Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My family just got back from a trip to southwestern New York, and our E-ZPass probably saved us 45 minutes of waiting in long lines at the toll booths.

Up north, we noticed a greater promotion of E-ZPass.

Every fast-food restaurant we went to had applications for E-ZPass. One restaurant even had a vending machine for the pass. At another fast-food restaurant, a small office for E-ZPass purchases was being built.

In our area, the only E-ZPass promotion I have noticed is a highway advertisement with an 800 number, which most people probably can't write down as they are whizzing past in their cars.

If E-ZPass were advertised more in this area, maybe more people would sign up for it, and lines at the Dulles Toll Road booths, especially the main toll booth, would dwindle.

Lesley Rackowski


I agree. However, Virginia was years behind Maryland in adopting E-ZPass and is slow to market the system. It stands to reason that if everyone had a pass, the Virginia Department of Transportation could save money on toll collection, and motorists could move more quickly through toll facilities.

VDOT is thinking about making E-ZPass available at transportation centers (such as the one at the Ballston Metro station) and some retail outlets, according to Ryan Hall, a VDOT spokesman.

Some suggestions for transportation officials: Put the applications at Department of Motor Vehicles branches, libraries, gas stations and other heavily traveled locations.

Or see if you can attach them to correspondence that the state regularly sends out, such as state income tax booklets, DMV renewal forms and county auto tax forms. Eventually, VDOT will catch up. I hope.

To enroll, log on to or call 1-877-762-7824.

Buses in HOV Lane

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Do you know what the policy is for buses using the HOV lanes in Virginia? I mean buses that have only the driver in them -- no passengers. Why should they be able to use HOV lanes when there is only a single person in them? They are hardly fuel-efficient and clean-burning, like hybrid vehicles.

I use the HOV lane on Interstate 66 traveling east in the morning. Between 5:45 a.m. and 6:15 a.m., there is always a Fairfax County school bus tooling along in the HOV lane at precisely 55 mph. I've passed the bus on occasion and have not seen students on board. I suspect the driver picked the bus up from the school bus depot on West Ox Road and is traveling to McLean or somewhere to start picking up students.

He causes a real backup in the lane, with other drivers taking chances in switching lanes to get around him.

I also see this with commercial buses: just a driver, no passengers.

Is that legal?

Cindy Jennings


Yes, so long as the empty bus is on the way to pick up passengers or has just dropped them off.

To pursue this, call the chief of bus transportation for the Fairfax County school system at 703-691-2876. Tim Parker is one of the senior people and a friend of Dr. Gridlock's.

Accessing Access Road

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Simple question: Why can't the Dulles Access Road be available to high-occupancy vehicles in addition to airport traffic, thereby freeing other roads from some of the ever-increasing traffic of Loudoun County and beyond?

It's frustrating commuting back and forth and seeing a trickle of cars on the access road while everyone else, including HOV users, is stuck in gridlock.

Having the access road open to HOV traffic should make HOV enforcement easier. How many times do you see drivers with only one occupant move in and out of the HOV lane to make detection difficult, thus creating hazardous situations? A solo driver on the access road would have a difficult time escaping detection.

The least that can be done is to make the access road available to all drivers when there's an accident or the weather is bad.

Bottom line: The Dulles Toll Road is overcrowded, and the access road is underutilized. It's just that simple.

Jeff Powers


I feel your pain at having to commute from Loudoun County. You might not like this answer, though.

The feds were there first. They built the access road so people could get out to Dulles International Airport with minimum congestion. It works. Now that Loudoun has been developed in a reckless way, commuters want a part of the access road. That won't happen. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority will not allow commuters to use the access road and impinge on airport traffic. I support that.

If Metrorail to Dulles becomes a reality, you could see rail to the airport and on to Loudoun County by 2015, but that seems optimistic.

Loudoun commuters might be better served focusing on the land-use decisions of the county Board of Supervisors, which seems content to approve more development even though the transportation infrastructure isn't in place to handle that growth.

P.S. If the Virginia State Police request it, the access road can be used to divert traffic from accident scenes.

Gridlock Now or Later

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute from Waldorf to Warrenton. It amazes me when the Virginia Department of Transportation schedules road work on a major commuter route during the day on Fridays. I've been making my commute for two years now during different times of the day, and I find Friday to be the busiest travel weekday.

On May 13, VDOT closed the left lane of Interstate 95 south in the Lorton area. Traffic was backed up on the Capital Beltway all the way to Telegraph Road to the east and past Braddock Road to the west.

Maybe I'm missing the big picture here, but it seems that someone in VDOT should understand the extent of disruption to traffic that a lane shutdown can cause at that time and on that day.

Do you know if VDOT considers the day of the week when scheduling road work?

Edward Donaldson


Maryland and Virginia will suspend construction on holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day, but I'm not aware of suspension of work on Fridays. I take your point, though, as Friday is the most congested weekday on our roads.

But each Friday that work would be suspended would mean a longer period to complete a project, meaning a longer time for interruptions. Tough call. What do you think?

German Driver Training

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Can you stand another letter about driver training for teenagers?

My nephew in Germany mentioned in an e-mail that his oldest son will be turning 18 and eligible for a driver's license. That will cost him 1,500 euros, or more than $1,800 (one euro currently equals about $1.23).

Driver education students take 14 units of theory, each one lasting 11/2 hours. Theory includes traffic laws, the basics of how your car works, how to identify simple problems and how to change tires.

Then there are 12 mandatory driving lessons, and each one lasts 45 minutes. The lessons include practice on suburban and country roads, on autobahn expressways and at night. The instructor determines if additional practice is needed in city traffic.

Each lesson costs around 45 euros, depending on the location.

That costly process, in time as well as money, is a deterrent to getting a license unless really necessary.

Sigrid Washington


Thanks for the breakdown on the German system -- expensive and intensive -- as opposed to our system -- cheap and cursory. We need to find a better way than flipping the keys to the SUV to poorly trained teenagers on their 16th birthdays.

Fighting a Fine

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Do you have any idea if it is possible to fight the doubling of a fine for a photo-enforcement speeding ticket after a first notice was supposedly ignored? In fact, I never received it.

I suspect the first notice was never even mailed.

If you hear of many complaints like this, I would wonder if it might be a common practice by the District government as a way to double its traffic ticket income.

Lee Breakiron

Fort Washington

I hear about this from time to time, but not enough to see it as a systemic problem.

What you have to do, unfortunately, is go through the ticket adjudication process. The hearing examiner will decide whether your story rings true enough to warrant dismissal, according to Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works.

Ticket -- and Tow

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In past columns, readers have wondered why illegally parked cars are not ticketed during rush hour. I commute daily on Connecticut Avenue and often see cars with one or more tickets blocking needed lanes.

I question why the towing laws, which are clearly marked on a multitude of signs, are not enforced!

The parked cars often create a dangerous situation where drivers have to come to sudden stops and then negotiate merging into other lanes of moving traffic. I have seen and been in many such situations where accidents were narrowly avoided and traffic flow was severely disrupted.

Either these cars should be towed or the signs should be removed for a less obscured view!

Mark McCullough


Illegal parking during rush hours is the number one reason for gridlock in downtown Washington. Not only is a lane of traffic taken up by one miscreant, but drivers trying to get around the obstacle have to make risky merges.

First comes the ticket, then the tow. The city will ticket and tow illegally parked cars that are reported by the public, according to Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works.

The way to report them is to call 202-727-1000 and get a tracking number. If you report chronic situations and see that nothing is done, send me an e-mail in a month, along with your tracking number.

Whatever the city's approach to illegal parking, the amount that goes on suggests it is not working very well.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails, at, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.