Spring, which probably will take till late 2015.

University Boulevard is a heavily used commuter route, and the Beltway interchange there is also very busy. The project, which includes replacement of the bridge deck, will temporarily shift traffic patterns and is likely to add to commuting time.

The lane shifts will occur in both directions of University Boulevard between Indian Spring and Lexington drives, north and south of the Beltway. The hours will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays.

On the Beltway, the lane shifts will occur between the University Boulevard and Colesville Road interchanges from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays.

Rock Creek Parkway
Reconstruction of Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway from P Street to Beach Drive continues this week. No lanes will be closed on Thursday, but on the other weekdays, closings for street light work will occur between 9:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. between Beach Drive and P Street.

The contractor will detour pedestrians from the trail to the southbound lanes during those hours to complete electrical work in the trail near Massachusetts Avenue, the National Park Service says.

Maine Avenue
From 9:30 to 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, drivers may encounter single-lane closings on both sides of Maine Avenue between the 14th Street Bridge and the Tidal Basin parking area as the reconstruction project wraps up. But no work will occur there for the rest of the week.

DC Water project
DC Water is starting a flood mitigation project at the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue NW, which will affect traffic through March 2014. Work will be underway from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekdays on North Capitol Street and First Street NW from Channing Street NW to Michigan Avenue NW.

Drivers may encounter lane closings on North Capitol Street between Girard Street and Michigan Avenue and on First Street NW between Michigan Avenue and Channing Street.

The removal of the median on North Capitol Street between Michigan Avenue and Channing Street will result in a lane shift.

The workers will build an underground system to divert up to six million gallons of storm water into temporary holding tanks at the plant during heavy rains.

Sober Fourth
On Independence Day, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program’s SoberRide again will be in action. From 10 p.m. Thursday to 4 a.m. Friday, adults who are at risk of impaired driving in the D.C. area can call 800-200-TAXI for a no-cost taxi ride home, up to a fare value of $30.

The safety campaign by the alcohol program, Red Top Cab and the Arlington County Police Department, which features a vehicle that’s half taxicab, half police cruiser, won the Virginia Governor’s Transportation Safety Award. The cab/cruiser bears the message “Choose your ride.”

Metro on July 4
We’ll have more Independence Day travel tips on the blog, but here are the basics about Metro service on the holiday.

Metrorail will open at 7 a.m. and close at midnight.Trains will operate on a Saturday schedule for most of the day, but will increase frequency to near rush-hour levels in the evening. There will be no Rush Plus service, as there normally is during peak hours on weekdays.

Some trains will be eight cars long, so check the platform signs to know what’s coming and where to stand. (Often, the last two cars on an eight-car train are the least crowded. An eight-car train fills the entire platform.)

Smithsonian station will be open all day, but will be for entry only after the night’s fireworks.

Parking will be free at all Metrorail stations.

Bicycles and large coolers won’t be allowed on Metrorail, because of concerns about crowding.

Metrobus will operate on a Saturday schedule.

MetroAccess will operate on a regular schedule, but all subscription trips will be cancelled. Riders who want to travel on July 4 will need to call MetroAccess reservations or go to Metro’s Web site before 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to reserve trips for the holiday.

Metro this weekend
The Red, Yellow and Green lines will all have normal weekend service. The Yellow Line will operate up to Fort Totten throughout the weekend. But there’s major track work scheduled for the Blue and Orange lines, with no train service between Stadium-Armory and Benning Road and between Stadium-Armory and Cheverly.

Free shuttle buses will bridge the gap between the open parts of the lines. Outside of the shutdown area, trains are scheduled to operate every 15 minutes, rather than at the usual weekend frequency of every 12 minutes.

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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