As days grow shorter and traffic grows heavier, let’s start the fall with a story about some highway help for a stranded motorist.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Our Saturday had been kind of slow. I had spent that afternoon painting the kitchen, and then my 12-year-old daughter and I went to see the movie “The Hunger Games.”
When we left the theater at 8 p.m. to head down to the Northern Neck, we were both a little tired but looking forward to spending Sunday at the lake. We picked up a friend’s truck. Emma sat in the back seat of the small Toyota truck with our two dogs, Daisy and Ivy, and their water bowl.
When we got onto Interstate 95 south at 8:30, the traffic was still pretty heavy. But it was moving well. We made our way to the center left lane so we could move with the flow of traffic. Then we heard a loud rumble.
“Mom, it’s in our truck,” Emma shouted.
I gripped the wheel and slowed down as quickly as I could, looking for the emergency flashers button and put on the left turn signal to try to get over to the shoulder. But as our speed dropped to 50, then 30, then 20, I could see the cars behind us crowding into the rear view mirror faster and faster. And the traffic in the far left lane was flying by.
There was no way to get off the road.
I held tightly to the wheel, watching my left rear view mirror for an opening in the line of cars. After what felt like about two excruciatingly long minutes, a driver in the left lane put on flashing emergency lights and slowed down to a near-stop to let us pull over. The truck limped off the highway. The left rear tire had disintegrated, its sides collapsed and ripped to shreds.
I talked to the state police on my cellphone. They took my location information. I had to leave the dogs and Emma in the truck for a minute while I walked down to read the mile marker. As I looked back at them, I realized that the truck could easily be hit by the speeding traffic, with less than a yard dividing them from us. So when I got back to the truck, I told Emma we had to get away from the truck. We didn’t want to leave the dogs, but I knew we couldn’t keep them under control on the roadside with all the cars and noise.
We huddled together against the side of the road, watching as cars swerved over the line into the shoulder as they passed one another. After about 20 minutes, a Virginia Department of Transportation truck with its yellow lights flashing pulled up.
Lemenuel Dungey got out of the truck and told us in a calm and reassuring voice that he would fix our tire and that everything would be okay. Thanks to him and the VDOT (at no charge — “your tax dollars at work,” Dungey told me), the spare tire was on.
“Mom, I feel like we were in ‘The Hunger Games,’ ” Emma said to me as we drove away unscathed.
Jane Ashley, Arlington County
DG: Ashley is a former colleague at The Washington Post who wanted to make sure that Dungey got public credit for one of the rescues he performs in the course of his risky job.
Also worthy of note is the performance of the motorist who set a pick, protecting her from the oncoming traffic and allowing her to ease the truck to the shoulder.
The VDOT’s Safety Service Patrol, which operates on the interstates in Northern Virginia, can do a variety of things to help stranded motorists, including providing jump starts, some emergency gas, water for the radiator, some limited first aid and of course, a tire change.
If you feel like you’re in a life-threatening situation on the highway, call 911. Motorists also can contact the state police to report stranded vehicles by hitting #77 on their cellphones.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I’ve noticed an Intercounty Connector bus on Route 198. Could you tell me more about it, or how I can find out its schedule, who can ride it and what it costs? I understand it runs from Gaithersburg to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. Why isn’t it more publicized?
Madeline Chlowek, Ashton
DG: It’s tough to get enough publicity for bus routes, all across the D.C. region. Fairfax County will be campaigning to get Tysons Corner commuters familiar with new bus services that will take advantage of the 495 Express Lanes after they open this fall.
The bus that Chlowek is asking about is on the most frequently operating route of the five launched by the Maryland Transit Administration after the opening of the Intercounty Connector. Route 201 service between the Gaithersburg Park and Ride, at Interstate 270 and Route 124, and BWI Airport is seven days a week, and the buses run hourly for much of the day. The full schedule is on the MTA Web site, at www.mtaiccbus.com.
Stops include the Shady Grove Metro station, the Georgia Avenue Park & Ride near the ICC, the Burtonsville Park & Ride at the junction of Routes 29 and 198 and Arundel Mills Mall. The regular one-way fare is $5. Seniors and people with disabilities pay $3.20. The driver doesn’t give change.