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.
Metro officials expect the evening rush to be more crowded than usual. The rail system will stay open an hour later, until 1 a.m., and if needed, provide up to 14 additional trains after the game for fans traveling from the Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center stations on the Blue Line and from the Landover Station on the Orange Line.
Fans headed to the game can take the Blue Line to Morgan Boulevard, and walk nine-tenths of a mile to the stadium or ride the Orange Line to Landover and catch a $5 shuttle to FedEx Field.
The earlier start conflicts with the Metrobus rush-hour service, so Metro will not have enough buses to provide typical shuttle bus service before the game. But the Redskins are hiring charter buses to "fill in" before the game, said Karl Swanson, the team's spokesman.
Some fans said the hassle in getting to the stadium turned them off of the Redskins. Alan Martin, a lawyer who lives in Potomac, recently became a season-ticket holder. But the traffic, along with lousy seats -- "so far up that I need binoculars to see the football" -- persuaded him to sit out the games this season.
But others, like Garen Dodge, a lawyer who works in downtown Washington, said they have a plan for dealing with the traffic. Dodge, 49, said he drove to the Aug. 31 preseason game, and "it wasn't awful." But that was before Labor Day and before commuters returned to work.
"Traffic is not going to be fun," he said. His plan is to take a route that has worked for him before -- New York Avenue to Route 50 to Landover Road. It will take him at least an hour, he predicts.
"It's not going to be an ideal situation," he said. "But what are you going to do? It's Monday Night Football."
Staff writer Avis Thomas-Lester and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.