Beltway bottlenecks, Metro crossings: Dr. Gridlock’s traffic, transit tips

Robert Thomson
Columnist June 30, 2012
Beltway ramp reopens

The ramp from northbound New Hampshire Avenue to the Capital Beltway’s outer loop in Montgomery County has reopened ahead of schedule.

Since late April, drivers heading for the outer loop had been detoured east on the inner loop before swinging around onto the outer loop to get back to where they started.

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. View Archive

Drivers gave me various estimates on the delay time, but it seemed to add about 20 minutes to their commutes.

The Maryland State Highway Administration, which is replacing the bridge deck that takes the ramp over the Beltway, determined that the ramp wasn’t wide enough to maintain the flow of traffic during this phase of the work. So it set up the now-ended detour. The original schedule had the ramp closed until midsummer.

The overall project won’t be done until fall, but the remaining work can be done without detours, the highway administration said.

Northwest Branch

Nearby in Silver Spring, reconstruction continues on the Beltway’s Northwest Branch Bridge. This project keeps all lanes open at peak periods but shifts the lane pattern to make room for work zones.

The latest phase has three lanes to the left and one to the right on each loop. Drivers seem to be having a bit more difficulty with the outer loop pattern, because some need to be in the far right lane for the University Boulevard exit. This phase is scheduled last until the end of July.

The next phase will place a work-zone barrier in the middle of each loop, with two lanes getting by on each side of the barrier. At least this phase will occur during August, the month with the lightest traffic.

After Labor Day, the pattern will shift again: one lane to the left, three right. That will probably continue into mid-October.

Heat Wave

Maybe this is another way to track global warming over the years: For the second time this summer, Metro officials have told riders that they can drink water aboard the trains and buses. This slight easing of the long-standing prohibition against drinking or eating aboard trains and buses is scheduled to continue through Monday.

If a Metrorail car is hot, don’t just sit there. At the next station, try another car. The cars have their own cooling equipment. On summer days when I’ve carried a digital thermometer from car to car, I’ve found variations of 10 degrees.

Beltway/Telegraph Road

A commuter might think the Beltway is just one extended work zone this summer. On the Virginia side, drivers had their first experiences last week with the new location for the THRU/LOCAL lane split on the outer loop. Because the split has been moved farther west, drivers must choose their lanes sooner.

The two outer loop THRU lanes are in their final configuration, but until July 30, when this work is done, a single LOCAL lane will be open from the split to just past Telegraph Road.

Only those who need to reach Telegraph Road, Route 1 or Interstate 295/National Harbor should use the single LOCAL lane.

On the inner loop, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project continues paving the LOCAL lanes between Route 1 and the Eisenhower Connector. Only one LOCAL lane is scheduled to be open until paving is complete July 9.

Crossing time

During my online chat Monday, a Metro rider asked: “Can I take the Metro to Farragut West, get a haircut, buy a cigar, have lunch and then reenter the system at Farragut North (using the virtual crossing option) and return home all on the same single fare?”

The answer is yes, but it will have to be a quick trim and a fast-food lunch. Riders have 30 minutes to make the free, above-ground transfer between the Red Line at Farragut North and the Orange and Blue lines at Farragut West. Metro calls it the Farragut Crossing. It’s not marked on the new Metro maps.

For more transportation news, visit washingtonpost.com/transportation.

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