Dear Dr. Gridlock:
On Jan. 22 about 6 p.m., I got off the Metro Orange Line at New Carrollton and learned I had missed my bus to Bowie by three minutes. The next bus was about 30 minutes away and it was bitterly cold and windy. The Metro shelter is open air, but right next to it is a large, enclosed, heated waiting area for Amtrak. The place has seats and restrooms, and was at most half full. I took a seat and within a few minutes heard this voice, presumably of a guard, coming over the public address system saying something like this:
"This waiting area is for Amtrak riders only. I will be checking for Amtrak tickets shortly. Any Metro riders I find will be liable for a $250 to $500 fine and immediate arrest. So go ahead, I could use the overtime."
At that point I went back
outside. This guard was inhumane in forcing Metro riders out into the cold and rude over the public address system, but was he right? Is this Amtrak policy? What about people waiting for family and friends aboard Amtrak; they have no tickets. Why are Metro riders forced into the cold when they are not depriving Amtrak users of seats? Why does Amtrak have this policy? JOHN R. BUTLER Bowie
Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens from time to time: A heavy-handed soul takes it upon himself to give instructions. Sometimes these enforcers are wrong as well as rude. That seems to be the case here. The best way to deal with them is to alert their supervisors.
"Amtrak does not have a policy that disallows non-Amtrak riders from using that station, and we don't have a policy to see tickets of passengers," said Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black. "That announcement was not correct and it should not have been made. We're sorry that this occurred."
Metro passengers use the Amtrak facility all the time, he said. "There is some concern that a huge number of Metro passengers use the restrooms there and that requires a considerable amount of work on the part of Amtrak to clean up, but we have not expelled Metro passengers," Black said. The agency would ask someone to leave only if the person appeared to be a vagrant or otherwise were hanging out in the station with no apparent purpose, he said. If there were a snowstorm and Amtrak passengers could not get to the passenger service representatives, Amtrak's officials might try to make room for its passengers, but that was not the case here.
Black said that apparently a roving Amtrak policeman made the announcement, and that the agency is looking into it.
The Great Beltway Debate
As you know, dear readers, our Beltway has a split personality. Half of it is Interstate 495 and half is I-95. That has been the subject of repeated complaints in your letters for years. The split makes little sense to those of us living in the area; it makes directions harder to give and it's easier for visitors to get lost.
It has never been clear why the overlapping segments can't have dual interstate designations, as many of you suggest. After all, there are many examples of dual interstate segments (see photo on next page for one).
In 1987, after some of your complaints in this column, Maryland State Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery) tried to get the entire Beltway redesignated I-495. His measure passed unanimously in the Maryland Senate, but was defeated in the House amid opposition from the Maryland State Highway Administration. Instead, Maryland and Virginia put up white, square signs reading, "Capital Beltway." Trouble is, they are hard to read, and are no substitute for the interstate numbers.
Now, with a new state secretary of transportation, James Lighthizer, Denis is trying again. A resolution introduced in the Senate calls for Maryland Highway officials to apply to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to either rename the entire Beltway I-495 or put up dual I-95-I-495 signs.
"I don't see any reason to oppose it," Denis said. "Normally you can see the other side of an issue, but not with this one. This seems to exist because of bureaucratic inertia. I've heard from people in Virginia too. It's just impossible to give directions."
Maryland's senior highway officials disagree. The current system "has not caused a whole lot of problems we're aware of," said Thomas Hicks, deputy chief engineer for traffic. "We feel the double numbering will cause problems and be expensive to change."
Originally, I-95 was to have gone through the District, and the Beltway was to remain I-495, which it was before 1975. But the District decided against the I-95 extension, shifting resources instead to mass transit. Local officials then decided to rename half the Beltway I-95 to provide an easy-to-follow route for the major East Coast highway from Maine to Florida.
The highway association, a collection of government transportation officials, would have the final say on any change. "I don't know of any criteria that would preclude dual numbering in this instance, but it would have to be considered by the special committee on route numbering," said David Hensing, the association's deputy executive director.
The Federal Highway Administration, Virginia and the District, in addition to Maryland, all would have to agree to make the change.
The Federal Highway Administration had no problems last time the doctor checked. In fact, that agency thought dual signing made the most sense. Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the District's highway agency, said, "I can't imagine we'd object" to dual signing. After checking with senior officials, a Virginia transportation spokeswoman, Mary Anne Reynolds, said, "If the Maryland legislators do convince Maryland highway officials to request dual signing on the Beltway, Virginia would support the request to give motorists a clear and uniform signing on each side of the Potomac River."
Denis's bill comes before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and, if passed, would need approval of the full state legislature and the governor. If you feel like writing or calling Denis to support or oppose his resolution, call 301-841-3124 or write him at Room 402B, Senate Office Building, Annapolis, Md. 21401-1991.
Good luck, Sen. Denis.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
You advised us in December that the ramp from Key Bridge would be closed Dec. 10. Are you aware that other than the ramp being blocked by Jersey barriers that no work has taken place in that area for nearly two months?
The only sign of activity is the electric signs put up and the revision to the metal signs that continually advise you that you cannot make a right turn onto M Street. Why not? The right turn was closed previously because of the hazard of turning into the traffic coming off the ramp. Now that they have closed that ramp, why can't we turn right onto M Street?
And does this two months of inactivity count against the seven months that the ramp will be closed? J. DANIEL HANEY Upperville
About 50,000 people a day have been using the Whitehurst Freeway, and 10,000 of those have used that connecting ramp to Key Bridge, so we ought to address your specific concerns. It's going to be a long project.
Right now, the construction work is going on at the other end of the half-mile Whitehurst, undergoing its first major overhaul since it was built in 1949.
As you know, only two of the four lanes are open at any time, and the city has made those lanes one-way: outbound from 2:30 to 9 p.m. weekdays, and inbound the rest of the time. The two lanes are constricted a little farther by the ongoing construction, so it's slower than usual.
The city decided to close the off ramp connecting the Whitehurst to Key Bridge because there are new traffic patterns involving the Theodore Roosevelt and Key bridges, and the outbound Key Bridge flow no longer can effectively handle traffic coming off the Whitehurst.
If you need to know the details, here they are, as provided by D.C. public works spokeswoman Tara Hamilton:
A new, fourth outbound lane recently was added to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, Mr. Haney, and the District hopes that Virginia-bound motorists like you will use that bridge for the time being, to lessen the traffic flow on the already scrunched Whitehurst.
City officials have temporarily changed the flow on the Key Bridge so that instead of three lanes inbound and three outbound, there are four inbound and two outbound. They did this to give more emphasis to travelers heading from Key Bridge into Georgetown, or west into the District.
The two remaining outbound Key Bridge lanes already have to handle the two left turn lanes coming onto the bridge from M Street in Georgetown, plus the Canal Road traffic turning right onto the bridge. Mixing the Whitehurst Freeway traffic into this mix would cause substantial new congestion.
In short, you should use the Roosevelt Bridge.
Yes, these two months of construction count. The Whitehurst ramp onto Key Bridge, and that from Key Bridge onto the Whitehurst, should be opened in about five months, and the one-way Whitehurst routing should continue for another 13 months. The entire project is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 1993.
The Doctor is Moving
After 4 1/2 years in this spot, the Dr. Gridlock column will be moving to a new home soon. Starting Thursday, Feb. 21, the column will appear on the front page of the Weekly, and will appear there each Thursday thereafter.
Dr. Gridlock appears each week to explore commuting matters. You can write (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.