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More Summertime Blues on Roads Today

If there is a summertime decrease in traffic volume, it was hard to find this morning. Cars still were backed up from the 11th Street Bridge all the way down I-295 toward the Beltway. Pennsylvania Avenue and East Capitol Street in the District were jammed. So were the Baltimore Washington Parkway heading south between the Beltway and the District and the outer loop of the Beltway between Greenbelt and Georgia Avenue.

Those were just the roads I saw. Others could add to the list.

I was out early trying to see if there's a clear pattern to the congestion stemming from the Douglass Bridge shutdown. The heart of the congestion continues to be the merge where I-295 traffic meets cars from the Suitland Parkway. That's unlikely to change until the restoration project on the South Capitol Street bridge is completed in two months and the bridge reopens.

Detour Map.jpg Click for District Department of Transportation map of main detours around Douglass Bridge.

(By the way, all those electronic message boards refer to a reopening on or about Sept. 7, but it's still the intention of the District Department of Transportation to reopen the bridge before the end of August.)

I-295 drivers should be looking for alternatives, but I haven't found any route that would cause me to say, This is it!
If you drive in on Suitland Parkway, stick with that. Even though you get jammed up for a half mile or so before the merge for I-295 and the 11th Street Bridge, you're a lot better off than drivers coming up I-295 from the Beltway and no worse off than drivers on Branch Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and East Capitol Street.

If you can find a parking place at one of the eastern Metro stations on the Green, Blue or Orange lines over these two months, that's likely to be less stressful and quicker. Or take one of the MTA commuter buses from Southern Maryland and get off at a Metro station. Of course, an alternative is just to leave extra early, but based on what I saw Friday, Monday and this morning, I think I'd allow more than the 20 extra minutes that the District estimated on most of those routes.

Anybody have a different experience? And how about on the outbound commute? Has that been any better for you than the trip in?

By Robert Thomson  |  July 10, 2007; 9:29 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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Benning Road has worked very well for me as an alternate to the Douglass Bridge/295/Suitland Parkway fiasco.

Although its only been two days (counting this morning), it seems that the ripple effects of the Douglass bridge closure are felt alot more during the morning rush compared to the afternoon rush.

Posted by: Deale to Union Station commuter | July 10, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Can anyone provide more details on the extent of delays northbound on 295 just north of the beltway? I commute up 295 each morning, but only to the first exit (Research Lab/Blue Plains). I've been leaving late this week (after 9am), and haven't run into any delays. What time of the morning are these backups, and is traffic really moving slowly that far south?


Posted by: 295 Commuter | July 10, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I'd agree with the previous poster. The outbound commute yesterday evening was fairly typical from what I saw. Entering the freeway from 6th/8th SE to go to the 11th street bridge, I didn't experience anything atypical.

Something needs to be done about advance signage at the Suitland Parkway/295 merge point though. There is ALOT of confusion amongst traffic here. The left lane of two) of the Suitland Parkway ramp has NO merge area when entering 295. This is causing near-miss accidents during the times of day when this area is not bumper-to-bumper gridlock.

Why are the folks in DC so keen on as little signage as possible and as little merge area as possible on city freeways? (I wouldn't even call them freeways.) The merge point from Maine Avenue to the eastbound Freeway is a notorious hot spot as are countless sections of Kenilworth Avenue in NE DC.

Some better (read, more advanced) signage would do alot for DC roadways. DC has learned alot from VA across the river, another state with generally abysmal signage. MD tends to do much better with highway signage from my experiences.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

The delays northbound on 295 this morning started just after the Naval Research Lab exit, so that is probably why you experienced such "smooth sailing" for your part of the trip. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

Going back to Dr. G's original discussion point, it seems that the Wilson Bridge is taking ALOT of the bailout/overflow traffic from the Douglass bridge closure. Although not obvious to some folks, there are alot of commuters in this area from points south and east who commute to Arlington, Rosslyn and Pentagon City. Many of those folks use to cut through the city but are now opting for the Wilson Bridge instead. At 9am this morning, according to WTOP, the inner loop was backed up from Branch Ave to cross the WWB into VA.

Posted by: RE: 295 commuter | July 10, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Good Morning, I used to take the SCB into work. I have been taking NYAve the last three work days. It is grim (even after 10:00 and 10:30am). Today, there was a utility truck set up with cones on NYA at North Capitol Street. Result: traffic jammed. E.g., from the light before Florida to Florida Avenue took 15 minutes. WTOP said nothing about NYAvenue.Nevertheless, the PM commute has been even worse! I could take 395 tunnel to NYA, but it is generally code red ("jammed"). On Friday, I tried 7th Street from Maine Avenue up to K or H or NYA. Don't go there! Yesterday, I took Independence to RFK and 295. It was a slog.
Yikes! Maybe I'll buy a boat!

Posted by: Norman from Greenbelt | July 10, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

All of these (valid) complaints about the effects of the bridge closing and not one word about the REAL cause of the traffic problems - lack of an alternate route.

Why people aren't loudly demanding that the Barney Circle Connector and an express connection via NY Ave between 50 and 395 get built is beyond my level of comprehension.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 10, 2007 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Where is the summer light"? I have been waiting and waiting for traffic to lighten up over the summer but I don't know if its happening this year. With the exception of last Thursday and Friday, things seem to be status quo in the area.

This morning, the Dulles Toll Rd was backed up from some point before the main toll plaza on the Greenway, basically all the way to the beltway. And then the beltway, is STILL dreadfully slow in the morning from Routes 7/123 across the Legion Bridge. The culprits? One minor accident after Hunter Mill Rd on the left side of the Toll Rd and HOV enforcement on the left side after Wolf Trap. And of course, the completely ridiculous long-term lane closure on the Legion Bridge.

Dr. G, what happened? Your coverage of the ALB crisis is gone. Aside from Friday mornings, there is still a delay almost every morning headed north on the beltway from Tysons Corner. There was hardly ever a back-up on this stretch of the beltway before the construction on the bridge was erected. (The afternoon traffic is just as bad as it ever was, if not worse because of the construction; the GW Parkway continues to bear alot of the pressure during both AM and PM rush.)

Just a few years ago, ramps from the Toll Rd to the beltway were widened and traffic did get slightly better because of the additional lane capacity. Now everyone is "toast" again coming off the Toll Rd in the morning because the beltway is stacked solid from Tysons to the ALB.

Posted by: Michael | July 10, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Weird, for me the traffic has indeed been lighter, at least since about June 25 (once Fairfax County schools let out). I had it up to 65 mph in 6th gear on I-395 this morning. Ancillary benefit is that I've gotten better fuel economy since it's not all stop-and-roll driving.

Posted by: Rich | July 10, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Getting out of the Navy Yard in the afternoons really sucks now because of all the traffic on M St. SE heading for the 11th St. bridge.

Posted by: Stick | July 10, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I've noticed traffic is much lighter on my commute also. When school is in session, there are often brief delays on westbound GW Parkway near Key Bridge in the morning, and on some afternoons the entire parkway is stop and go from 123 to DC. But ever since summer started it has been smooth sailing just about every day in both directions.

Posted by: Woodley Park | July 10, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Let's remember to give credit where credit is due for this entire mess, which was NOT the tired old line about the bridge's needing replacement because of age but because of the yen of the previous legacy-chasing mayor to do anything possible to put lipstick on the cash cow that is the ballpark rush job. From the 4/13/06 Post:

""We're taking what's here -- an industrial environment -- and completely changing it, reconnecting communities rather than dividing them, making it feel totally different. The city's plans to revitalize the Anacostia waterfront and build a baseball stadium in Southeast, near the Navy Yard off South Capitol Street, jump-started the bridge project, said Michelle Pourciau, acting transportation director. The new span will allow northbound vehicles to come off the bridge at Potomac Avenue and drive onto a redesigned South Capitol Street or turn onto local streets."

As suggested at the time of the announcement of the $123 million bridge plans -- which came directly from the ballpark scheme as part of an Anacostia Waterfront improvement package fought for by ballpark boosters to sell the stadium site, the bridge reworking and lowering was all about improving aesthetics around the ballpark (which with the bridge lowering will have a walkway on its west side as opposed to an elevated roadway) and increasing the car and pedestrian friendliness of the area so that the ballpark district could flourish and become a retail and entertainment destination. It's too bad for the planners that the ballpark district will be buried under the massive parking garages set to loom beyond left and center field and will be engulfed by the office development that was already underway thanks to the Navy Yard, DOT, and SE Federal Center projects. The massive inconvenience of the next two months is a result of the extremely bad planning that put this ballpark in a location totally unsuited from a parking, infrastructure, and overall access perspective. Get ready for more of the same annually from April to October as the evening rush coincides with the mass of people trying to get to the ballpark.

Posted by: One | July 10, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"Why people aren't loudly demanding that the Barney Circle Connector and an express connection via NY Ave between 50 and 395 get built is beyond my level of comprehension."

Come on, that's so 20th centruy of you! After all, this is the city with officials like Jack Evans who have advocated eliminating both the Whitehurst Freeway and even the entire SE-SW Freeway because the structures are unsightly and their elimination would reunite the city and speed up gentrification and project opportunities for pals like Herb Miller! And we won't even discuss the Techway and the arguments from some Maryland officials like WD Schaefer that no such improvements like that or ALB improvements should be considered because of the potential harm that could be done to BWI's customer count!

Posted by: One | July 10, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Oops, I missed posting the most direct line from the 4/13/06 article showing this disruption to the bridge lowering so it would be at the ballpark's entrance level: "The most disruptive closures are planned for summer, when the entire bridge, which carries 77,000 vehicles a day, will be closed for all of July and possibly August. Workers will cut 600 feet off the end of the bridge and lower the roadway by roughly 20 feet so it is level with Potomac Avenue."

Posted by: One | July 10, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G - you've posted about drivers and metro riders, why not checking out cyclists who have to move to the 11th St Bridge and their experience?

Posted by: dc | July 10, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

One ,
Good points.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 10, 2007 6:02 PM | Report abuse


this is needed so ballpark traffic will not HALT the entire SE traffic on game days. take your poison.

Posted by: mm | July 10, 2007 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Stick- agreed. The 6th St. gate is the best option now, but even that gets backed up.

Posted by: surlychick | July 11, 2007 8:40 AM | Report abuse


I notice you don't mention how lowering the bridge vertically improves traffic flow, but we're all ears. Also, how is the proposed traffic circle at S. Capitol and Potomac Ave. going to do anything but encourage dangerous merges and make the "improved" area far more congested than the original design would?

Posted by: One | July 11, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Well, as someone who commutes from Crofton every day, my commute has actually gotten worse this summer. Route 50 to New York Avenue, 295, Benning to H, East Capitol to Constitution, it's all gotten much worse. There is no good way to get into downtown DC from the northeast.

Posted by: MD Commuter | July 11, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

MD Commuter: I feel your pain. I commute in from Severna Park, so you and I are on the same treadmill. In fact, we may have been griping to each other on the Constitution Avenue thread.

I was pleasantly surprised with Benning to H Street this morning, but it is only a matter of time before that secret gets out (not that it is a secret, but it is far better than any other option we have, i.e., New York Ave). I can't speak for you, but the afternoon commute has gotten significantly worse for me. Independence Ave, which used to flow pretty well, has turned into a parking lot, and it is clear that it has picked up a lot of volume from the Douglass Bridge closure. The last two afternoons have taken me 90 minutes to get home, which is typically about a one hour commute.

Not sure if you are aware of this route, but another alternative (although it will take you out of your way) is in and out on 13th Street via Kansas and New Hampshire Aves. But even that route is less than ideal since they instituted traffic calming measures (4-way stops) in the revitalized areas north of U Street.

I am still burning about the Constitution Ave thing. It's going to take a while for me to get over that one. In the two times I have taken it in since it went two-way, I think I have seen a total of two west-bound vehicles during the morning commute. Ridiculous.

Posted by: MD Commuter 2 | July 12, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

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