Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I cannot even finish reading your column without writing a response to Kyle Thompson of Leesburg (Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 26).
What time of the day does he travel on the "deserted" Dulles Greenway -- 5 a.m.?
My husband and I live in Ashburn and travel to Tysons Corner and Reston, respectively. Although we leave home an hour apart (7 and 8 a.m.), we both hit a lot of traffic on the Greenway.
Most mornings, the main toll plaza is backed up one-fourth to one-half mile (on a good day!). And, for that benefit, we will pay an even higher toll this month.
Perhaps the higher toll will cause the amount of traffic to decrease, so that the Dulles Greenway becomes deserted, but that's just not the case right now.
Cathy W. Lyons
Traffic Courts Abound
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
A friend of mine had to go to traffic court in Fairfax County recently. I was very surprised to learn that Fairfax County has four courtrooms tied up each day exclusively for traffic court.
The courtroom he was in was for tickets issued through the use of a radar gun. The court was started by the announcement of the calibration statistics of the radar gun in use.
The officer who issued the tickets has a regular schedule for appearing in court, along with a prosecutor and, of course, a judge.
I found this discovery most unsettling. This isn't about protecting the public. This is about speed traps, red-light cameras and every other way to gouge the public.
With four courtrooms running Monday through Friday, all day, it is mind-boggling to think how much money Fairfax County is collecting.
And this is only the people who go to court.
How many tickets are issued and paid by people who don't want to take a day of vacation and chance a judge who'll charge them for a violation whether they're guilty or innocent?
Things like this make me believe that it's time for taxpayers to tell government that enough is enough.
Not the taxpayers who write me. They want more enforcement, more tickets and more fines of the traffic scofflaws, including HOV violators, red-light runners, tailgaters, speeders and drunk and reckless drivers.
They want this because they figure their time on our roads would be less stressful and less dangerous.
Give Toll Lanes a Spin?
In case you missed it, Virginia's transportation commissioner has directed the state Department of Transportation to enter negotiations with the company Fluor Danielto build two more lanes each way on the Capital Beltway, from near the Springfield interchange to north of the Dulles Toll Road.
This public-private partnership would allow the extra capacity to be built at a time when state funds alone are insufficient to cover the cost, Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet said.
The new lanes would be high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, free to vehicles carrying three or more people and available for a variable toll (depending on congestion) to others. The toll revenue would help offset the cost of construction.
"The private sector is able to share in the risk of funding this project, which otherwise would be practically impossible if VDOT had to rely on traditional funding sources to improve the Beltway," Shucet said.
No timetable is available, pending completion of negotiations.
This is a potential milestone for public-private road endeavors and could help us reduce gridlock.
Maryland is also looking at express toll lanes, although they would be open to everyone for a fee.
Dr. Gridlock is for implementing such lanes to see how they work. What do you think?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
With right-turn-on-red being legal for some time now, I have noticed an increasing incidence of a particularly vexing and dangerous problem.
I often find myself sitting in heavy traffic, waiting through several lights, to get to an intersection. Because traffic is backed up, those of us with the green light must -- even though the light is green -- wait to enter the intersection until there is room for us to clear the intersection on the other side.
While we are patiently waiting to cross the intersection, drivers on the cross street will turn right on the red light, thereby continually filling the right lane, never leaving room for those of us with the green light.
That leaves no way to get through the intersection other than continuing to drive through, even though by doing so we block the intersection.
Common sense and common courtesy would lead those waiting at the red light not to turn onto a street where other drivers, with a green light, are waiting to enter. Neither of those virtues appears to be at work here.
Normally courteous drivers are being forced to either aggressively block intersections or never arrive at their destination.
Do you have a solution for this growing problem?
Where that situation exists, the Virginia Department of Transportation should post signs prohibiting right turns during rush hours. The hours should be posted on the sign.
You can nominate an intersection by calling 703-383-VDOT.
Bless you for not blocking intersections, as so many do in that situation.
Alternate Route to Va.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I noted with interest your response to Marilyn Lynch of Chantilly regarding finding Interstate 395 from D.C. 295 south (Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 26).
You had advised Ms. Lynch to exit at the poorly signed Howard Road exit (3B) and proceed over the South Capitol Street Bridge and through several traffic signals to get to the entrance to I-395.
I may have a better route for Ms. Lynch.
Although I'm a Virginia resident, my family and I often travel to Maryland to visit friends and enjoy the restaurants, shopping and entertainment the state has to offer.
To get back to Virginia from southbound D.C. 295, we travel south and take the first exit past the Howard Road exit, or 3A, marked Suitland Parkway/Navy Yard. We stay in the offramp lane, which then becomes the freeway on ramp to D.C. 295 north. We thus get back onto the freeway heading north. We have essentially made a legal U-turn by using this off/on ramp.
The next exit after getting onto D.C. 295 north is the 11th Street Bridge, which will take drivers to I-395 (either north or south). In fact, the exit is marked as leading to I-395.
From there, it's a pleasant drive over the 14th Street bridge and back to the commonwealth. Although you do slow down to exit D.C. 295 south, and have to accelerate again at the on ramp to D.C. 295 north, you will not encounter a traffic signal, stop in a seedy area or otherwise have to stop.
It's a great solution to the dilemma of finding I-395, and you and your readers might want to try it.
Thanks for the tip. I'll try it next time.
Isn't it a shame you have to go north in order to go south, and put up with confusing signs to boot? Please read on.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Marilyn Lynch from Chantilly asked a good question about a return route to the District from D.C. 295 south.
This is such a good question, it has been asked over and over again. Your answer, once again, is great advice.
Now the question is, why doesn't someone fix the sign on the road? How hard is it to add a piece to the Howard Road exit, saying "To I-395"? This is not the only problem regarding road signs. There is a major problem in this area, and I am not sure who is to blame.
The D.C. area is a tough place to drive in and around, but if the signs were marked better and posted at a distance far enough to allow drivers to safely maneuver, it would ease frustration for those of us who live here and for the enormous number of visitors we receive each day.
Does a local Department of Transportation even exist here? What does it do? This problem is not unique to the District, but also can be found in Maryland and Virginia. Is there a central agency, along the same lines as Metro's transit system, that handles all road issues?
E. Scott Howard
There is no regional agency. Each state and the District has its own transportation department. They can work with one another, as they are doing on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.
The Howard Road exit sign is a bad one because it doesn't include a "To I-395" or any reference to the South Capitol Street Bridge, a major entrance into the city.
This has been a sore point in this column for two decades. Apparently, city officials just don't care about this bad sign.
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.