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Commuters beware: It’s #TerribleTrafficTuesday

Traffic flows over the American Legion Bridge. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It is perhaps one of the worst days to be a commuter in the Washington region. The Tuesday after Labor Day has become so infamous, it’s earned its own hashtag: #TerribleTrafficTuesday.

It is, as the folks at AAA Mid-Atlantic put it, the beginning of the end of the late summertime lull on area roads. The kids are back in school; adults have returned to work.

According to the authors of the latest Urban Mobility Report published by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the Washington region has the third worst traffic congestion in the nation.

And sadly, it’s all downhill after Tuesday.

“Gridlock will worsen with each passing workday in September following Terrible Traffic Tuesday,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Townsend said, each Washington area commuter loses 102 hours a year to traffic congestion — that’s up from 67 hours in 2013. That year, the region took the top spot as the most congested in the nation. It has since dropped to third behind Los Angeles and the San Francisco-Oakland area.

‘It’s a waste of time’ — Washington is No. 3 in traffic congestion

Drivers aren’t the only ones who should plan ahead and prepare for crowded conditions post-Labor Day. The summerlong shutdown of six Blue and Yellow line Metro stations continues this week.

Metro has provided shuttle service between the shuttered stations and the impact was somewhat lessened because the shutdown was scheduled during the summer, when the system is typically less busy. However, as passenger volumes return to normal this week, riders should be prepared for crowded stations and platforms and should add extra time to their commute.

The six stations south of Reagan National Airport — Braddock Road, King Street-Old Town, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, Van Dorn and Franconia-Springfield — which have been closed since late May for a massive platform rebuilding project, are scheduled to reopen Sept. 9.

[Metro stations shuttered in summerlong shutdown will reopen on time, officials say]

Still, the vast majority of Washington-area residents commute by car, and while traffic relief this summer might have seemed slight, the return of hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, whether they are ferried by bus, harried parents or walk to school, will bring a noticeable change.

Motorists are reminded to slow down — especially near school zones — and to watch for stopped buses. It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus that has its stop arm down, signaling that it is loading or unloading students.

“It is imperative that everyone who shares the road to prepare himself or herself for back to school, whether the person is a student or not,” said Leah Scully, traffic safety specialist for the AAA Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education.

“Area drivers have had the roads to themselves since mid-June,” Scully said in a statement. “As schools open across the Washington metro area, drivers must realize that their commute time may increase. Leaving home a little earlier in the mornings can help them get where they need to be on time and with less stress.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic says Maryland commuters will have it the worst Tuesday. According to the group’s analysis of traffic data from the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, traffic volumes on key freeway segments across the region increased dramatically between 2012 and 2018.

According to the group:

•Traffic volume on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Alexandria to exits along National Harbor increased by more than 36,000 vehicles day during that time frame. Traffic over the bridge was increasing even before the MGM casino opened, AAA Mid-Atlantic said.

•The segment of the Interstate 270 spur to Montrose Road generates 19,000 to 22,000 more vehicle trips per day than it did in 2012.

•The American Legion Bridge, one of the worst bottlenecks in the region, continues to worsen. Traffic across the bridge from the Virginia state line to the Clara Barton Parkway in Maryland increased by nearly 24,000 vehicles per day between 2012 and 2018.

Officials across the region are working on solutions. Virginia officials have signed an agreement to expand the 495 Express Lanes from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the American Legion Bridge.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is also pushing a plan to add toll lanes to I-270. Though leaders in Montgomery County say relief is most needed on the northern portion of the highway, the Hogan administration has said it will seek private companies to build toll lanes on the lower portion first, in part because tolls from that section will help subsidize construction of the lanes north of I-270, which are expected to be less lucrative.

Hogan’s plan prioritizes toll lanes on the lower part of I-270

Other officials are looking at strengthening the region’s bus network to alleviate pressure on roadways.

There also are signs that the Intercounty Connector may be helping to reduce traffic volume on a portion of the Beltway between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The number of vehicles using one of the busiest sections in Prince George’s County, from the Montgomery County line to Interstate 95, decreased from 265,905 vehicles daily on average in 2012 to 252,402 vehicles daily in 2018. AAA Mid-Atlantic officials said the decrease in traffic volume may be due to more commuters using the ICC, which parallels that section of the freeway. The ICC is the second most utilized toll road in Maryland.

Hundreds attend town hall on Hogan’s plan to add toll lanes to I-270

Six Blue and Yellow line Metro station will reopen on Sept. 9

Virginia will expand 495 Express lanes to the American Legion Bridge

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