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Commuter Page: A history of traffic problems in the Washington area

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By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Washington region might have the second-worst congestion in the nation, but individual experiences vary depending on how you travel, where you're coming from and where you're headed. Recently, The Post surveyed travelers to gauge how much better or worse their trips through the Washington area have gotten since 2005, and whether their problems with driving, transit use, biking and walking have changed. The first article about the results is featured today on Page One. You can look forward to more articles in the days and weeks ahead about how you and your fellow travelers responded. (We collected a lot of information.) Here on the Commuter page, let's review some of the transportation developments from 2005 to the present that could have influenced people's views.

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-- May 2005: A study by the Texas Transportation Institute, based on 2003 statistics, ranked Washington area traffic third-worst in the nation behind that of Los Angeles and San Francisco. By last year, the institute had boosted Washington to number two, based on 2007 statistics. But a regional report released last spring and based on data from spring 2008, showed that congestion had eased somewhat since 2005.

-- August 2005: Widening the ramp from the Capital Beltway to the Dulles Toll Road eased a major chokepoint for commuters. In May 2005, ramp lanes were added for drivers heading east on the Toll Road to the Beltway.

-- June 2006: The first of two new six-lane spans for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge opened, fulfilling a dream of two decades to replace the aging structure. The second span opened in June 2008. In spring 2009, a bike trail opened on the bridge. The project also involves reconstruction of four interchanges. The last of them, Telegraph Road, continues to slow traffic in the work zone. It is scheduled to be finished in 2013. Planners have not resolved how they will use the two bridge lanes set aside for transit.

-- November 2006: Four new lanes opened on Interstate 66, the first half of a widening designed to relieve a bottleneck between Manassas and Gainesville. The project, adding a carpool lane and a regular lane in each direction, is split into segments because Virginia can't afford to do it all at once. The second segment, to Gainesville, should be completed by this summer.

-- February 2007: The first part of the four-lane, 3.2-mile Hughesville Bypass opened, breaking a longtime bottleneck on Route 5.

-- July 2007: The Springfield Interchange, with its 50 bridges and ramps, was finished, completing a project to ease traffic flow through one of the busiest crossroads on the East Coast. The Wilson Bridge and the Springfield Interchange have shown the potential for easing traffic during construction by encouraging people to share rides, choose alternative routes and travel outside of peak times. In March 2008, an ice storm paralyzed the interchange, forcing the Virginia Department of Transportation to rethink its approach to winter road clearing.

-- August 2007: The District Department of Transportation reopened the Douglass Bridge after a two-month shutdown for repairs that included raising the northern end. Temporarily closing a popular commuter route is a very unusual approach but was generally successful because of the summertime lull in traffic and a campaign to publicize the closing and suggest alternatives.

-- September 2007: Metro added enough new rail cars to eliminate four-car trains during daily peaks.

-- September 2007: The interchange was completed at Route 29 and Briggs Chaney Road, adding to a string of interchange projects that have eliminated traffic lights and eased traffic on Route 29 north of White Oak, but southern bottlenecks remain.

-- November 2007: Construction began on the Intercounty Connector. The first phase of the long-debated highway is scheduled to open late this year. Some drivers look forward to the new east-west route, but others have complained about the high tolls. Residents near the interchanges worry about new traffic.

-- January 2008: The Metrorail rush-hour base fare increased 30 cents, to $1.65 a trip, with a maximum fare of $4.50. Daily parking fees rose 75 cents.


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