Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Eureka! Virginia is taking my advice on fixing the Interstate 95 southbound HOT lanes after only 11 months. Attempting to fix the horrible congestion at the southbound end — wow!
Now, please, please, please build a direct exit to Garrisonville Road from those lanes. Considerable traffic exits there and it might be enough to reduce the congestion quite a bit.
Amazing that VDOT has realized its error so quickly.
Gordon Eliot White, Deltaville, Va.
DG: Besides my longtime correspondent down in Deltaville, there were many, many travelers who urged the Virginia Department of Transportation to fix the southern end of the 95 Express Lanes, where traffic gets backed up in both the regular lanes and the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
The express lanes opened last December, and it didn’t take too long for VDOT and Transurban, the company that operates the lanes, to see the big slowdown in traffic, especially at peak commuting periods and during weekend getaways.
(Those of you planning getaways for the long Christmas weekend will likely see this, too.)
VDOT and Transurban have reached an agreement on a plan to extend the express lanes system two miles, putting the merge point south of today’s bottleneck near Garrisonville Road in Stafford County, though without the new exit for Garrisonville that White wants.
Construction should begin next year, and the work should take about two years to complete. So this bottleneck won’t get uncorked for a few more years.
Since Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced the plan in late November, drivers have been telling me it’s not everything they want. And they have a case on this.
Extending the merge point by two miles should help, because Garrisonville Road draws off a lot of commuter traffic, but there’s still going to be quite a bit of traffic at the new merge. In the Washington region, many people drive a long way to work and there’s plenty of traffic to and from the Fredericksburg area.
Drivers remember that the original proposal for the I-95 HOT lanes was more ambitious, and the lanes would have stretched south to Fredericksburg. So far, financial realities have curtailed that plan.
Today’s bottleneck at the southern end of the HOT lanes serves as a reminder — should anybody need one — that big transportation projects don’t solve every problem along the route, and may lead to some unintended consequences.
It’s certainly something to keep in mind as the state advances its plan to put HOT lanes on Interstate 66.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Reading your column about the American Legion Bridge problems reminds me of something I have long thought needs a solution.
What’s with the almost constant afternoon/evening problems at the Severn River Bridge eastbound? The view from that bridge is gorgeous in every direction (and the approach is rather steep). It probably causes a lot of people to unconsciously slow down to take in the sights. I have long wondered if a sign at the approach to the bridge saying “Keep Up Your Speed” would help to alleviate the problem — at least in small part.
When beach-bound traffic increases in the summertime, the slowdown can add 30 to 40 minutes or more on Route 50 getting to the Bay Bridge, although the problem can appear any day of the week.
On a Thursday about 4:30 p.m., the traffic was backed up from the bridge onto Routes 50 and 97. Once you get about three-fourths of the way across the bridge, traffic reverts to the posted limit immediately.
Almost without fail, the mess clears as soon as you cross the Severn. Is this a ploy on the part of Maryland Department of Transportation to ease congestion at the bridge?
Helen Dillon, the District
DG: This is another widely recognized bottleneck, and it'’dcsaKJHG been around a lot longer than the one at the south end of the express lanes.
As I’ve learned in discussions about the American Legion Bridge, drivers have theories about how other drivers behave when they reach one of our river crossings. A popular one is that drivers create traffic jams when they slow down on or near a bridge.
In fact, driver behavior was one of the issues identified by the Maryland State Highway Administration as it studied the many complaints about the Severn River Bridge, just north of Annapolis.
Of course, another important factor is the volume of the traffic, which is far greater than what the original planners had in mind. You have Route 50 drivers arriving from the Washington area mingling with motorists from Interstate 97 and from the city of Annapolis. There are many trucks, narrow shoulders, a steep grade and weaving traffic — plus those people who just love the view of the river from the bridge.
Those three eastbound lanes weren’t built to handle that much trouble. So the highway administration wants to ease the bottleneck by reconfiguring the space on eastbound Route 50 to create an extra lane across the bridge.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) advanced this program during the summer when he added $845 million for highway and bridge projects statewide. The $25 million he added for the lane reconfiguration should lead to construction starting in 2018.
As with the Virginia HOT lanes extension, it’s good news, but still a long time to wait for what’s likely to be a partial fix to a larger problem with traffic congestion on a busy highway.