The high-occupancy toll lanes aren’t the only hot item for travelers on Interstate 66 in Virginia this year. The streetcar may be the District’s marquee project, but there are many more ways to move people in the city. And Maryland’s transportation plan isn’t all about the Purple Line.
Let’s look at some of the projects and programs that might not get a lot of regionwide attention, but nonetheless will affect travel for tens of thousands of commuters in 2016. Their impact often will come in the form of disruptions caused by road and transit work. But a few rare gems are marked for completion this year.
There’s a great deal of speculation about what impact new General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld will have on the Metro system. But these three developments will definitely affect riders.
Find those fare cards
March 5 is scheduled to be the last day for using paper cards at the fare gates. After June 30, you won’t be able to trade in paper for added value on plastic SmarTrip cards. Until then, use the brown vending machines in the stations to transfer the value.
Finishing test track
Work is wrapping up on the test track in Greenbelt for the new 7000 series rail cars. Construction of the track has taken longer than planned and has been the subject of many weekend service disruptions, but this isn’t what’s been delaying the new cars’ entry into service. That’s a problem out at the production line in Lincoln, Neb. Completion of the track not only ends one particular source of weekend disruption, but also provides the space Metro will need for final testing of the new cars, which should begin arriving more frequently in the spring.
Track work continues
Weekend track work is scheduled to continue through the year, and the format will be familiar. Trains will share tracks to get around work zones, and stations will be closed occasionally for work on entire sections of lines. Riders will experience work zone delays at midday and on weeknights.
It might seen counterintuitive that an agency with “park” in its name should have a big say in the Washington region’s roadways, but the truth will be quite evident this year, as the National Park Service oversees repairs on key commuter routes.
The park service project with the greatest effect on local travel is likely to be the overhaul of Beach Drive, which is planned to start this year and continue for more than two years. Drivers and trail users will encounter detours and delays because of full-time, two-way closings on portions of the drive, which is a major commuter route through Rock Creek Park.
Arlington Memorial Bridge
The National Park Service’s repair program is scheduled to continue, and the 10-ton weight limit on vehicles will remain in effect indefinitely. Travelers will probably see the curbside lanes reopen for a while early this year, but they will close again as the contractors move to the next phase of repairs.
Baltimore Washington Parkway
Watch for a paving project on the through lanes and ramps between the Capital Beltway and Beaver Dam Road. This is likely to start in the fall and require some nighttime lane closings.
Some drivers suspect the D.C. government is anti-car. But many upcoming projects and programs will benefit all types of travelers.
14th Street revitalization
The District Department of Transportation periodically launches streetscape projects to beautify major streets and make them safer. This one on 14th Street NW, between Thomas Circle and Florida Avenue, a popular entertainment zone, will include sidewalk rebuilding, paving, planting trees and some pedestrian safety features.
The span between Georgetown and Rosslyn will be rehabilitated to address deterioration above and below street level. Most of the results won’t be visible to travelers, but the work includes improved crash barriers, fence painting and new LED lights.
Seventh Street revitalization
This streetscape project involves improving sidewalks, paving, street light and traffic signal upgrades and pedestrian safety additions on Seventh Street NW, between N Street and Florida Avenue. Seventh Street is an important north-south commuter route.
Maryland has not matched Virginia for big projects, but the state is doing some interesting work to reshape highways it already has.
Georgia Avenue interchange
This is one of the really high-impact projects in the Washington suburbs of Maryland. The intersection of north-south Georgia Avenue and east-west Randolph Road is a major bottleneck for drivers. Each day, about 45,000 vehicles work their way through the traffic signals. The Maryland State Highway Administration project, which began in 2014 and is scheduled to end in summer 2017, will put Randolph Road under Georgia, eliminating some of the traffic conflicts. All those drivers will need to watch for orange cones, rough pavement and lane changes that can slow travel time.
Branch Avenue interchange
This complex reconstruction of the intersections with Accokeek and Brandywine roads in Prince George’s County is scheduled to get underway in the spring and finish in fall 2019. The finished project will replace two intersections with a grade-separated interchange for the 70,000 vehicles that travel that way every day.
Old Georgetown Road intersection
This is one of a network of projects begun in Bethesda after the federal base consolidations that created Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This piece is making improvements at the intersection with West Cedar Lane and Oakmont Avenue. The widening of the intersection and the addition of turn lanes to ease traffic flow are scheduled to be completed late this year.
Pennsylvania Avenue/Suitland Parkway
The State Highway Administration is going to build an interchange to replace this intersection, which is currently controlled by traffic signals, and it’s going to take a while. Work is scheduled to begin in the spring and continue until fall 2019.
The second phase of Silver Line construction will continue all year, closing the walkway between the Dulles Airport terminal and the big parking garage where the station will be located. But the Virginia Department of Transportation is also advancing many highway projects.
Work continues on a new interchange with Route 15 in western Prince William County that is scheduled to be completed in fall 2017. The design is unusual for the region. It’s called a diverging diamond, in which vehicles are channeled to the opposite side of the roadway so they don’t have to make left turns in front of oncoming traffic.
This project is adding one HOV lane and one regular lane between Haymarket and Gainesville, and it’s scheduled to be done in the summer. At that point, drivers will have three regular lanes and one HOV lane in each direction for the 25 miles between the Beltway and Route 15.
Route 27 bridge
Rebuilding will continue on the 1941 bridge over Route 110, near the Pentagon in Arlington County. The disruptions since the project began last year have been a major bother for commuters. This year, pedestrian traffic will be shifted to a temporary bridge. But the whole project won’t be finished until spring 2018.
Route 7 at Dulles Toll Road
VDOT is about to begin replacing and widening the two bridges that take Route 7 over the toll road. The work starting this winter will continue through 2018.