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Shortened Merge Jams GW Parkway

The worst traffic backup I've seen lately occurs on the northbound George Washington Parkway on the approach to the Beltway's inner loop. That's where the merge lane recently shrank to create a staging area for the Legion Bridge painting project.

My little traffic patrol started Tuesday morning after I got a letter from an Arlington commuter who was startled and confused by how bad the parkway traffic had become on her morning trip toward the Beltway and Maryland. The Maryland State Highway Administration is painting the bridge, and the staging area has been created on the southeast side. The ramp from the parkway has been shortened and the inner loop's shoulder across the bridge is blocked off.

I wanted to see for myself what effect that was having, but any trip of more than a couple of miles around here passes through several issue zones, and so the drive over to Virginia allowed me to see that the District's redesign of Military Road is moving commuter traffic along well between Oregon and Nebraska avenues. Likewise, the reopened Reno Road looks good.

My thought was to get to Virginia via Wisconsin Avenue and 34th Street NW, driving through Glover Park and Georgetown to the Key Bridge. What a nightmare. I suspect it had to do with the aftermath of Monday's fire in the Georgetown library, at Wisconsin and R Street. Turning down 35th Street as a bailout from Wisconsin, I remembered what so many of you have said about the problem with shortcuts: Everybody knows them.

But it also illustrated what's good about a grid street pattern: You can almost always try something else. So I wound up heading west on Reservoir Road and eventually got onto the outer loop from the Clara Barton Parkway without any further difficulty.

After the jam-up in the District, it was going to take a lot of traffic to impress me, but the GW Parkway did just that. I was very fortunate my original route didn't work, because by driving south on the parkway, I got to see the northbound line of cars without participating in it. I got off at the southbound exit for Route 123, just after the northbound line of cars started to form into a solid mass.

Route 123 led back to the Beltway, where I discovered that the shortened parkway merge wasn't doing much for Beltway traffic either. I saw no warnings for drivers in the right hand lane that they were about to encounter slow moving traffic entering from the parkway.

This is bad. The plan is to keep the shortened merge in effect till November. I thought I'd suggest to my letter writers that they bail out of the northbound parkway onto Route 123 as a faster way to link up with the Beltway. Maybe cut from 123 onto Georgetown Pike to lessen the distance to the Beltway? One correspondent who works in Alexandria and takes the parkway home to Maryland in the afternoon thought she might try heading south on I-395 to pick up the Beltway.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 2, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion  
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This is really bad news for those of us who live in McLean, because not only is the GW Parkway a parking lot on the commute home from DC, Georgetown Pike is getting just as bad. Commuters are bailing out of the Parkway at the 123 exit and taking Georgetown Pike to the beltway. What was once a fairly relaxing segment of the trip has become stop-and-go. This bridge work going on through November is just too depressing to contemplate.

Posted by: Gigi | May 2, 2007 8:58 AM | Report abuse

The obvious question is: Can't the Maryland highway department figure out a better way to position its staging area? It's causing 4 to 7 mile backups on the northbound GW Parkway every morning and evening rush hour and problems for bail-out routes. Seems that should be sufficient motivation to take a second look at its staging area configuration.

Posted by: Arlington-1 | May 2, 2007 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I doubt Maryland much cares about the problems its cosmetic work on the bridge is causing. After all, the problems are contained in Virginia.

Just goes to show you how much farther we have to go before we truly have a regional transportation system that has jurisdictions that actually talk to each other. My sympathy for those of you caught in this mess.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | May 2, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I sat for 20+ minutes in stop-and-go traffic yesterday morning on the Parkway Northbound attempting to get onto the beltway, and ended up with a 50 minute commute from Arlington to Gaithersburg. At this rate, if the construction barrier is to remain until November, I might have to quit my job. When do they start on the other side of the bridge? Will it take them until June of 2008 to finish that side?

Posted by: cara | May 2, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

The traffic backup on the GW Parkway is absurd. All this just to paint the bridge...and it takes until November to get the job done?! At the very least, why can't they stop work during rush hour and open up the merge lane for a few hours a day? Many (if not most) construction projection on the beltway are done during off-peak times.

Posted by: Mongoose | May 2, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

RE: Cara

I live in Arlington and work in Maryland in Lanham. Usually I take 395 through DC but occasionally I do take the inner loop of the beltway because this can actually be a less congested route. What worked for me recently during my morning commute was to take I-66 westbound and then take 495 north. Yes there is some traffic even on I-66 West, but it's not too bad. Once I hit 495 it started to slow before the bridge because of the merge issues, but I stayed in the far left lane and was ok. I got to Lanham in about 45 minutes. I would take this route if you could and avoid GW parkway all together in the mornings now.

Posted by: Steve | May 2, 2007 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I flew back into DCA last Thursday around 7 PM. I figured that by the time I got onto the GW Parkway things would have cleared up some and it wouldn't be too bad. Man was I ever wrong. It easily took me over an hour to merge onto the beltway. After I got on the beltway I didn't hit a single backup including up 270. Something has to be done about this merge area because like you and others said it is backing up for 4-5 miles daily. To add further insult the left lane headed for I-495W was completely open the whole time with people whizzing by.

Posted by: Razor04 | May 2, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock, You note that the construction crews chose the southeast side of the bridge as their staging area for this project. Obviously, there choice couldn't have been any worse. If this is the staging area for the WHOLE project, couldn't the staging area be moved in light of its major impact on traffic? It seems that reloacting the staging area to what would be the northwest side of the bridge would have far less ripple effects? Comparatively, there is far less traffic entering 495-South from the Clara Barton Parkway on-ramp.

I am impacted by this construction very little compared to other folks as I travel north into MD in the morning entering 495 from Georgetown Pike. Since the construction has been in place, there has been a rolling back-up BOTH mornings and evenings coming north on the beltway out of Tysons Corner. (Previously, there are virtually never delays northbound out of Tysons Corner in the morning rush.)

This slight closure point is changing commuting patterns across the entire region, MD, DC and VA. My wife says the northbound GW Parkway has been backed up continually in the afternoons from near the 14th Street bridge all because of traffic merging onto the inner loop at the bridge! The traffic on Old Dominion Drive in Arlington late last week was far worse than its ever been, mostly because folks on the northbound GW Parkway are using Spout Run Parkway to Old Dominion Drive as an alternate to the 7-mile back-ups on the GW Parkway.

Posted by: xyv1027 | May 2, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

For those that are in Rosslyn or Alexandria heading to Maryland, there are other ways to get there without taking the GW pkwy. You can get off at 123 and head north over Chain Bridge but that means that you have to head inbound on Canal Road until Arizona. But heading north, crossing MacArthur gets you up to Longborough (SP?) where you can turn left or right and continue through DC to get to MD.

Or you can take 14th Street Bridge, TR Bridge, or Key Bridge to cross the Potomac and either take Rock Creek Drive to Beach Drive or Conn Ave. or go through the city (16th Street, Reno Road, 13th Street, Georgia Ave. for examples) to get up to River Road, Mass Ave., Military Road, or the Beltway.

Yes, I know, there are already traffic on these roads but spreading out the additional cars can help alleviate the situation.

There are also other routes through DC to get to River Road or the Beltway at Conn or Georgia Aves. Look for them.

I used to work in Rosslyn and took the TR bridge to Rock Creek Drive to Conn Ave or Stayed on Beach Drive to East-West Hwy or Conn Ave. and stayed away from the Beltway.

Posted by: Historian | May 2, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I think the previous poster is inadvertently referring to Rock Creek Parkway as Rock Creek Drive.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 2, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

And I don't think that this is just for "painting the bridge." I've seen equipment and supplies from my view out my Caravan window that's not just for painting.

Dr. Gridlock,
Can you try to find out what else they are doing in the way of improvements. It may help us frustrated commuters to find patience while we wait for the work to be done.

Posted by: Historian | May 2, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Until November? This is unacceptable and something must be done about it. I will find a phone number and post it here soon for everyone to call and complain.

Posted by: Dan | May 2, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I think CyanSquirrel hit it on the head -- Maryland DOT clearly doesn't care about the effect that its staging plan has on Virginia traffic. In fact, I'd venture to say that the staging area was chosen explicitly because it would not affect Maryland traffic. If I were me, I'd start calling Mssrs. Davis, Wolf, and Moran and having them talk to their counterparts across the river. Congress would also be the appropriate venue for any discussion of GW Parkway issues, the Parkway being, of course, federal land.

Somehow I doubt it'll last until November, though. It's only going to take one extremely delayed "black limo" ride to or from Langley for that staging area to get scuttled pretty quickly.

I've only been driving this route in the AM for two days (I was on vacation, and boy do I miss it already). I've already started to see the "run-and-swoop" factor mounting, and it's not going to be long before you have people regularly side-swiping each other -- which is, of course, going to start causing delays for 495 Southbound traffic as well.

And no, I'm not telling my bailout secret. Hasn't been mentioned yet, and I want to keep it that way.

Posted by: JB | May 2, 2007 5:50 PM | Report abuse

This is just another example of how drivers on the Parkway are thought of last. Case in point, every other major route in the area has a traffic camera but the Parkway. The construction on the bridge by DCA has been going on far longer than the 12 months that the Federal Lands Highways Website says it should have taken. The City of Alexandria re-times its traffic lights so traffic on Washington Street during afternoon rush turns into a standstill. The area of the Parkway around the 14th Street Bridge turns into a lake during a good rain storm. Indeed, the list goes on and on. I guess it must be because the Parkway is a federal road and not owned by a state or DC.

Posted by: rsb | May 2, 2007 8:50 PM | Report abuse

This doesn't just impact Virginia. Many are from Maryland who work in Virginia. The bureaucrats and their contractors that came up with this scheme should be forced to drive in it every day and then fired.

Posted by: MD-to-Ballston Driver | May 3, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps they should have a citizens review board when they want to start major projects like these made up of people who will be impacted by the traffic. Let these people contribute some ideas to eleviate the problems that are not seen until after the project starts.

Posted by: What if | May 4, 2007 4:24 PM | Report abuse

If they could only move the staging area further up the bridge, I believe they could speed up the merge from the GW Pkwy. It will still be slow, however it would be better. Alternatively they would have to shut down a lane on 495 which would be a mess for beltway commuters. I have been taking 66 in the mornings and find it only adds about 15 minutes to my commute.

Posted by: Jamming | May 8, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

What's the rush? Are you all so unhappy with how life IS that you give yourself a coronary over how you think it should be? No wonder there isn't peace on earth. Grow the heck up, roll down your window, and enjoy the scenery. It's all good or otherwise you'll NEVER be satisfied.

Posted by: Matt | May 21, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

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