Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I grew up in Fairfax County, so I've seen the area grow dramatically. I'm concerned about the latest growth trend along Interstate 66 west of the Beltway. Apartment buildings are going up all along I-66. Traffic on I-66 and connecting roads will be intolerable in a few years.
Is the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors calculating the impact on traffic before approving these projects?
A huge development is proposed next to I-66 and the Vienna Metro station near the Beltway. Developers want to build eight high-rise buildings, ranging from 10 to 14 stories, plus smaller condominium buildings and townhouses. All told, it would add 2,350 housing units. How will I-66 handle all of this traffic?
If this growth is approved, the junction of I-66 and the Beltway will become the next Mixing Bowl.
You're right to be concerned. Consider the traffic on I-66 now, with stop-and-go segments for five hours each morning and evening and increasing traffic on weekends. Add to that traffic from the eight high-rise apartment buildings you describe as proposed for Vienna. If we keep pouring more and more vehicles onto our clogged road system, everybody loses.
Does the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors consider traffic impact when it approves development? Apparently not. Consider that in recent years the county has approved a massive residential and commercial development bounded by I-66, Route 29 and the Fairfax County Parkway. The center of this is a spiffy, upscale commercial center called Fairfax Corner.
While this pops up on the landscape, there are no significant improvements to any of those boundary roads. The state also has no money to make improvements, now or in the foreseeable future. Yet thousands more vehicles will pour onto these roads.
At some point we will reach a saturation point where nobody moves at all. The county supervisors seem to be in a race to get there.
Futile Hunt for Exit
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Recently my husband and I went to the Eastern Shore using a route you suggested, which was far better than driving halfway around the Beltway. (We live in Chantilly.)
The route we took was Interstate 66 to Route 110 around the Pentagon, then picking up Interstate 395 north to Interstate 295 north. We didn't realize that I-395 divides, so we wound up going through the tunnels underneath Capitol Hill. But eventually we came to New York Avenue and headed east, so we were fine.
However, we tried to take your route home using Route 50 to I-295 south, then crossing the Sousa Bridge and picking up I-395 and Route 110 again. We obviously missed signs, an exit or something; we didn't see any exit off I-295 for Pennsylvania Avenue going west, only Pennsylvania Avenue going east.
So we remained southbound on I-295, looking for an exit to I-395, and didn't find that, either. We wound up staying on I-295 until we got to the Beltway and crossed the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Virginia.
Help! Once we're on I-295 coming south, how do we get back onto I-395 to return to Fairfax County? Is that highway not accessible when you're coming from the east? Or is this another problem with poor signage on some of the D.C. area's freeways?
What you encountered was a combination of incomplete interchanges and bad signs. There is no exit from D.C. 295 south to Pennsylvania Avenue west. So you can keep going south on 295 to one of the worst-marked exits in the city. That exit, marked "Howard Road -- Downtown," will take you over the South Capitol Street Bridge and onto I-395, although neither of those is mentioned on the exit sign.
At the base of the exit ramp, turn right onto Howard Road and go one block through a seedy area, then turn right at the next light and thread your way onto the South Capitol Street Bridge. The entrance to I-395 is dead ahead.
The way you took, by the way, from I-295 south to the Beltway, avoids all that maneuvering but does run the risk of construction delays.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Why is it that a populace as educated as this area's does not understand the word yield when it is emblazoned on a triangular sign?
Yield does not mean accelerate and cut off other motorists; it does not mean proceed at normal speed as if there were no sign at all; and it does not mean you have the right of way.
On Interstate 66, going west, evening traffic will roll down from Nutley Street and pay zero heed to the yield sign, which affects those trying to exit onto Nutley Street from the I-66 access road.
And God help the motorist who actually does slow down or stop to accommodate traffic when there is a yield sign present; the next maniac along will roar up on your bumper and lean on the horn, completely stunned that someone would actually be yielding.
Part of the problem is the general absence of engineering in the planning and construction of on- and off-ramps -- lanes cross, exiting and entering traffic must contend for road space and the volume only worsens -- a situation apparently devised by the design firm of Moe, Larry and Curley.
But there also seems to be no clear understanding of yielding the right of way. Might you explain yield signs and the do's and don'ts of same?
Yield means a motorist should slow or stop until it is safe to proceed. Some motorists apparently pay no heed. That's why we all need to drive defensively.
Give Buses and Trucks Room
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
This morning on the Dulles Toll Road, the Fairfax Connector bus we were on was cut off by a small sedan.
Thanks to our driver's quick action, a wreck and serious injuries were avoided, but we were all shaken, and those of us standing were thrown around.
I hope you will remind your readers that buses and trucks cannot stop as quickly as cars and should be given more room on the road. I was taught that unless you can see both headlights from a truck or bus in your rearview, not side-view, mirror, you are too close to pull in front of it safely.
Thanks for the reminder. Give large vehicles plenty of room when pulling in front of them.
Tie-Ups Near Nissan
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have never written to you before, but this time I've been driven over the edge. Nissan Pavilion traffic is just unbearable.
Living in Gainesville off Route 29, we know we can't expect to get home when everyone is coming for a show at Nissan, but we figured we could leave the area going in the opposite direction. Wrong!
Apparently these Nissaners get off Interstate 66 onto the Route 234 Bypass, and instead of getting into the right lane to turn onto Wellington Road, they get into the left lane (probably to get ahead of everyone else), and through traffic (left lane) is tied up.
Why can't the police keep these concertgoers from using the through lane? Why isn't the signage better?
Those of us who live in Gainesville are tortured by Nissan traffic all summer. The powers that be need to do something -- perhaps move Nissan Pavilion to West Virginia.
It doesn't seem fair that entertainment for the few should have such a negative impact on a whole community.
No, it doesn't. But that is what is happening on scores of nights, mostly during evening rush hours. Routes 28 and 29 and I-66 are backed up for miles, well into Fairfax County.
You ask why police can't keep these concertgoers from gridlocking traffic. Maybe it's because so many county police officers work for Nissan Pavilion, spending off-duty hours on traffic control and event security. Do we really think police officers will take action against motorists trying to get to a Nissan event when their off-duty jobs are to get people into the event?
That is precisely why I'm against police taking off-duty jobs with commercial concerns.
You ask why the signage isn't better. I don't know about this case, but the Virginia Department of Transportation tends to do a notoriously poor job of posting adequate, accurate signs.
Make a (very specific) list of what should be posted, and I'll forward it to VDOT.
You say the powers that be need to do something. The powers that be are the same ones who approved this venue in the first place, putting Nissan Pavilion in the middle of weekday evening rush hour traffic without an adequate road system to get concertgoers to their events. Everybody suffers.
These powers are members of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. They are more the cause of the problem than the solution.
They put the pavilion alongside traffic-choked I-66 while approving thousands of new homes in nearby Gainesville and Bristow, a terrible disservice to poor Prince William (and Fairfax) County commuters who just want to get home.
Maybe an attorney out there should look into getting Nissan Pavilion declared a public nuisance and closed -- a casualty of gridlock.
What do you think?
HOT Lanes, Essentially
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
It is with some amusement that I keep reading debates on whether we should create high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to help ease traffic congestion in this region.
Despite its overwhelming success in California, I continue to read stories here bemoaning the idea as beneficial only to the rich who can afford the tolls, hence the "Lexus lane" nickname.
I laugh about this because apparently no one has noticed that we essentially have had HOT lanes here for a number of years, and they seem to work pretty well.
Commuting to work daily from Leesburg, I have a choice. I can pay the toll and ride the deserted Dulles Greenway at the 65 mph posted speed limit (actual speeds may vary upward), or I can take Route 7 toward the Beltway for free but sit snarled in traffic all the way while inhaling exhaust fumes and guzzling gas that could easily have paid for the tolls in the first place.
Is this not the same choice the proposed HOT lanes offer? Ride for free in main lanes that are usually full or pay a variable toll to ride in what is likely a lane nearly devoid of traffic?
Frankly, I don't understand the problem some people have with this. We already have it, it works, and we should support anything that moves some cars around and alleviates everyone's traffic nightmares.
I couldn't agree more. What is being studied is the construction of two extra lanes on the Beltway, in each direction, between the Springfield Interchange and near Route 193 (Georgetown Pike). These lanes would be free to HOV-2 vehicles and accessible to single-occupant vehicles for a toll, to be deducted through an electronic transponder mounted on the vehicle.
The new lanes would be built by private enterprise, with reimbursement from tolls.
Single drivers could make a choice: Stick with the conventional lanes or pay a toll to use the faster-flowing (in theory) HOT lanes. I don't see how anybody loses here.
Metro's Sign Outages
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Why are the Metro overhead arrival signs so frequently not functioning or not functioning properly, especially for the Red Line at Van Ness going south, the Yellow Line headed toward Huntington at Gallery Place, and all of the signs at Reagan National Airport, which rarely work?
At Gallery Place, the Green Line signs operate perfectly. The Yellow Line is ignored except when the train enters the station.
As soon as the Green Line train leaves that station for Branch Avenue, another message pops up immediately telling the wait time for the next Green Line train, when it should let passengers know what the wait time is for the Yellow Line train.
Consider this, Ms. Woodard: Metro is an agency that has had no idea how much money had been collected from its parking lots and had no idea what it was owed. That went on for years and led to a significant loss of revenue.
To cure the problem, the agency decided to eliminate cash transactions and force customers to buy a SmarTrip card for $5 and use that -- and that alone -- for parking transactions.
However, once the new policy was announced and the public started buying the SmarTrip cards, Metro discovered it didn't have enough cards. Now you're reporting all sorts of cockeyed signs. I ask you, considering the above, are we surprised?
I'm beginning to wonder if Metro's problems are deeper than just a lack of enough dedicated revenue.
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 at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.