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Posted at 8:45 AM ET, 02/28/2011

The week ahead for traffic, transit

By Robert Thomson

Construction updates | Travel tips l Capital Weather Gang

The Capital Weather Gang warns travelers there's a risk of severe storms later today. But then conditions get quite calm and mild through Friday. Maryland's new Intercounty Connector is still free this week. See some driving tips below. Interstate 66 drivers should note the off-peak opening of two HOV ramps to all traffic. Homebound slugs in D.C. need to remember their new pickup point. Metro riders should check the transit authority's plan for another big weekend shutdown.

D.C. moving the slugs
The District Department of Transportation is again shifting the spot where vehicles can pick up carpool-mates in the informal commuting system known as slugging. Starting today, slugs should move from the short-lived location on 15th Street NW to New York Avenue NW between 15th and 14th streets.

The department, which has been trying to figure out the best stopping point that's not on 14th Street, says it's making this change in response to comments from the commuters who have been using the 15th Street location. The new spot may prove more convenient for them while still avoiding the stopping point on 14th Street.

Passengers can be picked up between 3:30 and 6 p.m. at the new location, the department says. D.C. police will be enforcing no-stopping rules on both 14th and 15th streets between H Street and New York Avenue.

Meanwhile, OmniRide commuter bus routes in that area will be relocated to 15th Street at New York Avenue. OmniRide buses will no longer stop at 14th Street and New York Avenue.

Reminder on I-66 ramps
Starting at 10 a.m., the westbound Interstate 66 high-occupancy vehicle ramps at Monument Drive and Stringfellow Road in Fairfax County will open to all westbound traffic on weekends and during off-peak hours.

New overhead message signs will alert drivers to the status of the ramps as they approach on I-66 west. Traffic signs and signals at the top of the exit ramps have been modified, and traffic signals near the interchanges will be re-timed to accommodate the new traffic.

Intercounty Connector
Many people were out taking a test drive of the still-free ICC this weekend. Jim WIngo of Woodbine reported seeing a small group of deer in the eastbound lanes on the Olney side of the new highway at about 9:15 a.m. Sunday. That's a good reason to use caution and obey the 55 mph speed limit.

I said in my Sunday column that one of the most frequently asked questions I heard was whether the tolls that take effect March 7 affect any route drivers were taking before the ICC opened. Whatever road you were on before the connector opened last week will not be tolled.

I think the signs marking the entrances to the ICC are very clear, and there are a few extra ones on variable message boards now. But do note that if you're on I-370 heading east, you'll first see a right-hand exit (3A) for Shady Grove Road, and then just after that, you'll see another right-hand exit (3B) for the Shady Grove Metro station.

The main traffic problem I saw last week occurred at the connector's Norbeck Road exit, where travelers got backed up at two red lights. Cheryl Sparks, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, says traffic engineers are working on that. When I drove through there Sunday, I noticed that the right-turn-only arrow leading from the right eastbound lane of Norbeck Road onto Wintergate Drive has been rubbed out. Drivers now can use both lanes to go eastbound past the traffic signal at Wintergate, but then they must quickly merge into a single lane.

Some other readers of the Sunday column wanted me to make sure you understand that you can shop around among the states and transportation agencies for whatever you think is your best deal on an E-ZPass.

Many drivers who had their accounts with Maryland got angry when the Maryland Transportation Authority imposed a $1.50 monthly maintenance fee in 2009. Some decided to look elsewhere for accounts. (Pennsylvania, for example, charges a $6 annual fee. New Jersey has a monthly fee of $1.) But if Marylanders plan to use toll roads with any frequency, they may skip the shopping and just sign up with the local program, so here are the details on that.

Virginians can create an account online with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Drivers also can apply by phone at 877-762-7824. See the Virginia FAQs page.


New buses on ICC
On Tuesday, Maryland will launch two new bus services to take advantage of the new route. A year from now, when the rest of the highway opens, more bus lines will be added.

For the first two weeks of the new service, the buses will be free. After that, a one-way trip will be $5. These are the two starter routes.
Route 201. The line will operate seven days a week, with 14 daily round trips between Gaithersburg and BWI Marshall Airport. The Maryland Transit Administration says the 47-mile trip should take about 75 minutes. The stops along the way are:
-- Gaithersburg Park and Ride
-- Shady Grove Metro Station
-- Norbeck Park and Ride
-- Burtonsville Park and Ride
-- BWI Southwest Terminal
-- BWI International Terminal
-- BWI MARC/Amtrak Rail Station

Route 202. The line will operate weekdays, with three morning trips, three afternoon trips and one midday trip between Gaithersburg and the NSA and Fort Meade. The MTA says the 46-mile trip should take about 75 minutes. The stops along the way are:
-- Gaithersburg Park and Ride
-- Shady Grove Metro Station
-- Norbeck Park and Ride
-- Savage MARC train station
-- NSA (Canine Road)
-- Fort Meade

More information about the routes, schedules and fares is posted on a new MTA Web page: www.mtaiccbus.com.

Beltway/Tysons Corner
Sunday through Friday nights through March, three lanes of the inner loop (northbound I-495) at Route 123 in Tysons are scheduled to close from 11 p.m. through 5 a.m. That leaves only one lane open, so expect traffic congestion.

In addition, the exit ramps from the outer loop to Route 123 will be closed. In preparation for these closures, crews will begin to shut down some lanes as early as 9:30 p.m.

Here's the schedule:
9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Crews begin tapering for the closing of the right lane, about a half mile before the Route 7 exit. The exit ramps at Route 7 are not affected by the rail project work.
10:30 p.m. Workers begin to close the second right lane near the Route 7 bridge and the third lane before the Route 123 interchange. The ramps to and from Route 123 also will close at this time.
5 a.m. All lanes and exits to Route 123 will be reopened to through traffic.

The closings of the ramps to Route 123 results in this detour for Beltway drivers:
Continue north, exit at Georgetown Pike (Route 193), turn around at Georgetown Pike and enter the outer loop (southbound I-495), then use the Route 123 exits from the outer loop.

Maryland road work
These are some of the road work projects resulting in lane closings in the Maryland suburbs:
-- Watch for single lane closings along University Boulevard between Arcola Avenue and Colesville Road from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
-- Watch for single lane closings on Georgia Avenue between Norbeck Road and Glenallan Avenue from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays.
-- Watch for single and double lane closings on East West Highway at Queens Chapel Road from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekdays.

Metro's weekend work
From 10 p.m. Friday through the midnight closing Sunday, workers will continue repairs on the aerial structure outside Cheverly Station; make train control upgrades outside Stadium-Armory; install 6,000 feet of communication cables that will eventually improve cellphone coverage; and replace 2,000 feet of track, 380 insulators, 1,400 rail ties and 400 track fasteners.

To clear room for the work, there will be no train service between the Stadium-Armory and New Carrollton stations and the five stations in between. That's Minnesota Avenue, Deanwood, Cheverly, Landover and New Carrollton.

During the same time, there will be no Blue Line service between Stadium-Armory and Benning Road. The Benning Road Station will remain open.

Metro will operate free shuttle buses around the area of the shutdowns, but riders should add 40 minutes to normal travel times if their trips go through the work zone.

Regular train service will resume at 5 a.m. March 7.

By Robert Thomson  | February 28, 2011; 8:45 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting, Congestion, Construction, Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, The week ahead  
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