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Explaining Night Paving Hours

A couple of readers raised concerns this week about the nighttime paving along I-95 in Howard County. This job, between Routes 32 and 100, is one of the region's big paving projects. Another example is the overnight work along I-270 near Rockville and Gaithersburg. If you're driving along late at night, maybe coming back from a trip, or just an evening at a movie or concert, and you encounter a paving project, you know that sinking feeling that goes with seeing four lanes of brake lights ahead.

This was one reader's comment on a Monday blog entry:

Last night we returned from a weekend trip arriving in BWI about 10:30 pm. We took I-95 south and got embedded in one of the worst traffic jams I have ever been in. We were jammed up for about 1 hour before we finally go through the bottle neck where 4 lanes merged to 2 at the Hwy 100 exit due to construction. That's about a distance of 3 miles in 1 hour. Is it necessary to start their work so early? 10:30 pm is still very active especially on a weekend. I know its nasty and I suppose needed work but this situation was ridiculous.

Another commenter followed up with some good points:

It is often very difficult for transportation agencies to find a big chunk of time to get a project done. A perfect example is Metro with its track work. The entire system shuts down at night, but even that does not leave enough time to get some of the more complex tasks done, so they have to resort to weekend single tracking. ... Commuters would cry bloody murder if the work extended into weekday rush-hour, so that basically leaves weekends (which are typically the lightest traffic days of the week) for any long projects that cannot be completed during the lightest traffic hours of the night.

I asked the Maryland State Highway Administration about what planners consider when they're setting the schedule for paving projects.

David Buck, a spokesman for SHA, noted that crews have five nights to work on a project, since Friday and Saturday night work are ruled out. Generally speaking, he said, the earliest any lane closures are likely to occur on interstates is 7 p.m. Exceptions could include rural highways, like I-68 or western sections of I-70.

"As a rule on I-495," he said, "we do not begin until 8 p.m. due to volume, though no specific volumes dictate the timing."

"Of course, if we chop off even one hour each night, considering it takes at least an hour to set up the maintenance of traffic and another hour to break it down by 5 a.m., all of sudden we have only seven usable hours. So there is a balancing act between trying not to impact late rush hour traffic and maximizing the hours needed to complete a job in a timely manner."

Daytime work is a rarity in the Washington area because rush periods can go till 9:30 a.m. and start again at 2 p.m., Buck said. "The window we are now working in is smaller and smaller and smaller."

The District Department of Transportation will be doing some highway resurfacing of its own this weekend on
inbound I-395 between the 14th Street Bridge and the Case Memorial Bridge. The work is scheduled to begin Friday at 8 p.m. and end no later than 4 a.m. Monday.

Starting Friday night, the right two lanes and shoulder will be closed for milling and resurfacing. Once these lanes are completed, the operation will shift to the left lane and shoulder lanes. If things go according to plan, that shift will occur Saturday morning. When the left lane is closed, the exit from the Rochambeau Bridge to I-395 Northbound will also be closed. Traffic will be detoured along 14th Street to Independence Avenue to 7th Street, DDOT said.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 14, 2007; 5:34 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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