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Big Improvement for Beltway Traffic

Maryland's State Highway Administration says it's attacking a major problem on the Capital Beltway's inner loop. It's widening the ramp that leads to southbound Wisconsin Avenue in Montgomery County.

That stretch of the Beltway is notorious for congestion during the afternoon rush. Many drivers who work in Northern Virginia and live in Maryland or the District know what I'm talking about. The SHA says that more than 244,000 vehicles travel that stretch of the Beltway daily.

The exit ramp for southbound Wisconsin is going to be widened to two lanes. Drivers will also see curb and gutter replacement, roadway patching, grinding and resurfacing and re-striping. The $654,000 project should be completed in the spring, the SHA says

Some pain first, of course: To accommodate the work, the ramp will be narrowed between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays. Watch for arrow boards, drums and temporary traffic signs in the work zone.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 13, 2006; 3:46 PM ET
Categories:  highways  
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Comments

This is a good thing, but it's only half a solution - what about the roadway for the through traffic?

The through traffic lanes bottleneck from 4 lanes between the American Legion Bridge and I-270, to 3 lanes from I-270 - just beyond Old Georgetwon Road, then to 2 lanes just before Wisconsin Avenue. The right lane is lost since it becomes an "exit only" lane to Wisc. Ave.

This stretch is the busiest part of the Beltway in Maryland. I've never understood why this situation has been allowed to occur for as long as it has.

Then again, we need not worry. The Purple Line will remove all the traffic and completely elimiinate the congestion at the bottleneck.

Yeah, right.

Posted by: CEEAF | November 13, 2006 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I agree CEEAF -- It never ceases to amaze me this two-lane stretch of interstate still exists! In my several years commuting from Baltimore to Reston, the problem in this stretch was always the through traffic, NOT the vehicles exiting onto Wisconsin Ave. Some effective zipper merging beyond this exit would be probably be helpful as well.

Posted by: Zizzy | November 13, 2006 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it does become two lanes (actually before the exit, right after Old Georgetown Road onramp). But immediately after the exit to southbound Wisconsin Ave, a third lane enters on the left with I270 traffic, then a fourth lane for traffic from 355 southbound allowing for a long stretch for the merge.

I am one of those that uses that Wisconsin Ave exit going home.

If drivers respected that yellow sign that says "Exit Only" before the Old Georgetown Road underpass and got out of that lane before the exit instead of getting into that lane when traffic slows in order to use the "Exit Only" lane to get ahead of other through vehicles, and then cut over at the last minute making a bottleneck.

If driver obeyed the signs and their intent, two things would happen: the exiting traffic could get off quicker, and the through traffic would not back up so much, because vehicles would not be cutting in (and therefore causing traffic to brake), thus slowing down the already slow traffic.

Many times, vehicles (not just cars) cut in front of me in the right lane, only to stop before the onramp, preventing me from getting to my exit.

Posted by: Historian | November 13, 2006 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I get off at Wisconsin, but I understand how those going beyond the Wisonsin get frustrated. I cannot believe that there is anyplace on the beltway that is two lanes, let alone such a busy point. I also wish there was a way to go North on Wisconsin without making the U-turn from Southbound Wisconsin.

Count me as not all that impressed with this solution.

Posted by: Tysons to White Flint | November 13, 2006 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Even accounting for Historian's points, I agree with the first two posters - the Wisconsin Ave traffic is not the problem, at least in the PM peak. I suspect they are trying this as a next-best solution because they can't fit in any more through lanes under the 355 bridge. In any case, it would be worth a query from Dr. Gridlock to MDOT.

Posted by: ex-Transportation Planner | November 13, 2006 7:58 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand this project. They appear to be widening the lanes along the exit ramp well away from the beltway. That exit ramp is not crowded, it is the beltway that is crowded. How does this help traffic on the beltway? Is it going to get an extra lane too?

Posted by: Stephen Wissing | November 13, 2006 10:45 PM | Report abuse

"I don't understand this project. They appear to be widening the lanes along the exit ramp well away from the beltway. That exit ramp is not crowded, it is the beltway that is crowded. How does this help traffic on the beltway? Is it going to get an extra lane too?"

Good question. Giving the Beltway another lane would be the common sense thing to do.

Posted by: CEEAF | November 14, 2006 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"I suspect they are trying this as a next-best solution because they can't fit in any more through lanes under the 355 bridge."

After seeing your comment, I paid close attention to the 355 overpass when I reached that point on my way home last night.

There's room for another lane. All they need to do is shrink the shoulders.

Posted by: CEEAF | November 14, 2006 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Stephen Wissing,
Have you taken that exit ramp during a rush hour since they activated that light? Sometimes, by the time that the light turns red, not all the traffic gets through the it so they wait another two minutes before getting a chance.

Southbound Wisconsin Ave traffic gets 2 minutes, ramp traffic gets 1 minute and then gets the red light at Pook's Hill. Then they get to wait another minute or two to make the turnaround at the light if they are heading north (which most of them do).

Before the light was there, most of the time in evening rush, I could make that maneuver, getting through Pook's Hill twice, in a few minutes; now it takes me 4-5 minutes, or more if I don't get that light the first time.
I think that some of the confusion is (1) because they can see a red light at Pook's Hill they hesitate or go slowly, (2) some who will make the u-turn take a while to cross the lanes to get in the far left lane, (3)some who will turn left soon get in another lane and zoom in front of others after the light changes because those in the left lane are slow to move.

The traffic that doesn't make it through the light the first time waits another two minutes before getting a chance. A second lane will give the oportunity for more to make it during that 1 minute.

Personally, I would like to see that three minutes divided differently for the evening rush, the last 30 seconds of southbound green light has a limited amount of traffic and we ramp traffic can sure use that extra time. We might even make the green light at Pooks Hill and eliminate that minute plus get the green left-turn arrow at the next light; this would subtract 2-5 minutes from my commute home.

Posted by: Historian | November 14, 2006 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I agree that this makes absolutely no sense. While all traffic is not able to make it through the light, it still does not back up onto the Beltway in order to justify the long exit ramp and additional lane. The through traffic is by far the worse problem. And there is room for an additional through lane. (They were able to keep the lanes open while they did the bridge work a few years ago.)

As to those who cut in, not everyone is evil. Often times the back-up on the Beltway begins long before the Exit Only sign at Old Georgetown, so people stay in the right lane through a back-up, only to realize they are in an exit only lane and need to move over. I feel especially bad for the truck drivers who aren't always familiar with this stretch of road.

Another example of the idiocy of the road planners in this area. Throw money at something and hope it solves the problem. Don't bother actually doing any research.

Posted by: College Park Gal | November 14, 2006 5:03 PM | Report abuse

"As to those who cut in, not everyone is evil. Often times the back-up on the Beltway begins long before the Exit Only sign at Old Georgetown, so people stay in the right lane through a back-up, only to realize they are in an exit only lane and need to move over. I feel especially bad for the truck drivers who aren't always familiar with this stretch of road."

This is so true.

About five years ago, there was "roadwork" to expand and re-pave the left lane shoulder between I-270 and Route 355. They fooled me - I thought they were adding a lane.

The sensible thing to do would be to expand the roadway in that corridor to 4 lanes, with 1 designated an "exit only" from the beginning - right after the 495/270 split, with the lane next to it a "hybrid" - part through lane and part exit with a turn-off onto Wisconsin Avenuee (like they did with the exit onto the Dulles Toll Road).

The grass median could be filled in and divided with a Jersey wall, like on other parts of the Beltway. Makes more sense than what we have now.

Posted by: CEEAF | November 14, 2006 5:39 PM | Report abuse

The problem is it's a 2-lane road on a major interstate and the people who ignore the "exit only" signs and ride the exit 34 lane only to cut over at the end. I'm forced to ride the shoulder to get around them and take the exit. Adding an additional lane does not solve the problem. It only means that there's an additional lane for rude drivers to ride down before cutting over, long after they should have.

Posted by: Exit 34 Taker | November 15, 2006 8:58 AM | Report abuse

it is amazing that with all the chest beating about the traffic in the area - the fact there are 2 lanes on the beltway is rarely mentioned.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 21, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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