Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What is going on with Route 7? Are the traffic cameras even working? Since they were put up, my 20-mile commute has increased from one hour to up to two hours every night.

On June 15, traffic was horrific. If I had stayed on Route 7, my commute would have taken longer than two hours. Traffic was backed up to Route 29 in Falls Church. After taking every back road available, I finally abandoned Route 7 for the Dulles Toll Road. It was empty at 7 p.m. Took me 10 minutes to go from Tyco Road to the toll road exit. Help!

Also, where can we call to report mistimed traffic lights? They just put up a replacement light at Tysons Corner Center on Route 7, and it does not let enough traffic through. This morning it took me 15 minutes to get through that intersection.

Susan Douglas


First, my condolences for enduring the Route 7 corridor, Sterling to Tysons Corner.

I believe what has happened is that there is simply too much traffic for that transportation corridor to work. And Loudoun County officials keep allowing more traffic-generating development.

Why not take the Dulles Toll Road every day? What's your quality of life worth?

P.S. For complaints about traffic light synchronization, call the chief of traffic signals in Northern Virginia, Mark Hagan, at 703-383-2872. He has generously allowed his direct line to be used for that purpose.

His Smart Tag Wasn't

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have a Smart Tag attached to my car.

Recently, as I drove west through the main Dulles Greenway toll plaza in the far left Smart Tag-only lane, the light did not turn green. The red warning light lit up, and the bell sounded.

Because I was traveling the same speed as other cars, I could not stop.

Immediately a Virginia state trooper's car pulled out from the far right with its lights flashing. I did not think he was going to stop me.

After about a half-mile up the toll road, I did get into the right lane with the trooper behind me, so I stopped. He stated that I should have stopped immediately.

My question is, what is a motorist to do when the toll light does not change to green for Smart Tag? I could not get over immediately, as there are 10 toll gates at the main toll plaza. And even if I could get over, what was I to do? Back up and pay the toll, or get out and walk back to the toll booths? Both would be very dangerous, yet I was led to believe I should have done something.

Fortunately, he did not give me a ticket.

Herman East


Just what you did. Greenway officials do not want motorists backing up or getting out of their cars.

But you still need to pay that toll. Whenever you trigger a red light in any Smart Tag lane anywhere, call the offices of the toll road you were traveling on -- in your case, the Dulles Greenway at 703-707-8870 -- and make arrangements to pay. Your Smart Tag transponder has recorded a violation, and if the road administrators don't hear from you, a ticket will be mailed to you and you will have to pay a fine.

If you call and pay the toll immediately, you can avoid the fine, according to Anne Lawler, Greenway spokeswoman.

The most common reason for this type of violation, Lawler said, is that a driver's credit card has expired, and the Smart Tag operation has not been notified of the new expiration date.

Call 877-SMARTAG when you trigger a red light, or for questions about your Smart Tag; or log on to or

Don't Slam My SUV

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to one reader's expressed hatred of SUVs [Dr. Gridlock, April 17], one must remember it is only her opinion. To be honest, I couldn't care less about her opinion as I happily drive my Volvo XC-90.

I do resent her implication that SUVs typify everything that is bad about America.

If you don't like SUVs, fine; I can respect that. But please don't tell me what kind of vehicle I can or should drive. Ain't none of your business.

If, on some snowy day on Route 3, I see you sitting in a ditch in your politically correct vehicle, I will wave as I drive by.

Mike Hricik


Behind the Times

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Metro extended the Blue Line to Largo in December. However, the brown pylons on the station platforms and the large signs over the escalators still list Addison Road as the final destination.

People who are unfamiliar with the system are constantly asking other riders whether the Largo train is the same as the Addison Road train.

When is Metro going to update the signs?

Eric Jackson

Silver Spring

Says Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein: "We have not updated the signs. It's very expensive, but it's something we will do, definitely."

Tollbooth Bust

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently I was driving south on Interstate 95 and about to enter the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The far-right tollbooth's green light was on, but I found the booth door closed and no attendant.

I wasn't going to back up, so I went through and heard the buzzer. What should I have done?

Bob Koenig


You did the right thing. Officials don't want drivers backing up in traffic, because other motorists wouldn't be expecting it.

The buzzer indicated you had not paid the $2 toll.

A photograph of your license plate was taken, and you will receive a bill for the toll.

It is important to pay that promptly, according to Bryon Johnston, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Johnston said it is unusual to find a booth unstaffed except in a dedicated lane for E-ZPass. He wonders if you got into an E-ZPass lane.

Helping Hands

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As some of us grow older, our hands and brains are less quick. My husband and I used to do as much car care as we could ourselves. But with his brain foggy from chemotherapy and my hands weak from arthritis, I hope to use your column to thank the following:

1) The Advance Auto Parts service employee in Rockville who on June 12 found a replacement part and attached my new windshield wiper.

2) The Rockville Pike/Rollins Avenue Shell service station workman who on June 13 unscrewed a dead turn signal bulb and put in the new one I had bought elsewhere.

Linda Silversmith


I suspect there is a lot more help out there than we hear about.

The Real Problem

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Your response to Francesca Fierro O'Reilly's complaint about illegally parked cars on 19th and 20th streets in Northwest was that she should call the mayor's hotline at 202-727-1000 and use 18th and 23rd streets instead [Dr. Gridlock, June 2].

My response is to ask O'Reilly why she really needs to drive "from Arlington to Dupont Circle every workday." Because she has chosen not to travel by public transportation, she is contributing to the problem she bemoans.

I have no sympathy for Arlingtonians who complain about the traffic problems they encounter while driving into our fair city.

Jim Deutsch


I suspect that Arlingtonians, more than all other suburban dwellers, use mass transit to come into the District. That is because their high-rise residences are built along Metrorail corridors. That's what makes Arlington an attractive place to live.

Perhaps O'Reilly has a genuine need to drive in -- and endure horrendous parking prices and rush-hour gridlock.

Slow Down to Save

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

With gas prices making operating my 2002 Toyota Sequoia more expensive, I have adopted a strategy of driving 5 to 10 mph lower than the posted speed limit to improve gas mileage.

As a result, I have noticed that navigating has been much smoother, and I feel safer. However, I frequently notice that vehicles drive up close behind me and then speed around to pass on the left, as if I am impeding their travel.

I don't wish to inflame other drivers, which could create a dangerous and expensive commute, nor do I want other drivers' impatience to cost me more money in fuel consumption. What should I do?

Drew Asher


It depends on whether you are on an interstate highway or secondary roads. I would not recommend that you drive 45 mph on the Capital Beltway, which has a 55 mph speed limit, because people actually drive 70 to 80 mph there. I have the same advice for Interstate 95 between the Capital and Baltimore beltways.

You should be able to drive more slowly on secondary roads, as long as you can put up with the tailgaters who want to pass you. I'd map out roads that are the least traveled and proceed with your method.

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.