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I-95/395 lane times adjusted

For the second summer, the Virginia Department of Transportation has extended the weeknight hours that southbound drivers can use the reversible lanes on I-95/395. From today through Sept. 23, the lanes will remain open southbound until midnight.

This should help the late-night drivers who are more common in summer and those caught up in lane restrictions required for the I-95 widening project and the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway at I-95.

The reversible lanes will reopen for northbound traffic at 2 o'clock each morning. Note that this change has no impact on the HOV-3 schedule. There must still be at least three people per vehicle in these lanes between 6 and 9 a.m. and between 3:30 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Travelers often ask -- often complain -- about the weekend schedule. The lanes are open for all southbound traffic from 6 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday. Then they are open for all northbound traffic from 4 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Monday. VDOT says its traffic counts show that those are the most popular travel times in each direction.

The complaints I receive usually come from drivers who were southbound as the weekend ended. They are stuck in traffic, and they can see that motorists heading north are having a fine time. That was true Monday afternoon as people headed home from the July 4 weekend.

The marked difference in congestion is pretty much what's going to happen if you give motorists heading in one direction two extra lanes. It doesn't tell you that the overall traffic volume is heavier in your direction than theirs.

HOV lanes were built to encourage commuters to carpool. The system isn't that easy to adapt to weekend travel (something our frequent commenter, thetan, first pointed out to me). Adding two lanes for travelers in one direction for that many consecutive hours on weekends may over-indulge those drivers, but VDOT and the state police can't change the direction along the entire route because they spot a temporary gap in the traffic.

The thing traffic planners work really hard to avoid is making a mistake that would send drivers heading in different directions at 65 mph onto the same set of lanes.

By Robert Thomson  | July 6, 2010; 3:40 PM ET
Categories:  Driving, Highways, Virginia  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, HOV, VDOT  
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Comments

"The marked difference in congestion is pretty much what's going to happen if you give motorists heading in one direction two extra lanes. It doesn't tell you that the overall traffic volume is heavier in your direction than theirs."

As a general matter I think this is correct, but there are certain weekends on which the evidence is overwhelming that the bulk of the traffic is going in a particular distance. The one that comes to mind most immediately is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, on which date the vast majority of I-95 traffic is headed south. I recall it all too well from my law school days at Duke, and I've long felt that on that particular Sunday VDOT should leave the express lanes running southbound until late Sunday night.

It's clearly impractical for them to react on the spur of the moment given the amount of time needed to reverse the lanes (the safety issue is quite rightly paramount). But when there's an ongoing pattern of congestion in particular directions at particular times, notably holidays, exceptions can and should be made to the standard schedule. They did just that this past weekend for Independence Day, for example.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 6, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

"The lanes are open for all southbound traffic from 6 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday. Then they are open for all northbound traffic from 4 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Monday."

and

"From today through Sept. 23, the lanes will remain open southbound until midnight."

So, which is it? southbound until midnight on which day(s)? Are you referring to Saturday?

Posted by: ADCWonk | July 7, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Take another look at the first paragraph. He's referring to weekdays: "For the second summer, the Virginia Department of Transportation has extended the WEEKNIGHT hours that southbound drivers can use the reversible lanes on I-95/395." (Emphasis supplied)

Normally on a weekday the lanes are southbound until sometime around 9:00 PM, then they close for reversal. Over the summer they're going to postpone that until later at night. Weekends will follow the standard weekend routine.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 7, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

thanks for the shoutout, Dr. G. :)

Posted by: thetan | July 7, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

1995hoo, I didn't realize you were also a Duke alum :)

I think VDOT's philosophy on holiday lane arrangement is to have the lanes pointing south at the beginning of the holiday and north at the end. This is to help DC area residents escape at the beginning and return at the end of a long weekend. For summer holiday weekends, that makes perfect sense. In fact, it would be politically difficult to do otherwise....point them north when people from DC are trying to leave, and people will complain that Northern Virginians are stuck in traffic for the benefit of those from North Carolina and points south. Wouldn't fly too well.

Thanksgiving is a unique time though. There's a lot more really long haul traffic out there. And there are probably a lot more people from down south that head north for Thanksgiving than the other way around. Think of all the people who left their families up in the Rust Belt and New York and New England for the South, with cheaper cost of living and better job opportunities. Most of those people still have family up north. My first year in DC, I drove home for Thanksgiving. I saw a lot of cars with Red Sox and Yankees decals on their cars with North Carolina and Georgia license tags. If that isn't proof of someone who picked up and left the NE for the South and is going back to visit family for the holidays, I don't know what is!

But VDOT chooses to have the lanes running out from DC at the beginning of Thanksgiving and north at the end. I guess by the time those drivers get back to North Carolina, they're less likely to complain than someone coming back to Northern Virginia.

Posted by: thetan | July 7, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"1995hoo, I didn't realize you were also a Duke alum :)"

If you are who I think you are, you would have started your undergrad career at Duke the fall immediately after I graduated from the law school there, so our time did not overlap. Not that we likely would have encountered each other anyway. I knew a couple of engineering undergrads from Sunday Mass, but only a very few.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 7, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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