Are You Ready For Some Gridlock?

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006

Tonight's Washington Redskins season opener at 7 virtually guarantees that football gridlock will coincide with Capital Beltway gridlock as many of the 90,000 fans will take to the roads and rails with evening commuters.

The Redskins host the Minnesota Vikings at FedEx Field in the first Monday night game of the 2006 NFL season. In years past, Monday night games have started at 9, allowing fans to avoid part of rush hour.

But this year, for the first time since the debut of Monday Night Football, there is a televised football doubleheader, with the Redskins kicking off at 7, a time that may take commuters by surprise, traffic officials said. To add to the mess, the Baltimore Orioles are playing the New York Yankees at Camden Yards the same night, at 7:05 p.m.

"We're preparing for the worst," said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. The biggest challenge will be dealing with the additional traffic from the sold-out Redskins-Vikings contest at the height of the evening rush. FedEx, with a seating capacity of 91,665, is the largest stadium in the National Football League.

"The folks going to the game have a game plan," she said. "It's the other folks who might not be aware that [the teams] are starting earlier."

Edgar suggests that commuters alter their schedules by staying later at work, taking different routes home and riding Metrorail. Above all, be prepared for delays.

"If you've got to pick up kids at day care or have an appointment, allow extra time," she said. "If you're going around the Beltway around 4 or 5 p.m., be prepared to be stuck in backups, and that's assuming no crashes or incidents." As traffic-weary residents already know, even a minor fender-bender will "tie things up even more," she said.

Edgar urged fans to arrive at the football stadium by 4 p.m. Parking lots open at 3 p.m., shuttle bus service from Landover Metro Station will be available starting at 4 and stadium gates open at 5.

On the Virginia side, the work on the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge means that weekday afternoon and evening traffic approaching the bridge regularly becomes backed up for three to four miles, with traffic volumes of approximately 7,000 vehicles per hour between 4 and 7 p.m., Virginia transportation officials said. Even though Monday evening volumes are lower, there are still 6,000 vehicles per hour during the commuting period.

If 10 to 15 percent of Redskins fans use the Wilson Bridge in the hours leading up to game time, evening traffic volume on the outer loop could grow to 8,500 vehicles per hour, potentially causing backups of five miles or more, according to Wilson Bridge Project officials.

Vernon Herron, the Prince George's County public safety director, said police will be on special deployment today. Police said more than 200 police officers will be assigned to work at the stadium.

Maryland highway officials plan to deploy their normal contingent of emergency traffic patrollers. The Arena Drive interchange -- Exit 16 off the Beltway -- will be open three hours before game time. But the Route 202 ramp to the inner loop of the Beltway will be closed when the Arena Drive ramps are open.

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