Dr. Gridlock’s traffic, transit tips: Summer work zones, hybrid/HOV rules

Columnist May 25, 2013
Phones in work zones

The longest and most active highway work zone in the D.C. region this summer will be the 29-mile stretch of Interstate 95/395 in Northern Virginia where the 95 Express Lanes are under construction. So it was fitting that safety advocates chose the Dale City rest area along I-95 this month to launch their annual campaign against distracted driving in work zones.

The campaign is called “Orange Cones. No Phones.” But police, Virginia transportation officials and others concerned with traffic safety noted that it doesn’t necessarily take a phone to distract a driver. The summer driving season brings out the map twisters and radio fiddlers.

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

It may help that as of July 1, Virginia police can pull over a driver for texting. But “fear of a fine shouldn’t be the motivating factor” in avoiding the behavior, said state police Capt. Michael Spivey, commander of the Fairfax Division.

There are 1,500 people working along the I-95/395 construction zone. If that isn’t enough for drivers to worry about, perhaps this is: The people most likely to be injured or killed in work zones are motorists.

Roadside mowing

Not all work zones are stationary. The Virginia Department of Transportation also is asking drivers to watch out for crews mowing grass, pruning trees, cutting brush and removing litter.

Most state roads in Northern Virginia will see up to three cycles of mowing through the fall, but there may be more where safety issues and weather patterns require, VDOT said.

I-95 revisited

During my May 13 online discussion, a traveler asked for advice about escaping Washington on a Friday morning. I suggested taking Route 29 rather than I-95 north of the Capital Beltway. But David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said drivers need not fear the northbound interstate.

The stretch between the Capital and Baltimore beltways “is relatively congestion-free [northbound] during the morning rush,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The only exceptions could be slowdowns at the MD 32 and MD 100 interchanges, which tend to occur both during the a.m. and p.m. peaks and are driven by the merging traffic at the loop ramps.”

Clean-fuel tags

A traveler who recently moved to Gainesville and commutes to Ballston wrote to ask if there are any loopholes for getting access to the Virginia High Occupancy Vehicle lanes with a hybrid vehicle. Can people who have the necessary clean-fuel license plates and who are moving out of the area sell or transfer them to others?

No, no, no. These aren’t baseball cards to collect and trade. Drivers of hybrids who want the clean-fuel plates must apply to the Department of Motor Vehicles. There are large fines for violating the vehicle registration laws.

Hybrids in HOV

For years, Virginia travelers have written in this time of year to ask if the General Assembly had given another one-year extension to the allegedly temporary exemption allowing hybrids in HOV lanes even if the drivers didn’t have enough passengers to qualify. But last year, the law changed.

Drivers of hybrids can continue to use the HOV lanes on Interstates 66, 395 and 95 and the Dulles Toll Road during rush hours, provided they have the required clean-fuel plates.

Although the exemption is open-ended rather than year by year, the hybrid rules vary by highway:

On I-66, only hybrid vehicles with clean-fuel plates issued before July 1, 2011, are permitted to use the HOV lanes during rush hours unless there are at least two people aboard.

●On I-95 and I-395 HOV lanes, only hybrids with clean-fuel plates issued before July 1, 2006, are permitted during rush hours unless at least three people are aboard.

●On the Dulles Toll Road HOV lanes, hybrid drivers just need the clean-fuel plate.

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

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