New York Avenue construction doesn’t deliver delays — yet

April 25, 2011

The commuting disaster expected to torment drivers on New York Avenue in Northeast Washington failed to materialize Monday morning. The six lanes normally afforded to travelers were cut to four, with each direction losing one lane between Penn Street and Florida Avenue.

And yet traffic flowed smoothly along the bridge over train tracks north of Union Station without any additional delays.

“Because of the Easter holiday, today hasn’t been that bad,” said Ali Shakeri, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) program manager overseeing the project. “A lot of people are on vacation. We didn’t see that much traffic today.”

However, drivers shouldn’t rest easy; officials say the commute is likely to get worse, with additional delays of at least 30 minutes during the height of rush hour.

The lane reduction is expected to last two years, which is a long-term issue for the more than 87,000 vehicles that pass through the area each day. DDOT has encouraged travelers to avoid the area by promoting alternate routes and a “Bridge Bucks” program offering $50 per month in transit assistance for the first 2,000 people who fit the criteria. About 300 people have qualified so far, Shakeri said.

The biggest driving delays in the region appeared to be on westbound Florida Avenue approaching New York Avenue. MARC and Metro trains rattled overhead while cars spent about 10 minutes in line before crossing the intersection.

Traffic officers helped guide vehicles and pedestrians alike through this zone, preventing any serious backups from occurring on the roads and sidewalks.

The officers will be there for two weeks, and, if DDOT determines it needs them there longer, that could be extended, Shakeri said.

Pedestrians who normally walk on New York Avenue to the east of Florida Avenue are no longer able to cross the bridges. Instead, there is a pedestrian detour that winds down Fourth Street and up Florida Avenue to the intersection.

The detour is a bit of a hike, requiring travelers to traipse through a strip of wholesalers. On Monday morning, most of the road was blocked for a while by a large truck, which caused delays for drivers and pedestrians in both directions. Pedestrians need to add extra time to their walk if they’re going to be walking through this spot each day.

Shakeri, who took over the project a year and a half ago, seemed pleasantly surprised while observing traffic from a parking lot on eastbound New York Avenue. He warned that it could take time for the full impact of the lane closures to become evident to drivers.

“Our experience is that when you close lanes, it takes people a couple of weeks to adjust,” he said.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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