Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I need a disc replacement, and my fillings have fallen out! Yes, I'm talking about the roadways.
I travel University Boulevard every day from Adelphi to the Beltway. The condition of the pavement is deplorable. There are about 15 places where the pavement is buckling, or where there are potholes, deep ruts and places where the blacktop has been worn away right down to the concrete base.
I've contacted the Maryland State Highway Administration several times and have been told that there is a project slated for improving University Boulevard. But I've been told that for years. I've also pointed out the poor timing of the lights and was told the agency would look into it.
Please give us some relief! I have the definite feeling that, because we are in a lower-income area of the state, we are getting the little end of the horn. I would appreciate it if you could get us some straight information.
Mary S. Mood
It might seem like it, but you're not at the end of the road maintenance pipeline, Ms. Mood. In fact, most state maintenance funds go to Prince George's and Montgomery counties because that is where the most traffic is, according to Dave Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
There are three resurfacing projects scheduled for University Boulevard (Route 193):
1. From New Hampshire Avenue to 23rd Avenue, beginning this month and ending in July.
2. From 23rd Avenue to Adelphi Road, starting in August and finishing in spring 2005.
3. From New Hampshire Avenue to Piney Branch Road, starting in spring 2005 and ending that summer.
Each of these segments is about a mile, and the last two include guardrail and drainage work. Help is on the way, Ms. Mood!
Pothole Repair Backup
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
On Saturday, May 1, about 3 p.m., there was a large backup on westbound Route 50 from Bowie to about two miles before the Beltway.
Only one lane was open at the head of the backup. Radio traffic reports said there was an accident. I did not see disabled cars or an accident, but there appeared to be construction in one or two of the three lanes that were closed.
There were a few workmen -- about three -- and only a truck or two. My impression was that a minimal crew was at work on a limited task, and that only two lanes were being worked on.
Will this work and lane closure also be done on weekdays, and, if so, for how much longer? What was the real cause of the lane closures?
Irvin A. Lavine
The Maryland State Highway Administration is doing some weekend pothole patching on westbound Route 50 between Route 301 and the Beltway. It sounds like you got caught.
The state closes one or two lanes for the work but tries to keep two lanes open, including the far left HOV lane, which is being used for all traffic in the construction area. Still, it will cause delays.
Work will continue to the end of June on the westbound lanes, on weekends only. Potholes in the eastbound lanes have been filled.
Traffic Fix Brings Problems
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Thanks for staying on top of things with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge/Beltway/Interstate 295/Route 210/etc. boondoggle.
As a frequent traveler along that stretch, I would claim from observation that Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Dave Buck, whom you cite in your April 15 column, must surely be reading off a very old game plan if he says that "you should see relief as a result of new traffic patterns in a few weeks."
The so-called "S" ramp, in the letter from Rick Pike of Charles County that initiated your inquiry, seems to have been stalemated for at least the past 15 months, and I have seen no sign of active construction at that particular bottleneck during that time.
I will eagerly await your promised follow-up status report!
Here it is. I met with several key officials of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project and was told it is on schedule -- no small feat, considering that the $2.4 billion project is the second-largest public works endeavor in the country.
It encompasses 7.5 Beltway miles, two new bridges over the Potomac, the destruction of the current bridge and the rebuilding of four Beltway interchanges -- two in Virginia and two in Maryland. The Maryland interchanges will be at I-295 and Route 210.
When completed in 2008, the new bridges and Maryland interchanges should make it much easier for you to get on and off the Beltway, cross the Potomac River and travel through the Route 210 corridor. In the meantime, we've got growing pains.
Regarding your specific complaints about the "S" curve (ramps and bridges that connect Route 210 with I-295), the northbound roadway was converted from two lanes north to one lane in each direction because project officials have closed the southbound lanes to rebuild them. Taking one lane from northbound "S" curve traffic has created significant delays on Route 210.
Both northbound lanes should reopen this month, according to Scott C. Crumley, a senior project engineer. But that will just move the bottleneck to the other end of the "S" curve, where two northbound lanes will merge into one. At least moving the bottleneck farther north will get more motorists off Route 210. The two lanes of the northbound "S" will be opened onto I-295 in 2006.
The District government, meanwhile, is widening its share of I-295 from four lanes to six. That should be completed in August, Crumley said. The Wilson Bridge project also will widen I-295 to six lanes from the District line to the "S" curve. That should be finished in 2008.
The first of the two main bridges over the Potomac should be opened to traffic in both directions in 2006. The second main bridge, which will carry inner loop Beltway traffic, is scheduled for completion in 2008. When the project is complete, each new bridge will carry five lanes of traffic plus a sixth lane reserved for future mass transit use.
The Beltway will be widened by one lane in each direction for the entire 7.5-mile length of the project.
Those are the short- and long-term views. Please write if you have more questions. Meantime, you can follow the progress of the project by logging on to www.wilsonbridge.com.
Adding Metro Parking
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Why would Metro close the lot where the new parking garage is to be built at New Carrollton if no construction has started?
It has been closed for weeks and the only discernible activity has been the erection of a chain-link fence to keep people out.
Lawrence D. Quinn
I understand your concern. Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says work is underway, but some, such as surveying and other site preparation, might not be obvious.
When completed in November 2005, the 1,850-space parking garage will about double the number of available parking spots at New Carrollton. That is good news for commuters.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Hi, Dr. Gridlock. I'm 14, and I noticed an inappropriate license plate.
In health class at Pyle Middle School, we discussed drugs, and one of them was ecstasy.
I was in the car and I noticed a Maryland farm license plate that had the letters XTC. I thought that might be inappropriate to some people because it might mean a drug. Thank you very much.
Thanks for being alert to possible license plate abuse, Anton. I'm impressed. Put it in your college application.
Here's what I found out from Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration spokesman Jeff Tosi:
The MVA will review and reject any vanity license plate that is flat-out offensive. However, because there are so many requests for vanity plates, there is no paper trail that tells us whether a plate has been reviewed. A reviewer told Tosi that the XTC plate probably did not raise any questions. It could be someone's initials or refer to a loved one, Tosi said.
Vanity plate applicants who fill out the required MVA form VR-164 are not asked the reason for wanting a particular plate. If a request is rejected, the applicant can ask for a hearing and explain the request, Tosi said.
This is a tricky area. Consider this: There is a Maryland plate out there that has generated numerous complaints to the MVA. It is "COPSLIE." That plate was reviewed by the MVA legal counsel's office and found acceptable because of free speech considerations.
Myself, I think both XTC and COPSLIE should be rejected, but I'm not the authority here.
To report a questionable plate, contact the MVA at 1-800-950-1MVA or log on to www.marylandmva.com and click on "e-mail us." Either way, you should trigger a review and get a response, Tosi said.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am curious about two cameras with bright lights along Maryland highways that don't appear to be normal traffic cameras.
One is attached to an overhead sign on the southbound side of I-95 just south of the Route 32 interchange. Along with the camera is a bright light that shines directly down into one of the center lanes at night.
The other camera setup is along the southbound side of Route 29 near Columbia, just south of the Route 32 interchange. It is attached to a signpost in the median and also includes a bright light that shines directly on the lanes of traffic.
The camera and light are mounted rather low, so the light is very distracting to traffic at night.
There is no indication of a regular traffic camera anywhere near that vicinity. Is it possible Maryland is testing out speed cameras in those locations?
There are four cameras -- two on I-95 southbound and two on Route 29 southbound -- all taking pictures of the rear of vehicles (not designed to distract motorists). This is a $100,000 pilot project to determine how long it takes to travel a certain distance on I-95 vs. parallel Route 29, where there are three construction projects.
Eventually, the state may be able to post travel time electronically to give motorists a choice. Results are expected by the end of this year.
Where's the Sign?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Going north on I-95, I got in an open HOV lane, intending to exit eastbound on the Beltway. I never saw a sign or exit, and I had to get to New York Avenue to head for Annapolis.
Is there a sign I missed at the Beltway?
There is no Beltway connection from the northbound HOV lanes on I-95/I-395 in Virginia. There is supposed to be a sign on the northbound HOV lanes that says, "Last Exit Before Pentagon." That sign is just before the Route 644 exit (Springfield-Franconia), just outside the Beltway.
If you want to use the northbound HOV lanes next time, I suggest you follow I-395 into the District, get off at the Pennsylvania Avenue exit, turn right at the top of the exit ramp onto the Pennsylvania Avenue (Sousa) Bridge, then turn left at the next light onto Kenilworth Avenue (D.C. Route 295) and take the Route 50 exit to Annapolis. That route avoids a lot of traffic lights on New York Avenue and, depending on the time of day, might be shorter than using the Beltway around the Prince George's side.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at email@example.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.