Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Who pays for cleanup of road accidents?

A recent accident on Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg closed the road for many hours and required extensive cleanup and pavement repair because a large amount of pesticide or herbicide spilled onto the road.

This accident was caused by a truck rear-ending two other trucks.

James Ireland

Great Falls

The cost will be the responsibility of the trucking company that caused the accident, according to Ryan Hall, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman. The accident occurred at about 1 a.m. on July 7 when a tractor-trailer truck rammed into another truck. The driver of the tractor-trailer was killed, and his load of corrosive chemicals was propelled through the cab and onto the pavement.

The accident closed southbound I-95 for 28 hours and the northbound lanes for nine hours. A VDOT contract crew worked overnight in the rain to repair the road surface, Hall said.

Once the cleanup contractor submits a bill to VDOT, the department will send it along to the insurer of the tractor-trailer, Hall said.

Left Turn Legalities

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recall a couple years back there was a question about the legality of entering an intersection to make a left turn without an arrow.

I believe the answer was that it was legal, at least in Virginia, to proceed into the intersection and if an opening never came up, to turn left after the light changed to red.

It was legal for only the first car that was in the intersection, but no more than that.

If that was the case, is it still true? My son is going to behind-the-wheel driving classes in Virginia, and his instructor said it is not legal to do that.

Can you help me on this?

Randy Handt

Leesburg

You've got it right. It is legal for a left-turning vehicle to enter an intersection on a green light, and then make a left turn when oncoming traffic has stopped, even if the turn is against a red light.

However, following cars get no such grace. If they enter an intersection behind the left-turning vehicle, they risk being ticketed for running a red light or blocking an intersection.

Now, a more important question is whether this driving school will provide your teen behind-the-wheel driving experience on the Capital Beltway or other interstate highways, teaching how to enter and exit such roads, how to merge and how to respond to a tailgater. Do they teach use of turn signals, how to drive in city traffic, how to pass a slow-moving vehicle on a two-lane road and how to correct if your vehicle drifts onto the shoulder?

Do they provide experience in paying at a toll plaza, what to do if an animal suddenly jumps in front of your vehicle or how to react when a bee buzzes the driver's head? Do they teach how to correct skids, how to use automatic braking systems, how to change a tire, proper maintenance of a vehicle and how to drive in rain, in snow or at night?

I have yet to find a commercial driver's school that teaches those skills, so it is up to the parents to be sure their teenager has lots of practice, until they feel comfortable that he or she is ready to drive solo.

Faster Way Home

I am a federal employee who lives in Silver Spring and works at Dulles International Airport. I leave work every day at 5:30 p.m. Sometimes I go to the gym after work and get on the Capital Beltway between 7 and 7:30 p.m.

The problem, of course, is how crowded the Beltway is at that time and location. Right after the Dulles Toll Road Plaza is the worst.

Are there any other routes I can take?

Sachin Vaidya

Silver Spring

My condolences. A new bridge across the Potomac River that would connect Dulles Airport with Interstate 270 would help, but neither state seems to want that now.

Try this: Inbound on the Dulles Toll Road, exit at Reston Parkway. Turn left onto the parkway. Go about one mile to a right turn onto Baron Cameron Avenue. Go about three miles to a right turn onto Route 193 (Georgetown Pike). Follow that road to the Beltway.

You miss the construction mess at the toll road and the Beltway, most of the toll road and several miles of Beltway traffic, since you would enter the Beltway close to the American Legion Bridge.

Route 193 is a two-lane road, quite scenic and not nearly as heavily traveled as the toll road. Let me know how that works.

An Alexandrian's View

Earlier this month, Dr. Gridlock took the side of the city of Alexandria in its decision to change the traffic signals on Washington Street in order to take green light time from north-south commuters and give it to east-west motorists, who are more likely to be residents of Alexandria.

Here's a letter from a person who lives on Washington Street and commutes into Washington. So she sees both sides. She makes some good points.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding your comments of July 7: Oh, please. As a Washington Street resident who used to work in Old Town and now works in downtown Washington, I can attest that keeping Washington Street moving serves both Old Town residents and those from other areas.

The fact is, most Old Town residents don't work in Old Town. They are part of the crowd thronging Old Town's major streets, trying to get to or from the Capital Beltway, the District, etc.

In addition, Old Town is a historic city, located at the confluence of Routes 1, 7 and 236, plus the Capital Beltway and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Surely, no one can be surprised that people from areas other than Old Town use this transportation hub.

As a historic city, Old Town also has a complete grid of secondary streets that serve residents who want to drive around town without using major streets. When I worked in Old Town, I certainly did that, to avoid what I thought at the time was heavy traffic.

Finally, let me add that I cross Washington Street on foot each morning to start my commute, and it didn't become noticeably easier when the timing of the lights changed.

For me, the bottom line is that the afternoon commute was already two to three times longer than it used to be (due to Beltway construction), and the new timing of the lights has made the morning commute just as bad.

The more quickly everyone can move through Old Town, no matter where they live, the better.

Merideth Menken Poulson

Alexandria

So, the more green light for north-south traffic, the better for everybody? The city didn't see it that way when it made the changes. Thanks for your views, though. Well worth consideration.

Animal Matters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was very disturbed to read about the injured, struggling deer by the roadside [Dr. Gridlock, July 7]. Please advise your readers that one can dial 911, explain the situation and ask to be put through to the local animal control dispatcher. An officer will be sent out immediately to end the animal's suffering.

In Fairfax County, if an individual does not feel comfortable calling 911, they can call the Animal Services Division at 703-830-1100 or the Police Department's Public Safety Communications Center at 703-691-2131.

With regard to dead animal pickups, the Virginia Department of Transportation has a wonderful staff of customer service personnel who address these matters. The local number for the Northern Virginia District Office is 703-383-8368. The toll-free Highway Helpline number is 800-367-7623. You can also make a report online at www.virginiadot.org/comtravel/eoc/citizen.asp.

I have found that VDOT has been very responsive in these matters. If an animal is not picked up in 24 hours, I call back just to make sure the report was not missed. The Customer Service staff is always very accommodating.

Marcia Sullivan

Chantilly

Thanks for the tips. They are worth clipping out and putting in the glove compartment.

Adjust Priorities

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I suppose that after decades of watching the increase in aggressive driving and biking in the Washington area, nothing should surprise me. Every rush hour is a circus of drivers who refuse to use turn signals or who make "interesting" maneuvers with a cell phone pressed to their ear.

However, James Evans's complaints [Dr. Gridlock, July 7] about students who "just take their sweet time" boarding a school bus, "not caring about the drivers they are delaying," was more than a little over the top.

You were absolutely right in your advice that Mr. Evans explore an alternate route to work. But I am disturbed that a commuter took offense at such a situation, where the law is clear and the safety of youngsters is at stake.

Please, folks! If the timing of your commute is so strict that a delay triggers an aggressive response where children are present, think about leaving home 10 minutes earlier, changing your working hours, telecommuting and, most of all, adjusting your priorities.

Lee Nesbit

Arlington

Thank you for a solid response.

Drop the Coins

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Metrobuses recently started using fare boxes that require more careful, one-by-one depositing of coins. Fare paying with coins now takes longer.

Metro might prefer that people use SmarTrip cards on buses, but some of us don't want to. It would be helpful if Metro resumed selling bus tokens and tickets that can be used for the regular and the elderly/disabled fares. Those slip into the fare box more easily.

Rachel Hecht

Washington

Here is a response from Candace Smith, a Metro spokeswoman:

"Metrobus fare boxes were outfitted with a new coin insertion slot last month to eliminate coin jams. Just like vending machines, riders have to insert coins one at a time. Previously, riders would dump a handful of coins in the fare box coin cup, which caused the machines to malfunction and caused delays for passengers waiting to pay their fare.

"Metro encourages customers to use SmarTrip cards, because of the security, speed and convenience. However, we still sell and accept Metrobus tokens for regular-fare customers and students.

"Tickets were discontinued over 18 months ago, as they cannot be inserted into the new fare box. Seniors and people with a disability can purchase a weekly $6 Metrobus flash pass that provides unlimited travel on all Metro buses for that week.

"Information about these passes, and tokens, can be found by clicking on this link: www.wmata.com/riding/passes.cfm.

"Seniors also can pay half the one-way fare upon presentation to the bus driver of their WMATA Seniors card, or a Medicare card."

Thank you, Ms. Smith. I hope that covers your questions, Ms. Hecht. It sounds like a flash pass would be the quickest way to board if you are a senior citizen and/or disabled.

Otherwise, tokens could be the way to go. Let Dr. Gridlock know how this works.

Anti-Theft, to Boot

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here's an idea to discourage car thefts that's no more odd than others I've seen. I wonder how much it would cost to buy a "boot" such as the ones the District government attaches to one of your vehicle's wheels if you're too much of a scofflaw.

Seems to me that it would be bulletproof and ought to discourage a car thief.

Mark LaBarre

Rockville

That's a novel approach. What does it say about the number of cars stolen in our area that we now have to boot ourselves for protection?

I haven't heard of citizens booting themselves to keep their vehicles from being stolen. Anyone out there have any knowledge of that?

Lumps in the Road

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What's with the asphalt lumps every 45 feet or so across all lanes on the Capital Beltway outer loop between St. Barnabas Road and Route 5?

Like minor speed bumps, they are extremely uncomfortable, and you can't avoid them.

Michael R. Kelley

City of Fairfax

What you're seeing and feeling is patchwork on the Beltway. The Maryland State Highway Administration is going to resurface the inner and outer loops of the Beltway between Routes 210 and 5. First comes the patching, then the overlay.

Elsewhere on the Beltway, the highway department is doing the same work from the Prince George's-Montgomery County border to Route 193 (Greenbelt Road).

Each of those projects is about three miles long and scheduled to be finished next spring.

HOV Alternative

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I travel Route 50 in Maryland between Davidsonville Road and New York Avenue every day. There are HOV-2 lanes between Route 197 and the Capital Beltway, yet at least half the cars in the HOV lanes have only a single occupant.

What agency is responsible for HOV enforcement in Maryland?

Are there any plans to create HOV lanes on Route 50 inside the Beltway?

Andrew Wilson

West River

There are no plans to extend the HOV lanes, according to Chuck Gischlar of the Maryland State Highway Administration. The Maryland State Police are responsible for policing the Route 50 HOV lanes. They're having no more success than the Virginia State Police are with their HOV lanes. The violation rate is about 25 percent in both states.

That is unacceptable. The federal government and states are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build express lanes used by too many traffic violators.

The next wave of express lanes in Maryland, express toll lanes, will attempt to address the problem by walling off new interstate lanes, charging a toll through electronic transponders and using cameras to catch toll violators. Those lanes would be open to everyone, meaning no need to enforce HOV lanes.

The state is considering adding two of those lanes in each direction for all or part of the Beltway in Maryland, Interstate 270, and Interstate 95 between the Capital and Baltimore beltways.

It's too soon in the planning to have dates yet, but the express toll lanes seem like a reasonable way to address the problem of chronic HOV violations.

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 drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.