Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Two days ago, I was motoring at 9 a.m. on eastbound Interstate 66. HOV-2 regulations were still in effect. From Manassas to Nutley Street, I was in front of a four-door Ford with a male driver inside, one or two extra aerials on the car and a blue, bubble-shaped light on the dashboard.
Was this a policeman in a unmarked car? I would wager that it was. He was in the HOV lane, all by himself, all the way to Nutley. If he is a police officer, is he exempt?
The use of blue lights is supposed to be restricted to law enforcement. Fire equipment and ambulances use red emergency lights. Because unmarked police vehicles come in all forms (Prince William has used sports cars), I'd assume that was a police vehicle. And if so, yes, law enforcement is exempt from Virginia HOV restrictions, whether on or off duty.
If any of you are aware of a vendor who sells blue lights to the public, I'd like to know about it.
No Relief for Clifton
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have not personally seen the homemade signs discouraging Prince William commuters from using Clifton area roads [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 20].
However, I absolutely agree with your assessment that the county supervisors on both side of the Occoquan River are to blame for this mess. While the unbridled growth in Prince William County is part of the problem, the same unbridled growth in Fairfax has exacerbated it.
Fairfax County has total disrespect for Prince William County and is unwilling to think regionally and build a mid-county connector. That road project was abandoned in favor of million-dollar homes and people with the attitude of the sign maker.
That said, I take exception to your suggestion to the reader that he re-examine alternative routes, such as Route 28. My wife drives Route 28 every day to the Chantilly area, and her 15-mile commute takes over an hour!
Most of this commute is in Fairfax County, where the number of lights between the Prince William County border and Interstate 66 creates so much traffic congestion (due to the volume from connecting roads carrying traffic from houses they have permitted to be built with the "quaint" Clifton mailing address) that the area is in near-permanent gridlock. Try driving in the area on a Saturday: It is still gridlocked.
Since moving to Manassas, I have worked in Reston, Herndon, Vienna, McLean and the District, and also at the Washington Navy Yard and Fort Belvoir, so I have used all of your suggested routes. What has happened over the last year, however, has been unprecedented.
My commute to McLean, beginning at 6:30 a.m., typically used to take 50 minutes, and that was the case for at least four years. This year, it routinely takes an hour and 15 minutes, and I am leaving at 6:15 a.m.
Traffic volume in Prince William is up immensely, and impeding traffic in Fairfax has also grown immensely. Couple that with growing numbers of commuters from the more southern counties also joining us in the back-road commuter mix, and we have a nightmare for all.
One more commuting anecdote: A colleague and I left McLean at the same time last Tuesday. Her destination was Freedom High School in Woodbridge; mine was my home, halfway between Woodbridge and Manassas. She took Interstate 495 to Interstate 95. I took I-495 to Braddock Road and then took Burke Lake, Clifton and Henderson roads home. I arrived at my house in an hour and a half. It took my colleague two and a half hours to drive a little more distance using interstate highways. There was no southbound traffic incident that afternoon. If I had had her follow me, she would have arrived at least 30 minutes earlier.
Unless something changes, the Clifton area sign maker will need to keep waving at folks commuting to and from Prince William County.
I have deep concern and sympathy for folks who live in Prince William County and beyond and have jobs to the north. These three- and four-hour round-trip commutes each day are no way to live. And, yes: I-95, Route 123 and Route 28, the major north-south commuting corridors, are already overwhelmed with traffic.
I should point out that some 15 years ago a proposed mid-county connector, known as Ridgefield Road, had the support of the Prince William supervisors. That road would have extended the current Ridgefield Road from the Prince William Parkway northward across a new bridge over the Occoquan, and then connected with the Fairfax County Parkway.
The Fairfax supervisors, however, killed such a connector in 1990, citing concerns about damage to the environment, parkland and residential property. And the existing roads continue to add more traffic.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I have been an avid reader of yours for several years and rarely disagree with your viewpoint. However, you had me seeing red after reading your response to the commuter who encountered the profane sign on Henderson Road in Clifton.
For more than 10 years, I commuted from my home in the west end of Lake Ridge to the Fairfax County Government Center via Yates Ford, Henderson and Clifton roads. It was by far the most efficient and direct route for me.
These roads are state-maintained byways, and, as a Virginia taxpayer, I felt completely within my rights using them. Other than the town of Clifton itself, the surrounding areas are not neighborhoods in the traditional sense of the word.
There are no sidewalks, pedestrians, children playing, etc. Most of the residences are set far back from the road on winding, tree-lined driveways.
The roads were there before most of the houses. The commuter traffic has existed on these roads for years. Surely the vast majority of the residents in greater Clifton knew that when they purchased their homes. Yet they chose to live there anyway.
While I don't agree with the reader's suggestion that authorities use eminent domain to seize property and build a new road, I don't think the people who commute on these roads should be asked to find another route. Interstate 66? Interstate 95? Are you out of your mind?
You will remember that in the not-too-distant past, Route 123 was a winding two-lane road between Woodbridge and Burke Centre; however, nobody complained about all the commuter traffic. Of course, it wasn't lined by million-dollar homes.
Maybe Mr. Profane Sign Maker is simply a rich snob who is offended that he must share his road with all us low-rents from Prince William County. Too bad for him.
Alternative to Route 17
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In response to the driver trying to avoid heavy traffic on Route 17 approaching Interstate 95 at Falmouth, try this:
Take Route 15 south, but instead of turning left onto Route 17, continue on Route 15 to Culpeper. At Culpeper, take the exit for Route 522 south. Route 522 intersects with Interstate 64 about 20 miles west of Richmond.
Route 522 is a two-lane road and has a few twists and turns as it nears I-64, but traffic is usually very light. This route completely avoids I-95 when going to Richmond.
We travel from Leesburg to visit relatives in Richmond and prefer this route to any other.
Thanks for sharing. I'm going to put those directions in my glove compartment and give them a try. At worst, it will be different from the dreadful, congested I-95 between our Capital Beltway and Richmond.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in The Extra and Sunday in the Metro section. 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 telephone numbers.