The two-week Cherry Blossom Festival starts Saturday, somewhat in defiance of the chilly, gray and potentially rainy — even snowy — weather forecast for the weekend. Saturday’s National Marathon means extensive traffic congestion in the middle of the District throughout the morning and early afternoon. Metro will open an hour early, at 6 a.m., to accommodate the marathon participants. Meanwhile, the circus is at the Verizon Center all weekend. Here’s what travelers need to know for the weekend and beyond.
Cherry Blossom Festival
Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 4 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. The nearest Metro station is Judiciary Square, just across the street. Take the F Street exit.
There will be performances daily throughout the festival at the Sylvan Theater, Independence Avenue and Raoul Wallenberg Place SW near the Washington Monument. They will be from noon to 5 p.m. weekdays, and noon to 6 p.m. weekends. The nearest Metro station is Smithsonian.
The Blossom Kite Festival is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW, near the Washington Monument. The nearest Metro station is Farragut West. Scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. On Sunday there are ranger-guided Cherry Bicycle Tours, leaving from the Jefferson Memorial parking lot. Contact the park service at 202-426-6841. The nearest Metro is Smithsonian. Watch the weather forecast for these Sunday events.
Because Smithsonian Station is closest to the Tidal Basin and many events, it handles huge crowds at blossom time. Consider using other stops near the Mall, including Federal Triangle, L’Enfant Plaza, Gallery Place and Metro Center. If you feel up to a little walking, avoid changing trains at crowded Metro Center, Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza to ride just one or two stops. Do your sightseeing on the streets rather than in a tunnel.
During the festival, drivers can park along East Potomac Park and take a free shuttle from the Hains Point parking area to the Tidal Basin. Shuttles will run every 30 to 40 minutes from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
A bike valet service will be operated by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the three festival weekends at the Jefferson Memorial. During the week, bike racks will remain but the area will be unstaffed, so bring a lock.
The annual marathon and the half marathon are scheduled to start at 7 a.m. near RFK Stadium, which will also be their end point. The D.C. police department says some street closings will begin at 6 a.m. Police say all the streets should be reopened by about 1:30 p.m. See a map of the marathon course.
When you look at the map, don’t think only of whether your destination is on a street along the course. Look at the cross-streets and think of the traffic rippling out from those points of contact with the course. Also, those living near the course will want to pay attention to where they park Friday night.
The map linked above shows the estimated times the streets will close and reopen after the runners pass. Last year, 12,000 runners participated. Police may permit traffic to cross some of the closed roads from time to time, but don’t count on it.
For those participating in the run, the closest Metrorail stop for the start and finish is Stadium-Armory, on the Orange and Blue lines. Metrorail will open one hour early, at 6 a.m., to accommodate the participants. (That’s a pretty tight time frame. Marathon officials are advising the runners to arrive at 6:15 a.m.) If you buy a paper fare card to ride Metrorail, put the card in a protective cover while you run. The cards don’t work so well when they get soggy.
Parking at Metro lots and garages is free on weekends. If you’re thinking of parking on D.C. streets, make sure to check the street parking signs. Parking limits apply on Saturdays in many areas. There also is free parking for the event at RFK’s Lot 7 on the north side of the stadium and Lot 8 on the south side.
Because of the Cherry Blossom Festival and other events, such as the marathon, that will attract big crowds, the transit authority has suspended its track work program for the next three weekends. That means no scheduled delays for trains sharing tracks around work zones.
Metrorail recorded three of its top five weekday ridership days during last year’s Cherry Blossom Festival, but not all of those extra passengers were heading for the Mall and the Tidal Basin. Several stations outside downtown Washington became much more crowded last April: Woodley Park, near the National Zoo; Navy Yard, near Nationals Park and Arlington Cemetery. Nothing tops the crowds at Smithsonian Station, which doubled during the first week of April last year compared with March.
Public meeting on Circulator
The District’s Circulator is now the fourth-largest bus system in the region. The District Department of Transportation has scheduled a public meeting for Thursday to discuss its next decade. The department has developed recommendations for changes to existing service and is considering 11 corridors for potential expansion.
Thursday’s meeting is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. in the Ohio Room of the Capital Hilton at 16th and L streets NW.
The District Department of Transportation is wrapping up the first week of its month-long pothole-filling campaign, dubbed Potholepalooza. There are four ways that people can report potholes:
* Dial the Mayor’s Call Center at 311
* Use the online Service Request Center form at 311.dc.gov.
* Tweet to twitter.com/DDOTDC .
* Send an e-mail to Potholepalooza@dc.gov.
Be prepared to identify the location of the pothole, including the quadrant (Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest) and to give as much detail as possible about the hazard, including the approximate size and depth of the pothole. (You don’t have to measure it.) The department’s goal is to fill these potholes within 48 hours of the time the notification comes in. Meanwhile, DDOT crews also are out looking for potholes to patch. The campaign runs through April 21.
Beltway in Tysons Corner
This coming week, the Dulles Metrorail project plans to continue the overnight closings of three lanes on the Capital Beltway’s inner loop at Route 123 in Tysons Corner. The closings, scheduled for Sunday through Friday nights, leave just one lane open between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. The inner loop ramps connecting with Route 123 also will close during those hours. Workers will begin to narrow down the lanes at 9:30 each night.
Drivers should expect to encounter such Beltway closings throughout the rest of the year. The workers are building the bridges that will take the new rail line over the highway, and the lanes will be closed to create a safety zone beneath the work areas.
Beltway HOT lanes
The western side of the Beltway in Virginia is the biggest construction zone in the D.C. region. While the Dulles Metrorail work continues in Tysons, the High Occupancy Toll lanes construction continues along 14 miles between Springfield and the Dulles Toll Road.
While there are no lane closings during peak hours, the overnight projects shut many lanes around bridges and interchanges. See a list of those overnight closings on the Virginia Megaprojects Web site.
The Wilson Bridge project has scheduled some major work for next weekend near the Beltway’s Telegraph Road interchange.
The Beltway’s outer loop will be narrowed to one lane between the Eisenhower Connector and just east of the Telegraph Road interchange from Friday night, April 1, through mid-morning on Saturday, April 2. The closing will create a safety zone so workers can shift and reconfigure the THRU/LOCAL lane split.
Starting at 8 p.m. next Friday, the right LOCAL lane of the outer loop will close, leaving one LOCAL and one THRU lane open. The ramps to the outer loop from Telegraph Road North and South also will close at this time. Drivers who want to reach the outer loop from Telegraph Road should take Huntington Avenue east to the Route 1 ramp for the outer loop.
Starting around midnight, the right LOCAL lane will reopen and the left LOCAL lane and the THRU lane will close, restricting traffic to the single right-hand LOCAL lane. There will be no access to the THRU lanes during this time. Traffic will be restricted to a single lane until mid-morning April 2, when the second LOCAL lane will reopen. All lanes and traffic movements will be fully restored by mid-day Saturday, when the THRU lane and the two on-ramps from Telegraph Road North and South reopen.
The new traffic pattern will require drivers who use the center lane to take the LOCAL lanes. They won’t have the option to choose between LOCAL and THRU lanes. Project managers say this configuration will allow for smoother and safer navigation of the outer loop’s THRU/LOCAL lane split at the Telegraph Road interchange. It will eliminate abrupt merging of vehicles from the Telegraph Road ramps onto the Beltway. At the same time, it will provide easier full-time access for work on the inner loop’s THRU lanes, eliminating the need for day-time left lane closures in the three-lane area of the outer loop.
This THRU/LOCAL lane split configuration will be in place until the summer, the project management says. In the next construction phase, the split will be shifted east onto new pavement and the middle lane of the outer loop will again split to both the THRU and LOCAL lanes.
A week from Monday, the Virginia Department of Transportation is scheduled to begin a repair project long awaited by many drivers. The department will launch a $48 million effort to repair and resurface 6 1/ 2 miles of crumbling pavement on Interstate 66 between the Capital Beltway and Route 50 in Fairfax County. The work is scheduled to be done in fall 2012.
Through late summer, workers will remove and patch sections of the concrete pavement. Then they will pave the surface with asphalt.
All lane closings will occur between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday nights. Starting April 4, two of the three lanes on eastbound I-66 between the Beltway and Route 50 will be closed during those hours. Starting April 18, closings will begin on the westbound side. Crews will limit the work zones to about two miles at a time, VDOT says.
Starting in late May, periodic overnight ramp closings will occur on eastbound I-66. Detours will be announced.
While all the work is off-peak, drivers still should anticipate traffic delays during those overnight hours. VDOT suggests alternatives such as Routes 50, 236 or 123. Watch for overhead and portable message signs alerting drivers about the work zones.