Dear Dr. Gridlock:
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 in gridlock.
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, 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. It gives the appearance of conflict of interest.
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 right in the middle of weekday evening rush hours 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 a lawyer 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.
Growth's I-66 Impact
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 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. They even want to use 10 acres of Fairfax County parkland. How will I-66 be able to handle all of this traffic?
If this new 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 Interstate 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.
A Hybrid Answer
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I don't disagree with you that a commute from Fredericksburg to the inner D.C. area is tough, but I'm surprised you didn't suggest a hybrid vehicle -- and its HOV exemption -- to the person who asked you about moving there.
A co-worker of mine lives in Fredericksburg and loves the lifestyle and cost of living. He leaves early and drives his Toyota Prius hybrid, using the HOV lanes, and gets to work in Lanham in less than an hour and 15 minutes.
Your friend can use the HOV lanes in Virginia only until June 30, 2006, when the state legislation expires that authorized an HOV exemption for vehicles powered by gasoline and electricity, such as the Prius.
It is not at all clear that the legislation will be renewed, since the federal government is making noise that exemptions for HOV lanes (which the feds built) should not be granted for low-emission vehicles (such as the Prius), but rather only for zero-emission vehicles.
Also, please note that Maryland does not grant an HOV exemption for gas-electric hybrids such as the Prius.
That said, I'm pleased your friend has found commuting happiness and grateful he is using a vehicle that consumes far less gas (it gets about 45 or 50 miles per gallon) than conventional vehicles. Last time I checked in my neighborhood, there was an 18-month waiting list for the Toyota Prius.
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 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.
Alternative to I-95
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I first tried using Interstate 81 as an alternative to Interstate 95 while on a trip to Atlanta a few years ago to avoid the Washington-to-Richmond congestion.
I have family in Richmond and drive down I-95 quite frequently, so I wanted different scenery, as well as a less stressful drive, for my Atlanta trip.
So I take Interstate 66 west to I-81 south, then pick up Interstate 77 south near the Virginia-North Carolina border and use that to connect to Interstate 85 in Charlotte for the last leg to Atlanta.
Because I have friends and family in Atlanta and central Florida, I take driving trips a couple of times a year, and this route is now my preference for any trip that takes me south of Virginia.
You've mentioned the heavy truck traffic on I-81, but on my several trips using that route, I have yet to identify trucks as a problem.
Weather conditions permitting, traffic moves along at a pace that's fast enough even for this regular Beltway speeder!
The principal congested interstate highway segment that southbound travelers should avoid at all costs, in my view, is I-95 between our Beltway and Fredericksburg. Only slightly better is I-95 from Fredericksburg to Richmond. You've avoided both. Congratulations.
By the way, I recently got stuck in an awful traffic jam on southbound I-95 near Richmond while en route to eastern North Carolina.
Then I remembered that four-lane Route 301 runs parallel to I-95 about five miles to the east. So I bailed out at the next exit and bypassed the incident with ease.
While this pops up on the landscape, there are no significant improvements to any of the boundary roads mentioned above. 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.
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 lack of enough dedicated revenue.
Give 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.
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.