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Posted at 10:15 AM ET, 02/14/2011

I-66 HOV ramps opening to all

By Robert Thomson

The westbound I-66 High Occupancy Vehicle ramps at Monument Drive and Stringfellow Road in Fairfax County will open to all traffic on weekends and during off-peak hours beginning at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 28.

The ramps have been open only for HOV traffic during rush hours, but drivers have long asked why they can't be open to all traffic at other times, just as HOV lanes are. (Travelers were asking about it last week during the Monday online discussion.) The change has been in the works since last year, and the date was announced this morning in a statement from Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

"Opening these ramps is a low-cost solution to improve commute times for thousands of congestion-weary commuters in Fairfax County," he said in the statement. "Anyone who travels I-66 midday or weekends knows that congestion in this area is just as common outside of the traditional rush hours. Now motorists will have easier access to shopping centers, office parks and residential areas near the two exit ramps."

Until Feb. 28, the long-standing rules remain in place: The Monument Drive and Stringfellow Road ramps are open only to HOV-2 traffic eastbound from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. and westbound from 3 to 7 p.m. The ramps are closed to traffic during off-peak hours and weekends.

Starting Feb. 28, the ramps will be open to all traffic, except during the HOV hours. New overhead digital message signs will alert drivers to the status of the ramps as they approach on westbound I-66. Traffic signs and signals at the top of the exit ramps have been modified, and traffic signals near the interchanges will be retimed to accommodate the new traffic.

The Virginia Department of Transportation predicts that the change will Improve travel times for many drivers, provide alternative routes to avoid the work zone at the Fairfax County and Fair Lakes parkways where VDOT is building a new interchange through 2013, and give bus riders as well as motorists direct access to the Stringfellow Road park-and-ride lot.

VDOT anticipates that up to 5,800 vehicles a day will use the Stringfellow Road ramp and 2,400 vehicles a day will use the Monument Drive ramp. The cost of opening the ramps, with the new signs, is about $200,000, VDOT said. The change has the approval of the Federal Highway Administration.

Here's a map showing that area.


View Larger Map

Commenters here on the blog have generally liked the idea of opening up the ramps, but some said they feared it would create more traffic in that part of Fairfax County. What's your view?

By Robert Thomson  | February 14, 2011; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting, Congestion, Driving, Virginia  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, HOV  
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Next: Dr. Gridlock answered your questions

Comments

Dr. G....you said "westbound" exit ramps would open....will the eastbound entrance ramps also be open?

I think opening the ramps one direction at a time is a great idea....but those ramps were not designed to handle two-way traffic. If they were open to two-way traffic with both directions operating at the same time, then there could be a safety issue as there is no barrier separating the two directions of traffic like there is on every single other interstate ramp in the state.

Also, I sincerely hope that the signals are set up with sensors to give extra green time to the ramp if the ramp gets backed up. Bad enough that you will have slowpokes that should only travel in the right lane cutting over to the left to take this exit (you'd think that these drivers would have the sense to speed up as they move left and then slow back down in the decel lane, but typically they just move left at 50 MPH)...but if the ramp backs up onto the left lane of I-66 during off-peak hours with traffic going 70+ MPH....bad idea.

That being said, i'm sure FHWA thought of a lot of these things before approving the opening of the ramps. So I'm sure it won't be too bad. I'm looking forward to testing out the Stringfellow ramp next time I drive out to Clifton from DC. I agree with anyone who says that its a PITA to have to take FFX Co Pkwy and 29.

Posted by: thetan | February 14, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

"Bad enough that you will have slowpokes that should only travel in the right lane cutting over to the left to take this exit (you'd think that these drivers would have the sense to speed up as they move left and then slow back down in the decel lane, but typically they just move left at 50 MPH)..."

No, no, you give them too much credit. They'll park themselves in the left lane as soon as they enter the highway because they know that eventually they'll have to exit on the left and they're afraid that people won't let them get over when the time comes. Same phenomenon that happens in the express lanes on I-395 where you see some drivers (including buses) getting in the left lane at the Pentagon when they plan to exit at Seminary Road.

My brother lives in Fairfax City and works in Fair Lakes and I'll have to ask him how things look out there once these open. I don't think he normally uses I-66 on his commute, but I'm sure someone at his office does and that he'll hear all about it. I may have to check it out next time I go to the Wegmans out there. It's not a huge nuisance to take the US-50 exit, make a right on Waples Mill, and then another right on Government Center Parkway, but exiting directly to Monument Drive is more direct.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 14, 2011 11:14 AM | Report abuse

BTW, here is the press release from the Governor's Office:

http://www.governor.virginia.gov/News/viewRelease.cfm?id=607

It's arguably ambiguous on the question thetan raises about the use of the ramps as entrances. Guess we'll find out in two weeks.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 14, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Why did this take so long? The Route 50 exit is nowhere near as convenient to Wegman's and the Fair Lakes area and I often wondered why this was closed on the weekend. The big question for me is why it is going to cost $200K.

Posted by: AlligatorArms | February 14, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I almost hate to even bring it up, but how about opening up the shoulder lanes on the weekends? I-66W gets backed up from Rte 123 to the Beltway every Saturday afternoon like clockwork...

Posted by: Dynaformer | February 14, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I almost hate to even bring it up, but how about opening up the shoulder lanes on the weekends? I-66W gets backed up from Rte 123 to the Beltway every Saturday afternoon like clockwork...

Posted by: Dynaformer | February 14, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"they're afraid that people won't let them get over when the time comes."

Because they won't. Drivers are a-holes.

And why are the shoulders EVER open to traffic? They're shoulders. I could see it as a temporary solution to a traffic problem, but there needs to be a plan in place to pave some actual lanes.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 14, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

And why are the shoulders EVER open to traffic? They're shoulders. I could see it as a temporary solution to a traffic problem, but there needs to be a plan in place to pave some actual lanes.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 14, 2011 12:54 PM

You're correct, and in fact the "shoulder lanes" on I-66 were supposed to be a temporary measure until the road could be improved. thetan can give you the full story, as he knows more about it than I do, but as I recall, the FHWA gave VDOT a temporary waiver to use the shoulder as a lane at certain times of day and were none too pleased that there have never been any more permanent improvements on there.

I must say that VDOT did a better job of delineating the I-66 shoulder lane than they did when they tried the same thing on I-95 south of the Beltway prior to that road being rebuilt. On I-95 the lane was the same color black as the rest of the road and there were no "X/arrow" signs overhead to indicate whether the lane was open (instead there were just white signs with the hours posted--"THIS LANE OPEN ONLY [times]"). The sad result was that a man whose car broke down in the lane got pancaked by a tractor-trailer that was using the lane illegally when it was closed. While the error falls on the truck driver in that situation, it underscored that better signage was needed. Having the I-66 lane be a different color from the other lanes and adding the overhead "X/arrow" signs isn't perfect, but it's an improvement over the method they used on I-95.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 14, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

And why are the shoulders EVER open to traffic? They're shoulders. I could see it as a temporary solution to a traffic problem, but there needs to be a plan in place to pave some actual lanes.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 14, 2011 12:54 PM

You're correct, and in fact the "shoulder lanes" on I-66 were supposed to be a temporary measure until the road could be improved. thetan can give you the full story, as he knows more about it than I do, but as I recall, the FHWA gave VDOT a temporary waiver to use the shoulder as a lane at certain times of day and were none too pleased that there have never been any more permanent improvements on there.

I must say that VDOT did a better job of delineating the I-66 shoulder lane than they did when they tried the same thing on I-95 south of the Beltway prior to that road being rebuilt. On I-95 the lane was the same color black as the rest of the road and there were no "X/arrow" signs overhead to indicate whether the lane was open (instead there were just white signs with the hours posted--"THIS LANE OPEN ONLY [times]"). The sad result was that a man whose car broke down in the lane got pancaked by a tractor-trailer that was using the lane illegally when it was closed. While the error falls on the truck driver in that situation, it underscored that better signage was needed. Having the I-66 lane be a different color from the other lanes and adding the overhead "X/arrow" signs isn't perfect, but it's an improvement over the method they used on I-95.

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

Sorry about the double-post. I got an error message when I posted, so I understandably hit the back button and hit "Submit" a second time.

The Post management needs to do something about the blog software. It takes FOREVER for anything to happen after you hit "Submit."

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 14, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"The westbound I-66 High Occupancy Vehicle ramps at Monument Drive and Stringfellow Road in Fairfax County will open to all traffic on weekends and during off-peak hours beginning at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 28."

It's pretty obvious that this written by some Richmond bureaucrat. Anyone who commutes on I-66 knows that the ramps are westbound and eastbound.

Part of McDonnell's transportation plan was an "active traffic management" program that will have sensors to know when I-66 is backed up so that the shoulder lane will automatically open up during off times. (Eastbound on Saturday evenings and westbound on saturday afternoons have huge backups).

Posted by: vance1167 | February 14, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

The ramps are westbound OR eastbound, but not both. They were not designed for 2 way traffic (to do so would require a barrier down the middle).

From WTOP's site, it appears that the ramps will be open to eastbound HOV during AM rush hour, westbound HOV during PM rush hour, and westbound anyone at off peak hours and on weekends.

It costs $200,000 because big signs have to be replaced.

And opening up shoulder lanes is a bad idea during non-rush hours....people with disabled cars need a place to safely pull off the road. That is why you need Federal approval for shoulder lanes and Federal approval to change the opening hours. FHWA issued VDOT a "temporary permit" for the lanes, and VDOT would need a more permanent solution in the works before FHWA would be thrilled at the idea of changing the operating rules. That will come in time...most likely in the form of reversible HOT lanes.

Posted by: thetan | February 14, 2011 6:33 PM | Report abuse

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