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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 11/22/2010

The week ahead for traffic, transit

By Robert Thomson

Holiday getaway guide | Travel tips l Capital Weather Gang

Travelers departing for their Thanksgiving holidays at midweek are likely to encounter some bad weather, the Capital Weather Gang says. The highway departments should have pulled up their orange barrels by Wednesday afternoon, but that still leaves the concrete barriers and the lane shifts.

Many others will stick around the D.C. area and start their holiday shopping at local malls on Friday. So today, we'll concentrate the look ahead on the long distance and local travel obstacles connected to the holiday. We'll have much more on this as the week evolves.

[Join me at noon for an online chat about these and other local travel issues.]

Thanksgiving travel
Here are some updates on key bottlenecks to the northeast.

For the I-95 corridor, the Marland Transportation Authority recommends these times for the getaway:
-- Tuesday and Wednesday, before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m.
-- Thursday through Sunday, before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

Bob Marbourg of WTOP radio, who has studied traffic patterns in the D.C. area for three decades, gave me some good advice about the getaway:

"It's not just Wednesday anymore! ... Although Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving has been one of the heaviest travel days of the year, people go to great lengths to avoid being part of it."

"People will leave as early (days or hours) as the family can be assembled, or when college dorms close, or when schools close or when the work day ends."

The Delaware Department of Transportation warns that lengthy delays are likely at the Newark Toll Plaza on Interstate 95, especially on Tuesday and Wednesday when you head north and on Sunday and Monday heading south.

The toll plaza is being rebuilt to accommodate highway-speed E-ZPass lanes in the middle. Like other states, Delaware pulls up the orange cones and opens all available lanes during the holidays, but the construction has reduced the number of lanes at the toll plaza. Also, the three open northbound E-ZPass lanes on the left side of the toll plaza merge into a single lane just beyond the plaza.

Travelers can get traffic updates and camera views on the Delaware Department of Transportation Web site at by following @DelawareDOT on Twitter or by tuning to radio station WTMC (1380 AM).

Beating bottlenecks
Some drivers like to bail out onto U.S. Route 40 as an alternative to northbound I-95, but the Maryland Transportation Authority advises that the travel lanes on the Hatem Bridge over the Susquehanna River have been reduced from two lanes to one in each direction for repair work.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge also is popular with northbound drivers seeking U.S. Route 301 as an alternative. The transportation authority offers this advice:
-- Tuesday evening's rush hour will be a busy combination of holiday travelers and regular commuter traffic.
-- On Wednesday, it's best to travel before noon or after 7 p.m.
-- On Thursday and Friday, the best hours are before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m.
-- Next Sunday's westbound traffic will be heavy all day.

The Virginia Department of Transportation advises drivers to begin their travels before noon Wednesday. The department's observations show the busiest getaway period is noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

VDOT says drivers can expect heavy congestion in these areas:
-- Interstate 95 between Richmond and the Springfield Interchange
-- Interstate 66 both ways in Northern Virginia
-- The Interstate 81/77 interchange near Wytheville
-- I-81 near Lexington to south of Roanoke
-- Interstates 64 and 95 in the Richmond area

Virginia HOV rules
The High Occupancy Vehicle lane restrictions on I-66, I-95 and I-395 will be lifted on Thanksgiving Day, but the normal rules will apply on Wednesday and Friday. Here's what that means.

On I-95/395, three or more in a vehicle can use the lanes northbound from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. From 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., three or more in a vehicle can use the lanes southbound.

On I-66 inside the Capital Beltway two or more must be in a vehicle from 6:30 to 9 a.m. eastbound and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. westbound. Outside the Beltway, the HOV-2 rules apply in the left lane from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 to 7 p.m. westbound.

On the weekend, the I-95/395 reversible lanes will be southbound from 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26 until 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27, and northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27, through the rest of the weekend.

Metro getaway service
Metro provides transit service to the D.C. region's three airports, but has no specific plans to boost that service for the Thanksgiving getaway and return. Instead, Metro officials say they will monitor the number of people using the trains and the B30 and 5A airport buses, and add service if needed.

Wednesday: Travelers can use the Yellow and Blue lines to reach Reagan National Airport. If your destination is BWI Marshall Airport, take the Green Line to Greenbelt Station and board the B30 bus. The one-way fare is now $6. (Note that MARC and Amtrak trains from Union Station stop at the BWI Airport Station, where you can board a free shuttle to the airport terminal.)

Those heading for Dulles International Airport can take an Orange Line train to the West Falls Church Station and board a Washington Flyer bus to the airport terminal. Or they can take the 5A Metrobus from L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn stations. The bus fare is $6.

Thanksgiving Day: On Thursday, Metrorail will operate on a Sunday schedule, opening at 7 a.m. and closing at midnight. All trains will be six-cars long. The B30 and 5A will operate on a Sunday schedule. Parking at Metro lots and garages is free on the holiday. Off-peak fares are in effect all day.

Friday: Metrorail will operate on a regular weekday schedule from 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. with six-car trains. Peak fares will be charged and regular weekday parking rates will apply.

Saturday: Metro will operate its regular Saturday schedule, with the rail system opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 3 a.m. Parking at lots and garages is free.

Sunday: The plan for the big return day calls for operating a regular Sunday schedule, with Metro opening at 7 a.m. and closing at midnight. Parking will be free. Metro says it will monitor conditions on the rail lines and buses that serve the airports and add service as needed.

Tysons holiday traffic
One of the region's leading shopping areas occupies the same space as one of its biggest work zones. This is where the High Occupancy Toll lanes and the Dulles Metrorail projects meet. If you visit the shopping areas rarely, note these changes.

Route 7 west of Route 123 looks like a go-cart track. The lanes weave. They are lined with orange barrels and concrete barriers. The drivers ahead, and to your side, will make sudden moves in heavy traffic. The mid-block turns have disappeared but the main intersections and their left-turn lanes still exist.

Great caution is needed on the new, temporary ramp from southbound Route 123 to westbound Route 7. Look sharp for the entrance after passing International Drive. Then notice the two-way traffic, the driveways and the 15 mph speed limit as the ramp winds toward a stop sign at Route 7. Right on Route 7 is the only way to go there. Turn your head way left to see all the approaching traffic.

The left lanes on Route 123 at the Capital Beltway are blocked for construction of a new Beltway bridge. Drivers leaving Tysons on northbound Route 123 and hoping to reach the Beltway's inner loop must resist the reflex to stay right. That ramp is gone. Stay in the left lane, then move into the two left turn lanes at the traffic signal. As you drive up the ramp, watch for cars entering it from the right.

There's lots to gawk at, especially near the Beltway and Route 123. Drivers will see steel beams for bridge construction with steel beams over the Beltway at Route 123 and the truss overhead along Route 123 erecting the elevated rail line. Stay focused on those lane shifts.

Fairfax County Police officers will be deployed along Routes 7 and 123 to assist in directing traffic. Also, watch for portable message boards near Tysons Corner with alerts about current traffic patterns.

At Tysons Corner Shopping Center, shoppers can check out traffic conditions and bus routes before leaving the mall by looking at TV screens near the movie theatres, Barnes & Noble and Macy's.

Holiday traffic elsewhere
From Friday through New Year's Day weekend, the Virginia Department of Transportation customizes signal timing plans at 16 shopping centers in Northern Virginia. It's an annual balancing act: The goal is to give adequate time for drivers entering and exiting shopping centers while reducing traffic queues and keeping the main roads moving. Maryland uses a different system in which signals respond to current demand throughout the year. Still, the signals can't manufacture time and must be red for someone, so there will be periods when they are overwhelmed by holiday volumes.

Maryland doesn't have a Tysons Corner. But there are many hot spots in the D.C. area for seasonal traffic. Among them are Rockville Pike, Landover Road near The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, the Baltimore Washington Parkway and Route 100 near Arundel Mills and I-295 and I-95 near National Harbor.

Traffic also will be drawn south on I-95 toward the Central Park Shopping Center and the Spotsylvania Towne Centre along Route 3 in the Fredericksburg area.

The District's street parking fees have gone up since last year. In popular shopping and entertainment areas, it costs $2 per hour and the rules are enforced on Saturdays. Bring lots of quarters, or look for the new meters that take credit cards.

Rock Creek Parkway
Last week, the National Park Service began an 18-month reconstruction project along Rock Creek Parkway, and many commuters in the Woodley Park area were howling in confusion. The Post's Mark Berman, who knows the area well, offers this advice:

During the morning rush, the Cathedral Avenue and Woodley Road ramps to the southbound parkway are closed. Between 6:30 and 10 a.m., traffic can enter the Calvert Street ramp (adjacent to the Shoreham Hotel) and proceed to the southbound parkway.

If you can't get onto Rock Creek Parkway in this vicinity while it's southbound-only in the morning, you might want to consider hopping on the roadway at a later time. Try heading south and jumping on at P Street, for example. It might take a little while to head south on Connecticut or Wisconsin avenues as you make your way to P Street, but at least it gets you onto the parkway.

Beulah Road repairs
update: VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris says Beulah bridge is open.

Original post:Repairs to the Beulah Road bridge over the Dulles Toll Road began this weekend. The Virginia Department of Transportation said it expects the bridge will reopen to traffic no later than Wednesday afternoon. The bridge has been closed since last Wednesday after it was damaged by a flatbed truck traveling on the Dulles Toll Road.

The impact cracked one of the bridge's primary beams," VDOT bridge engineer Nicholas Roper said. The repair involves welding steel plates onto the beam to splice it at the crack and restore its load-carrying capacity. The repairs are being handled by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which now operates the Dulles Toll Road.

As an alternate route, drivers can use Route 7 to Towlston Road and Trapp Road back to Beulah Road.

By Robert Thomson  | November 22, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Advisories, Congestion, Driving, Events, Getaways, Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, The week ahead, travel tips  
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Another thing that many people overlook is that Friday is not a holiday in terms of parking and traffic rules (at least not in the District in past years). The city always makes a killing writing tickets to people who think it's a holiday and so fail to pay the meters or leave their cars parked on Constitution Avenue at the times that would normally be rush hour.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 22, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Dr. G,

Are Metro Bus and the other local bus systems running on a regular weekday schedule this Friday? Specifically I'm wondering about Ride-On. Thanks in advance

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | November 22, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock for UMDTerpsGirl: This Friday, Metrobus is more complicated. It will operate on a special service schedule. Go to this page on Metro's site:
Then scroll down to "Friday after Thanksgiving" and click on the "Special Service" link to see a long pdf page giving details. (Note: The Metrorail entry for "Friday after Thanksgiving" says the rail system will shut at midnight. That's not so. It will stay open till 3 o'clock Saturday morning, as usual.)

Will check about Ride On schedule.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | November 22, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Is it possible to find out why 23rd street is down to one lane both ways at Constitution, and how long it will last? It took me nearly a half hour to get past the Pentagon on Washington Blvd. at 745 this morning.

Posted by: Binah | November 22, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Is it possible to find out why 23rd street is down to one lane both ways at Constitution, and how long it will last? It took a half hour to go a half mile by the Pentagon on Washington Blvd. at 745 this morning.

Posted by: Binah | November 22, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

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