Dr. Gridlock’s traffic, transit tips: Drivers complain of late-spring traffic surge

Robert Thomson
Columnist June 15, 2013
Is traffic worse?

During my online discussion Monday, many drivers said they thought traffic in the D.C. region got worse in late May and early June and wondered why. The routes they take are widely scattered, and their bafflement suggested they weren’t encountering the lane closings or crash scenes that would make the causes obvious.

One commenter suggested a combination of elements. Some schools haven’t closed yet, it gets light earlier so some commuters may be starting earlier (so they can go home earlier) and people are generally more active outside.

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

David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, had a very credible notion on this. He referred to mid-May/mid-June as a “transition period,” an overlap when some vacations have begun to bring travelers into or through the D.C. area while local schools remain in session.

The really sharp declines in local commuter traffic don’t show up until July and August.

Trouble spots

One reason I asked Buck for his view was that some drivers said they were experiencing more traffic on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway in Maryland near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Buck and I believe there’s something to this, but neither of us can cite a specific cause, such as road work.

Here again, we suspect volume: a combination of local commuters and warm-weather travelers along the East Coast’s major north-south route.

Other commuters complain about delays as they drive into Washington on the Memorial Bridge, but they suspect the culprit is a traffic signal at Lincoln Circle and 23rd Street NW.

Some trouble spots never really go away. It’s just a question of when they’re bad and when they’re worse.

For morning commuters, those include the outer loop of the Capital Beltway through Silver Spring; D.C. 295, I-295 and the Suitland Parkway near the 11th Street bridge, the junction of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 50; I-395 near the 14th Street Bridge; and I-66 through the Manassas and Fair Oaks areas.

Rockville Pike tunnel

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation will host a meeting Tuesday to discuss the plan for a pedestrian and biker tunnel under Rockville Pike between Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Medical Center Metro station.

The 7:30 p.m. session will be held at the BCC Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, near the Bethesda Metro station.

The $68 million project will be funded by the federal government because it is meant to help ease the extra travel generated by the federal base realignment program at the medical center.

Work will include construction of the tunnel, new entrances to the Medical Center station on the Red Line and a bank of underground elevators.

DC Circulator meeting

On Tuesday, the D.C. Department of Transportation plans to host another of its semiannual forums to discuss the DC Circulator bus system. This one is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. in the Studio Theatre, First Floor Lounge, 1501 14th St. NW, near Logan Circle.

These are informal sessions where people can ask questions about the current and future city bus system and offer suggestions about improvements or alternative routes.

Reston repaving

Starting Thursday, the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to mill and pave almost 4 1 / 2 miles of Fox Mill Road (Route 665) between Lawyers Road and Waples Mill Road in Reston. Drivers will encounter alternating lane closings from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays for about five weeks.

Because this section of Fox Mill Road is two lanes and narrow, VDOT asks drivers to avoid the work zone and use alternative routes during the work hours to avoid the congestion.

For more transportation news, go to washingtonpost.com/transportation.

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