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Drivers concerned about Canal Road

Saturday, January 15, 2011; 8:46 PM

Police were still investigating the Friday morning car crash that left two people dead on Canal Road at Clark Place, and there was no determination on the cause. But many travelers who heard about the tragedy wrote in to complain about the poor drainage along the commuter road in Northwest Washington, which they say is a longtime hazard and leads to icing in the winter. This letter was typical of the messages I received.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've been commuting from Montgomery County to Rosslyn for about 2½ years. My concern is Canal Road and the poor maintenance of the road. I've never seen a major commute route with so much standing water and foliage problems.

Most regular commuters seem to know in bad weather to avoid the lane closer to the hillside and use the lane closer to the Potomac River. I've also been surprised that with all the movers and shakers that use this road to go into Georgetown and K Street that changes have not happened.

If these fatalities Friday morning are due to the ice on the road, I'm definitely not surprised. It's been a very bad situation waiting for tragedy to strike.

- Beth Erdman, Darnestown

Canal Road may be just three lanes at its widest between Chain Bridge and Foxhall Road, but it's an important connector for drivers going to and from the District or between Maryland and Virginia.

Drivers said several sections of Canal Road fill with standing water and become very slippery when the temperature drops below freezing. Tree branches in the roadway also are a frequent problem, they said.

Some who deplored the condition of the roadway also said many drivers go too fast in a zone with a 35 mph speed limit.

Like Erdman, several rush-hour commuters who criticized the road conditions said they've learned to avoid the inside lane in favor of the one closer to the river. Others said they avoid Canal Road altogether when the weather gets cold.

The District Department of Transportation, which maintains the road, has no improvement projects underway now or planned for the near future that would deal with these conditions.

Dodging Breezewood

During my weekly online discussion on Jan. 3, a traveler who used the Pennsylvania Turnpike to reach Pittsburgh for the outdoor hockey game between the Capitals and the Penguins noted the difficulties of getting through Breezewood. In Breezewood, the turnpike and Interstate 70 come close together but don't quite meet, creating an excuse for gas stations, fast food restaurants, traffic lights and congestion where a highway interchange would do nicely for most drivers.

I responded in part by saying that some drivers prefer to avoid Breezewood's traffic by taking I-68 all the way west to Morgantown, W.Va., and then going north on I-79 to reach Pittsburgh.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Only caught the chat via transcript. I'm originally from Cumberland, Md. Instead of taking I-68 all the way to I-79, an alternative route is to take I-68 to MD 51 to Pittsburgh. It's a little more direct, though obviously not all interstate. But it's only 10 or 15 minutes longer than taking the Pennsylvania Turnpike and a much prettier drive.

- Dennis A. Coyle, Arlington

Other drivers wrote in to note that the tolls on the turnpike went up at the start of the year. They increased about 3 percent for E-ZPass users and about 10 percent for drivers paying cash.

Hopes for New Year

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If you do a column on New Year's resolutions, mine is quite simple: Let other drivers know what I am going to do before I do it.

This includes using turn signals and horn, tools much neglected these days.

- Jeanne Krause, North Bethesda

Travelers often look to government for solutions to our transportation problems, as indeed they should. But I've learned from your letters that many want to hold one another accountable for the safety of drivers, walkers and cyclists.

Write to me and name something that you're doing - not something that you wish other travelers were doing - to ensure that we all arrive safely at our destinations.

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 to Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. By e-mail: drgridlock@washpost.com. His blog: washingtonpost.com/drgridlock. On Twitter: drgridlock.

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