With a new freeway link, is it time to reconsider how the roads are marked?

Robert Thomson
Columnist December 29, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The opening of the connection from Interstate 695 to northbound D.C. 295 gives me a jumping-in point for asking that the city consider doing something I’ve been thinking about.

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

As you travel eastbound on Pennsylvania Avenue to cross the Sousa Bridge, there are two big, green overhead signs that have the words “Anacostia Freeway” for the southbound exit toward Interstate 295 and the northbound exit to D.C. 295. I’m not aware of any other place on D.C. road signage that spells out “Anacostia Freeway.”

I can’t tell you how many times over almost 40 years of driving that people are always confused by the D.C. roadway known as “295.” Almost all people that I come across think the portion from the 11th Street Bridge to Eastern Avenue is I-295 when it is D.C. 295.

Why not have signage on all of 295 designating it as the Anacostia Freeway, the way there are signs on the Capital Beltway that read “Capital Beltway”? Or rename the roadway from Blue Plains to Eastern Avenue as the Kenilworth-Anacostia Freeway, or since there are service roadways already designated as Kenilworth Avenue, make 295 the Anacostia-Deanwood Freeway. It would acknowledge the two most known neighborhoods that border I-295/D.C. 295.


A map of the Southwest/Southeast Freeway (Laris Karklis/The Washington Post/Source: DDOT)

In any case, I think there should be signs on the roadway that acknowledge D.C. 295/I-295 so that people have a better understanding of what road they are driving on.

— Christopher Jerry,

the District

A commuter has to be a roads scholar to figure out the freeways along the east side of the Anacostia River. The opening line of Jerry’s letter shows he knows the area well: He refers to I-695, one of the most obscure stretches of interstate we have. Some drivers also would be baffled by his distinction between I-295 and D.C. 295.

The reason we’re talking about these way-finding issues is that there are more ways to find, thanks to the District’s reconstruction of the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia.

On Dec. 19, the District Department of Transportation fixed one of the last missing links in a freeway system that dates to the mid-20th century. DDOT opened a ramp on the 11th Street Bridge that allows drivers to travel from the Southeast-Southwest Freeway onto the bridge over the Anacostia River and then go north onto D.C. 295.

Until the ramp opened, those drivers probably would have gotten off the Southeast-Southwest Freeway onto Pennsylvania Avenue and lined up along the Sousa Bridge to make a left turn for the ramp leading to D.C. 295 North, a long side trip.

With smoother transitions on the freeways, do we need a smoother system of names? I think some who did a double take when they first saw the I-695 signs for the 11th Street Bridge might say we should leave well enough alone regarding 295, though I think there’s a good argument for making the “D.C. 295” designations more prominent.

The division between the interstate and the only “D.C.” numbered highway comes at the 11th Street Bridge. I-295 is the freeway to the south. Northbound drivers stick with the interstates by taking I-695 over the bridge.

D.C. 295 is the freeway north of the bridge. Its signs show the District’s border in black on a white background. They are distinctively different from the red, white and blue interstate shields, but they don’t stand out as well.

What about the names? Now that the District has linked up the freeways across the river, is it more important to refer to the Anacostia Freeway on signs? Or as Jerry suggests, consider a modified name?

All this would have been less confusing if planners had carried out their original vision for a much more extensive network of highways, but they would have paved over many D.C. neighborhoods.

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 e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

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