Commuters still are struggling to get through a work zone for the high-occupancy toll lanes project, despite last week’s effort by the Virginia Department of Transportation to ease congestion where the eastbound Dulles Toll Road meets the Capital Beltway.
Drivers say problems with a recent lane reconfiguration remain, and one of last week’s tweaks — the elimination of the far left lane — may have worsened the situation for some toll road travelers trying to continue straight onto Interstate 66.
This letter from one of those I-66-bound drivers describes the point on the toll road where three rivers of traffic combine to create difficult crosscurrents.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have driven the Dulles Toll Road through the toll plaza and the Beltway interchange with a carpool toward I-66 since the toll road was built and therefore have over 20 years’ experience with the traffic patterns.
There are at least three competing patterns at the interchange, and three changes made by VDOT have made the traffic flow markedly worse. Those changes (1) made the entrance to go north on the Beltway one lane; (2) erected an earlier barrier between the lanes to go north and south on the Beltway; and (3) reduced the number of lanes to the left of the lane for the northbound Beltway.
The first competing traffic pattern is formed by the E-ZPass commuters coming through the two left lanes of the toll plaza, along with drivers from the Dulles Access Road just past the toll booths. They either need to continue in the two left lanes toward I-66 or get into a lane to go south or north on the Beltway.
Because of the barrier between the north and south entrances to the Beltway, the drivers who need to reach the far right lanes now must move much sooner across several lanes of traffic.
The second competing traffic pattern is formed by vehicles entering into the right lanes from Tysons Corner past the toll booths. Because of the barrier, drivers wanting to go north on the Beltway or ahead onto I-66 now must negotiate over several lanes of traffic in a much reduced area.
The third competing traffic pattern is formed by lane jumpers who do not get into their lane if it’s backed up, but rather stay in adjacent lanes until the last moment. Because VDOT has reduced the lanes to go north on the Beltway from two to one, those lane jumpers have blocked adjacent lanes of traffic on both sides.
Until recently, drivers going south on the Beltway and drivers going toward I-66 were equally blocked by the lane jumpers.
But erecting the barrier between the north and south entrances to the Beltway meant that lane jumpers could no longer use the lane to the right of the lane that is the entrance to the northbound Beltway. Now, lane jumpers must use only the two lanes to the left of the lane going to the northbound Beltway.
The VDOT change made last weekend that has made the situation so much worse took away the third lane to the left of the lane that leads onto the Beltway going northbound. So lane jumpers now stop in, and block, both remaining lanes to the left. The result is that all traffic behind is blocked.
When there was a third lane to the left, there was one lane that traffic (including carpools like mine) heading to I-66 could use to get around. Now there are no lanes to get around the lane jumpers, and the result is horrible traffic congestion.
The elimination of the left lane past the toll booths is a blunder. Rather than blocking lanes, VDOT should have used every bit of asphalt at that interchange for traffic.
— John Garziglia, Reston
VDOT is going to try again. Members of the project team met Thursday and came up with some new adjustments, which will be phased in over the next few weeks.
The right lane of the eastbound main toll plaza will be reserved for E-ZPass users, so motorists bound for the Beltway won’t have to move from the far left to the far right to reach the Beltway ramps. The left lane approaching the Beltway will be extended 1,000 feet to assist motorists merging from the left side of the Toll Road.
The signs that orient drivers for the Beltway interchange will be modified, and drivers will see them before they reach the toll plaza.
John D. Lynch, manager for VDOT’s Megaprojects office, which tries to ease the impact of the big work zones in Northern Virginia, said in a statement: “We are doing everything possible to reduce the lengthy delays motorists are experiencing. While there will still be construction-related delays, the adjustments should bring some relief. We apologize for the aggravation this has caused.”
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or