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Posted at 11:32 AM ET, 02/14/2011

Dr. Gridlock answered your questions

By Mark Berman
Mark Berman

Dr. Gridlock answered questions today from readers, tackling topics ranging from the Rock Creek Parkway construction to the Intercounty Connector. Read the questions and answers here. The weekly chat takes next Monday off due to President's Day, but it'll be back on Feb. 28.

By Mark Berman  | February 14, 2011; 11:32 AM ET
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Hey Doc, any word on the Idylwood Bridge (over 495 connecting Falls Church to Vienna)? How is their timeline? Last I heard February was supposed to be the final month.

Posted by: toiletfloat | February 14, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G, you ran my comment in the chat about a way to get around Breezewood. In case the person who asked about driving to Pittsburgh sees this blog entry, here is some more info with a link.

Here is a Google Maps link. The "A" placemarker is in Breezewood at the corner of I-70 and US-30 at the light below the McDonald's. Note that this light has a no-turn-on-red restriction, which further confounds northbound drivers.,+PA&aq=&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=48.106236,114.169922&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Breezewood,+Bedford,+Pennsylvania&ll=40.000334,-78.257332&spn=0.045762,0.111494&z=14

To get around that stupid light on your way north, take Exit 149 (visible at the bottom of the linked map). Go left at the bottom of the ramp, then immediately right at the T-intersection. You can see how this route brings you up to US-30 just west of the main traffic light in Breezewood. You can then make a right to follow the conventional route up the hill to the Turnpike exit if you wish. Or you can go left and follow US-30 through Everett to Bedford (you can drag the map left to see where all this is). At Bedford, follow the signs to the Turnpike--you'll need to merge onto northbound US-220 and then exit from that to loop around through two trumpet interchanges. (Obviously you can reverse all this on the way home as well if you want.)

On the Turnpike it's 15 miles from the Breezewood interchange to the Bedford interchange and the traffic is usually going around 75 mph. On US-30 it's a slightly longer distance with a slower speed. As a general matter, the US-30 route works best as a bypass on your east/southbound trip home, as the Breezewood toll plaza obviously backs up a lot more from cash-payers exiting the highway than it does from cash-payers taking tickets when they enter the highway.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 14, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

About the signs on the I-95/I-395 HOV facility....

I think FHWA has come to the conclusion that "some level of prior knowledge" about a "non-mandatory" roadway can be expected. In otherwords, no one HAS to use the HOV lanes. If you are from out of town and you don't know where you are going, stick to the regular lanes clearly marked I-95 and you will definitely get to your destination. Yes, signs are meant for those from out of the area that don't know where they are going, and I think the signs on the I-95 mainline are okay in that respect. But I think the expectation is that since the HOV facility was designed for commuters/regular users, and not through travelers between New York and Florida, that the signing doesn't have to be as descriptive as it would be for other roads like the I-95 mainline. That being said, there could be some improvements, such as saying "I-95 Express Lanes" instead of just "Restricted Lanes".

Other examples of this exist too....I-91 and I-84 have HOV lanes with very limited access points near Hartford. Very few signs for the unfamiliar driver explaining where you can get off and on before you enter. I-279's HOV lane in Pittsburgh...good luck even finding the southern entrance when the lanes are northbound.

And then there are HOT lanes. Some people are upset that you can't have access to them unless you have the "local" toll tag...for example, on I-394 in Minnesota, you have to have a MnPass, on I-85 in Georgia, you'll need to have a PeachPass. On I-95 in Miami, you need a SunPass. On I-10 in Texas, you need a TxTag. A lot of people claim the rules are too confusing for those who don't study up in advance and are somewhat discriminatory against those from outside the local area without a toll pass. The Fed's answer...if you don't know where the lanes go or don't have the local toll pass, you can still get to your destination via the regular lanes. By designating these lanes as "Express Lanes" or "Restricted Lanes", it strongly implies that you can't reach every destination from them or have access restrictions, and if you are unsure if you can reach your destination or qualify for access, use the regular lanes.

That being said, some signs could be helpful where there is room (similar to the signs on the south end of the I-95 HOV lanes entering northbound). But on a local street access to an express or HOV or HOT lane....a lot of time, there just isn't any room for signs becase you have private property owners, residential areas that don't want huge signs because they will destroy the neighborhood character, etc.

Posted by: thetan | February 14, 2011 6:56 PM | Report abuse

DC to Pittsburgh -
The information by 1995hoo (as always) is quite helpful. A couple more items to consider: tolls are $9.25 each direction ($8.62 if you use EZPass) assuming you enter at Breezewood (where I-70 enters the Turnpike) and exit at Pittsburgh (I-376, commonly referred to as Parkway East).

Also, it sometimes depends on where you are headed in the 'Burgh. If you are headed downtown (University of Pittsburgh in Oakland for example), I'd opt for the Turnpike. If you are headed to the southern edge of Allegheny County (the county that contains Pittsburgh), it may be easier to to I-68 to US-40 to US-51 (or continue west on US-40 to PA-43, another toll road).

My folks live in the South Hills (southern Allegheny County). I take the Turnpike to the I-70 split (New Stanton Exit). Then I take I-70 west to PA-43 (although it's a toll road, I like the speed PA-43 allows without the lights of PA-51).

Posted by: mar237 | February 14, 2011 11:09 PM | Report abuse

thetan, you make good points as always about the signage, although I think VDOT's signs clearly fail to meet the MUTCD standard of at least including the I-95 marker. Take a look at Figure 2G-15 and note the signs shown on the "local street" at the top of the diagram, which are green, bear the Interstate shield, and say "HOV LANE ENTRANCE." Presumably a sign located down the road indicating that the road goes to an HOV lane entrance should then follow the same principle and say "TO I-95 HOV LANES." VDOT just says "TO RESTRICTED LANES" (take a look at the Google Street View linked in Dr. Gridlock's chat transcript). Obviously when you're already on the Interstate, the shield would not be needed since you're already on the road, and indeed the MUTCD omits it on signs placed on the highway with the exception of pull-through signs.

I recall a discussion in the Duke Law Journal office about the I-95 HOV facility during my third year of school (1997-98, as I am Duke Law Class of 1998) when one of the other editors said he was afraid to go in there because he didn't know where he'd wind up. Your point about "stick to the mainline if you're not sure" is exactly the principle he applied. This was, of course, prior to the rebuild of the Springfield Interchange. I told him he should take US-301 through Maryland. :-)

Incidentally, this thread brings to mind our oft-discussed beef with the Wilson Bridge signage and the lack of an "All Lanes Thru" notation on the signage placed in advance of the quad-carriageway. With those signs, there's nothing to indicate that if you don't know the area, sticking to the local lanes will get your through with no problem. I still see the last-second cross-gore kamikazes out there, usually with out-of-area license plates.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 15, 2011 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I don't argue that the signs could be improved upon. I just think that it is less of a priority than if it were on the interstate mainline because no one has to use those lanes. I myself never used them on my frequent trips between Durham NC and NY...until one day I studied a map and the operating hours, and realized I could shave miles and minutes off my trip if I could time the trip to utilize those lanes during non-HOV hours.

One point though, in VDOT's defense...FHWA did approve that signing plan once upon a time, long before the 2009 version of the MUTCD existed. Once a plan is approved by FHWA, it is "in compliance".

I do agree that "All Lanes Thru" at the Wilson Bridge and other "Thru/Local" facilities is a good idea though. BTW, FHWA is now encouraging Thru/Local as opposed to Express/Local where the Express or Thru roadway has no tolls or access restrictions above and beyond the Local lanes, but merely has less exits. FHWA would like to reserve the terms Express for HOV/HOT type facilities, and will likely want Maryland SHA to update their signs during the next sign replacement project.

Posted by: thetan | February 15, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Interesting to hear that on the FHWA preferring "Thru/Local" terminology. One problem I see with that usage is that it makes the "All Lanes Thru" verbiage on the sign arguably confusing. That is, if one set of lanes is designated "Thru," yet the sign says "All Lanes Thru," theoretically the wording conflicts. Perhaps the way to do it is simply to add the control city to the "Local" side of the sign as well--for example, using the Outer Loop signs, you might have "Thru" listing Baltimore as the destination and "Local" listing Alexandria and Baltimore, the idea being that it clarifies that either carriageway will take you to Baltimore.

Slight threadjack, but I'm kind of glad they dropped the HOT project inside the Beltway because I'm looking forward to the opening of the new direct-access ramps between the Beltway and the Shirley Highway express lanes. Had they converted the express lanes to HOT all the way into DC, I doubt I would use them very often. But anyway, I'm going to be interested in seeing what sort of signage VDOT puts up on the Beltway in connection the new ramps (Phase VIII of the Springfield Interchange). It seems like the ideal time for them to consider improved signage of the sort shown in the new MUTCD.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 15, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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