Dr. Gridlock's traffic, transit tips

Saturday, March 19, 2011; 7:13 PM

Constitution Avenue

The National Park Service begins preparations this week for a big project on Constitution Avenue that is likely to create traffic delays for many months.

The first signs of this project, between 15th and 23rd streets NW, will include temporary closings of the parking lanes during off-peak hours. The project will really become active the week of April 10, the Park Service says. The rebuilding of the roadway will occur throughout the day, overnight and on weekends. It will be done a block at a time, closing up to two lanes in each direction, until completed in early 2012.

11th Street Bridge

The District Department of Transportation may close lanes during off-peak travel hours on the 11th Street Bridge spans and ramps, portions of the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, Interstate 295/DC 295 and local streets starting Wednesday and continuing through June 22. Work on the two spans that will carry highway traffic is scheduled to be done at the end of the year.

Crowded Stations

Metro recorded three of its top five weekday ridership days and a 5.9 percent increase in overall ridership during last year's Cherry Blossom Festival, but not all of those extra passengers were heading for the Mall and the Tidal Basin.

Several stations outside downtown Washington became much more crowded last April: Woodley Park, near the National Zoo; Navy Yard, near Nationals Park, and Arlington Cemetery.

Of course, nothing can beat the crowds at Smithsonian Station, which doubled during the first week of April last year compared with March

Beltway Bridge Reopened

The Idylwood Road bridge, between Interstate 66 and Route 7 south of Tysons Corner, reopened Friday. The reconstruction over the Capital Beltway is one of a series of milestones scheduled for the high-occupancy toll lanes project this year.

The new two-lane span is slightly wider than the old one, to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.

All the bridges between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road are being widened for the HOT lanes, and some will be completed later this year. The Idylwood project was unusual in that the bridge was shut down, rather than partially closed, to speed up reconstruction by a year and a half.

'Cool Breeze' Coming

Metro riders may catch a break as the temperatures rise this spring: General Manager Richard Sarles announced last week that Metrorail has created a more aggressive program to repair and maintain the train air conditioners, which were a source of many complaints during the very hot summer of 2010.

The goal of the campaign, called Operation Cool Breeze and begun in February, is to inspect and overhaul units in the more than 1,000 cars in the rail fleet. That includes cleaning the condensers under the cars and the pipes, pans and filters over the riders' heads, said Damon Cannon, Metro's general superintendent of rail car maintenance, who led reporters on a tour of cars under repair at the New Carrollton yard. The intensified campaign of preventive maintenance and repair on the air conditioners will continue through the summer, he said.

Circulator Changes

The D.C. Circulator's seasonal route around the Mall is the least successful of the Circulator routes and is likely to be discontinued.

Overall, the Circulator service has been a great success. With more than 5 million riders in 2010, it is now the fourth-largest bus service in the D.C. region. But the Mall loop, known as the Smithsonian-National Gallery of Art line, was averaging 10 riders an hour. The District Department of Transportation is interested in shifting the money it would have spent on the Mall route this year to extend the operating hours of the Union Station-Navy Yard line.

For more transportation news, go to washingtonpost.com/transportation .

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