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Fourth of July: Holiday Travel

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SLUG: PH-COMMUTE DATE: 1/30/2009 PHOTOGRAPHER: TRACY A WOODWARD/THE WASHINGTON POST LOCATION: Bristow, VA SUMMARY: Commuter story with Matt Lutz, resident of Bristow, VA. Also traffic along Rt 66, eastbound. CAPTION: A view of eastbound Rt 66 traffic passing the Vienna Metro Stop, about 8:10am StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Fri Jan 30 11:02:02 2009 (TRACY A WOODWARD/THE WASHINGTON POST)

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John Townsend
Manager, Public and Government Affairs, AAA Mid-Atlantic
Thursday, July 2, 2009; 1:00 PM

As another three-day summer holiday weekend approaches, John Townsend, manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic was online Thursday, July 2, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss travel on the roads and in the air. Plus, Virginia drivers will face a new law which bans sending or reading text messages and e-mails while driving. A dozen states and the District ban motorists from texting while they drive. Virginia's ban began yesterday and Maryland's takes effect Oct. 1. Townsend will explain.

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John Townsend: Hello, I'm John Townsend from AAA Mid-Atlantic. I am happy to talk your questions on holiday travel and on the new texting while driving ban that went into effect in Virginia yesterday.

AAA Mid-Atlantic projects that nearly 859,000 Washington area residents - or 15.8 percent of the local population - will travel 50 miles or more from home this Fourth of July. Overall, that's a 2.2 percent decrease when compared to the same period last year.

While the number of Washingtonians traveling by automobiles will also decline this holiday, local residents flying to their holiday destinations will actually increase this year. Ironically, more attractive airfares this year also will contribute to the decline in auto travel.

Having said that, I am ready for your questions and comment. In fact, I welcome both them and you.

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Falls Church, Va.: I am considering driving to Dupont Circle from Falls Church on the 4th and have not done so previously. Given previous trends, will it be impossible to move? I figure a normally 20-minute drive using the Roosevelt or Key Bridges could take double or triple that, but not sure if I'm being too optimistic. I would like to venture in around 3 or 4 p.m.

John Townsend: Hello Falls Church.

Keep in mind, law Enforcement Agencies in the District have already announced detailed plans road closures in DC for Saturday, July 4, 2009. As you can imagine, many streets will be closed that day, this is especially so in and around the National Mall.

The list of closures includes the Memorial Bridge, for example, which like a host of other streets will be closed on the Fourth at approximately 6 am and will remain closed until approximately 11 pm.

As far as the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge is concerned, it will remain open. But all inbound traffic must exit onto E Street. So I suspect you can throw out the 20-minute time frame.

Here's another factor to ponder. Parking throughout the District will be extremely limited.

By the way, have you considered taking Metro or public transportation to the District on the Fourth as opposed to driving into the city?

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I think it's very likely that Metro will eliminate the 35 mph speed limit on the Red Line in time for the 4th. I'm planning on going to the Nationals game Friday night. Do you think they'll raise the speed limit in time for my trip downtown for baseball?

John Townsend:

Metro officials have indicated they hope to have the Metrorail trains running at normal speed by the Fourth of July.

On the Fourth of July Metrorail trains will run from run from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m., and operate near rush-hour level service from 4 p.m. to midnight. What is more, Metro officials expect to "provide about 500,000 rail trips system wide and expect crowded conditions on trains leading up to the scheduled 9:10 p.m. fireworks show at the National Mall."

Metro General Manager John Catoe advises, "People should expect to be waiting in long lines to get back into Metro stations after the fireworks, perhaps for a half hour or more. To avoid waiting in long lines particularly at the Smithsonian Metrorail station, people should use other nearby stations for entry on the way home."

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: When is the best time to travel to Wilmington, N.C., from the D.C. Metro area over the next 24 hours?

John Townsend: The trek has already started and although you will have plenty of competition for the stretch of road to Wilmington, perhaps the best time to leave is the morning of the Fourth itself, by that works for you.

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HOV Lanes -- 95 South: Hi --

We will be traveling southbound on I-95 Friday morning. Will the HOV lanes be open to accommodate travelers leaving town? thanks!

John Townsend: Good question. The getaway for the holiday has already begun in earnest.

Mindful of this, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will left restrictions on the I-95/Interstate 395 high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, starting tomorrow, July 3.

In addition, here's another tip from VDOT

The I-95/I-395 HOV lanes will be southbound at the following times:

Thursday, July 2, from noon until 9 p.m.

Saturday, July 4, from 9:30 p.m. until Sunday, July 5 at 1 a.m.

The I-95/I-395 HOV lanes will be northbound at the following times:

Thursday, July 2, from 11 p.m. until Saturday, July 4, at 8 p.m.

Sunday, July 5, from 3 a.m. until Monday, July 6, at 11 a.m.

By the way, VDOT will help ease Fourth of July holiday weekend travel by opening lanes temporarily closed for construction or maintenance work on major roadways.

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Just wondering:: So, how early DOES one have to leave in order to "avoid the holiday traffic?" Yesterday night? This morning?

Seriously, I'm starting to wonder.

John Townsend: Hello Just wondering.

All things being equal, the best time to leave is when you are rested and focused. The rush will be on this evening during the height of the rush hour. But because this is truly a three-day holiday weekend, perhaps it is best to let everyone else get of Dodge this evening and then hit the road tomorrow morning.

Keep in mind, the July 4th holiday is typically the busiest time of year for auto travel since nearly all school-aged children are out of school, and, as a result, parents are more apt to take family vacations.

The majority of travelers in the Washington area will travel 715 miles roundtrip over the July 4th weekend. So the most important thing is to keep safety first. Have a good trip and a safe one too.

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D.C. to NNJ: What's the best time to get out of town on Friday? Many people have off Friday, and I'm hoping that a significant number of them start their travels tonight, or Friday morning. Would leaving DC early or mid-afternoon Friday be insane? And at that point, which would be better to get thru Delaware: the Bay Bridge/301 or 95?

John Townsend:

Hello D.C. To NNJ

You said it. The earlier, the better. Given that tomorrow is a federal holiday, the roads will be pretty empty in the morning. So that's sounds like a good time to start your journey before it becomes a tortuous sojourn.

Although 95 is the longer and more roundabout route, it might be the better road to take, but it all depends on when you wish to leave.

As you can expect, the Bay Bridge will be extremely busy this weekend. In fact, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) anticipates more than 351,000 vehicles will travel the Bay Bridge this July 4 holiday (Thursday, July 2, through Sunday, July 5.

While traffic counts aren't expected to rise, the bridge will still be busy, especially during peak travel times, according to the good folks over at MDTA.

So take off while the federal workers are still napping in their own beds and not on the job. Have a safe trip.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I was thinking of going to the beach on Saturday and was shocked, SHOCKED to see that MARC does not provide service cross-bay! What a tragedy.

But seriously, how will I fare for a day trip to the beach on Saturday?

John Townsend: Hello Silver Spring. My only question is which beach you have in mind? I wager you are planning to cross the Bay Bridge. If you planning on doing so on the Fourth, the best time to go is before 7 a.m. and between 5 and 10 p.m.

Your question will help others who have the same question in mind. So, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) the best times to travel the Bay Bridge include:

o Thursday - before 3 p.m. and after 10 p.m.

o Friday - before noon and after 10 p.m.

o Saturday - before 7 a.m. and between 5 and 10 p.m.

o Sunday - between 7 and 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Have a good trip and a good time.

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Richmond, Va.: I've seen what I think was a sting a few times this month to catch people who don't pull into the left lane when passing a state trooper on the side of the highway ticketing a car. I see the trooper standing by the car he pulled over, then a few hundred yards ahead, another trooper pulling a car over. Last night I saw one trooper standing by the road with a walkie-talkie, I guess warning an officer up ahead which cars to aim for? Have to talked to the state police about what safety campaigns they're conducting this year?

John Townsend: Hello Richmond,

As you raise an interesting issue, it's a reminder for all of us to by move over and give State Troopers and law enforcement officials the room to move safely on the side of the road.

Virginia's Move Over law has been on the books for seven years now. Violators face a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.

Motorists in 41 states are required to "move over" when they see the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle on the roadside, yet public awareness remains low.

Virginia State Police and local law enforcement agencies will be out in full force during the Fourth of July holiday to keep the roads safe during the Fourth. They are trying to stop the carnage that occurs on highway during the holidays.

During the 2008 Fourth of July holiday period, Virginia State Police cited a total of 17,580 traffic and criminal violations, including: 153 for DUI; 7,943 for speeding; 2,077 for reckless driving; 293 for not using child restraints; and 808 for seatbelt violations. State police also responded to and investigated 755 total traffic crashes, with 10 fatalities and 179 involving injuries.

As of Monday, June 29, 2009, there have been 345 reported traffic fatalities in Virginia, compared to 412 this time last year.

In addition, the state police will be cracking down on impaired drivers with an aggressive enforcement blitz.

Virginia law enforcement officers will conduct concentrated DUI enforcement operations during the Fourth of July holiday as part of this year's regional Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign.

As an aside, AAA is pushing for the enactment in all 50 states of "Move Over" laws that cover tow trucks and other roadside assistance vehicles in addition to law enforcement vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances. Have a great holiday.

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Bethesda, Md.: What is traffic going to be like on the Beltway tomorrow at rush hour -- like a Saturday, or still pretty busy?

John Townsend: Hello Bethesda,

Things should calm down by then, and the Beltway should return to normalcy, if you can use that term when talking about traffic on the Capital Beltway. Traffic volume on the Beltway can be as high as 225,000 vehicles per day. I swear up and down there are even more.

It won't be a walk in the park, but it will be like a Saturday, as you have rightly ventured.

Is that normality or not on this fabled circumferential roadway?

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Washington, D.C.: What is the law on talking on a cell phone while driving in the D.C. metro area? What about texting while a car is stopped? I've texted before while stuck in traffic jams. Is this now illegal?

John Townsend: Hello DC

The District has been and remains on the cutting edge of this issue. It comprehensively banned anyone from talking on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device.

Distracted Driving - including the use of cell phones - is a major contributor to automobile crashes. Between 4,000 and 8,000 crashes related to distracted driving occur daily in the United States. In a year, they contribute to as many as one-half of the 6 million U.S. crashes reported annually.

All told, five states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington), the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from talking on handheld cell phones while driving.

The same applies to texting while driving. It is against the law in the District. 14 states and the District of Columbia now ban text messaging for all drivers. Virginia is the latest to do so.

There is absolutely no doubt that typing a message on a one-by-one inch screen takes a driver's eyes and mind off of the road and creates a dangerous and deadly scenario. This law will clearly make our roadways safer for everyone.

By the way, Virginia motorists rank sixth in the nation for sheer volume of text messages sent and received according to an on-line survey conducted by Vlingo in May 2008. The same survey revealed that one-third of Virginia drivers admit to texting while driving.

Maryland's ban on text messaging by all drivers was signed into law on April 7 by Governor Martin O'Malley. It goes into effect on October 1, 2009.

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Move Over law: I thought the "move-over law" stated that you need to move over a lane only if it's safe to do so. I always slow down, but sometimes it's not possible to move over a lane without stopping completely (and blocking a lane of traffic, which would probably get me in more trouble). What's the actual law?

John Townsend:

Good question. Put simply, move over laws require motorists to change lanes to provide an empty travel lane between their vehicle and emergency vehicles along the roadside, or to slow down while approaching-and passing-a traffic incident, if moving to another lane is not possible.

The move over law in Virginia, for example, requires drivers to vacate the lane closest to a stationary emergency vehicle.

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Hammonton, N.J.: Re: "Getting through Delaware." There are alternatives -- I made the trip to Takoma Park from South Jersey on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Usually, the trip takes +/- 3 hours on non-holidays. It took us from 22:30 P.M. TO 6: P.M. -- ALL volume, and a brutal trip. Fortunately, all but two accidents were headed the opposite way.

Coming Northbound, we took 395 to the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel -- next to no traffic, always -- vs. FS Key -- got off onto 40, although Wilmington was no picnic, and re-joined 95 to get over the Del. Mem. Bridge into N.J. (Delaware 1 is a new highway, but getting back on to 95 around Christana can be a problem and take long enough to negate any change. 395 to 40 is not as fast, but scenic and many more rest stops/food/drink opportunities.

John Townsend: Hello Hammonton.

You know the road. Thanks for sharing your insight and wisdom. Your comments are very helpful and timely. No doubt, many travelers will benefit from your tips.

Have a great holiday.

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Fairfax, Va.: A few weekends ago, we had a disastrous experience on the Wilson Bridge where some truly gifted person decided to close all but one lane on a beautiful Saturday at noon. It took us an hour just to get to the next exit to turn around and go home.

Any chance the Wilson Bridge geniuses will try that again this weekend?

John Townsend:

Mercy, mercy me and Lord have mercy on you Fairfax.

You won't have that problem this time around. We are not aware on any construction-related activities on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge this weekend.

As to other roads in Northern Virginia, VDOT will suspend all lane closures on interstates and heavily traveled primary routes for the holiday. That went into effect about two hours ago, beginning at high noon today, July 2.

This will continue through noon Monday, July 6.

As to the Wilson Bridge, it should be smooth sailing for you and enjoy the view.

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Washington, D.C.: Will Metro be running a normal weekday schedule tomorrow, or a holiday schedule?

John Townsend: Hello D.C.

Metro is working on that even as we speak, and the good folks at the Washington Post will provide a link to you on this within a few moments.

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washingtonpost.com: Metrorail to operate on a Saturday schedule with expanded service beginning at 4 p.m. (WMATA, June 30) and Metro to operate on a Saturday schedule on Friday, July 3 (WMATA, July 2)

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Washington, D.C.: Where can I find a list of the bridge closings between NOVA and D.C.? Thanks!

John Townsend: You can find the complete list of road closure on the District Department of Transportation's website. In fact, here is the link.

http://newsroom.dc.gov/show.aspx/agency/ddot/section/24/release/17517.

Hope this helps. Have a great Fourth.

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washingtonpost.com: TRAFFIC ADVISORY: Road Closures for Independence Day 7 (District Department of Transportation)

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Washington, D.C.: What would be the best time to leave on Friday a.m. to head to Virginia Beach? 6 a.m. or earlier? Also, how about the trip back? I would like to minimize just sitting on the highway. Thank you!

John Townsend: The early bird always gets the worm, or so the old saying goes. This pearl of wisdom would help you as you fly the coop to Virginia Beach. Go early. Come back late. Beat the crowd. Have a great vacation and don't ruin it by sitting in traffic.

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Woodbridge, Va.: So if lots of people are taking off tonight and tomorrow, what do you think traffic will be like on 95-south in Virginia on Saturday around noon? We're heading to the Outer Banks.

John Townsend: You should have the road to yourself. All kidding aside, that's is a good time to travel.

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Arlington, Va.: I need to travel from Arlington to Charlottesville tomorrow, which times should I avoid? I was thinking traffic might not be bad, most of the people I know who are leaving town plan to depart today.

John Townsend: You have a pretty good handle on this. I would head out in the morning around seven or so and beat the crowd.

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Bethany Beach, Del.: What time would you suggest heading home to D.C. from Bethany on Sunday?

John Townsend: Enjoy the beach as long as possible on Sunday, and head out around dusk.

Roll the windows down, put on some good music, and let the wind blow into your face. This is life at its finest.

It will be a beautiful trip.

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Sterling, Va.: Can you tell me more about this "Move Over" law? I've never heard of it. Sure, I try to give some room if there's a police car on the shoulder, but if there's traffic in the lane to my left, am I supposed to stop? How come they made a law to cover cops in this situation but not for construction workers?

John Townsend:

Hello Sterling,

You are not alone, although 41 states currently have some form of move-over laws, most motorists are shocked when they are pulled over for failing to observe one of the most obscure laws on the books.

Move-over laws require motorists traveling on multi-lane roadways to, when practical, merge away from a vehicle working on the side of the highway to provide an empty travel land of safety for emergency workers and personnel.

If not practical (either due to traffic volume or road design), the motorists must slow significantly below the posted speed limit while passing the emergency personnel or roadside worker.

Why such a law? In 2005, 390 workers were killed in struck-by incidents, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), accounting for seven percent of all fatal occupational injuries.

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Washington, D.C.: I am planning to leave tomorrow morning for the Delaware beaches. What time of morning would you suggest is best for avoiding major traffic?

John Townsend: The word "morning" is operative. Go early my friend, go early.

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Bowie, Md.: I'm leaving for Ocean City Friday from D.C. in the afternoon, about maybe 2 or so. How bad will the traffic be? I'm okay with sitting in traffic (or else I wouldn't travel at all this weekend), but I'm hoping it will be relatively clear, as a lot of people may be traveling today instead of tomorrow. Do you think that will be the case?

John Townsend: Hello Bowie, as to Friday, here's what the Maryland Transportation Authority recommends:

Go before noon and after 10 p.m.

Enjoy the span and the trip.

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John Townsend: Well, that's it folks. As much as I enjoyed chatting with you, sorry I didn't have time to get to all of your questions.

Have a great Fourth, and don't forget to celebrate our Freedom and the to remember the 4000 US Marines engaged in a pitch battle with the Taliban in the searing heat.

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