Douglass Bridge: Why Call it Rush Hour?
Drivers this morning experienced the full, daunting impact of closing a major commuter route into Washington. Though the two-month shutdown of the Douglass Bridge at South Capitol Street began Friday, that commute seems like a mere tune up now.
Inbound traffic on Interstate 295 was backed up from the 11th Street Bridge down to the Beltway. Traffic also was heavy on Suitland Parkway, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Branch Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and East Capitol Street over the Anacostia River. The only inbound route I saw between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. that was not heavy, was Benning Road, and that was the last track I followed, at crossing the river at about 8:45 a.m.
It's difficult to say if today's experience is going to be typical. Many drivers were off last week, so they were dealing with this for the first time, and some appeared to have no idea what was happening, despite six months of warnings from the District Department of Transportation.
But if it is typical, my advice is leave a half hour early and don't take I-295 coming in. The trip on I-295 has been slowed by accidents, but the key problem is that traffic on the interstate heading for the 11th Street bridge and points west must merge to the right, where it meets traffic coming up from the Suitland Parkway and South Capitol Street. And the sun is likely to be in drivers' eyes.
If you're on the interstate and heading farther north, stay as far to the left as you can. If you're using the Firth Sterling Avenue SE approach to I-295 and heading for the 11th Street Bridge, stay in the far right lane.
Once you're past this merge area, travel improves dramatically. The two lanes of 295 heading north along the Anacostia seemed empty by comparison. Even the 11th Street Bridge lanes moved easily after the cars had blended together.
For drivers stuck in traffic on the Suitland Parkway for that last mile before I-295: It's frustrating, but I'm not sure there's an alternate route that will work better. Drivers were pretty good about merging toward the right for the turn onto Firth Sterling. And that new paving on the right side of the I-295 ramp means that if you stay to the right, you have a relatively unfettered course to the 11th Street Bridge.
As an alternative, I tried Branch Avenue and turned left onto the three inbound lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue. Traffic on both Branch and Pennsylvania was heavy and sluggish, but it did move. It certainly would beat I-295 traffic, but didn't offer a significant advantage over the Suitland Parkway. If you're on Pennsylvania trying to reach I-395, you'll want to stay to the right across the Sousa Bridge.
If you're coming up Branch Avenue and you want to continue on to Pennsylvania, stay in the left lane as you approach the Suitland Parkway interchange. The right lane becomes an on ramp for the parkway. If you want to get onto the parkway, be careful at the top of the ramp. There's not much of a merge area onto the inbound parkway.
Later in the morning rush, but well before 9 a.m., I found Central Avenue and East Capitol Street pretty clear almost up to the Whitney Young Bridge, but there it jammed up. I peeled off and headed north on Minnesota Avenue NE, before heading west across the river on Benning Road NE. That wasn't bad, with all the lanes open. I didn't hit significant traffic heading downtown until I turned onto H Street NE.
I didn't have time to take Metro this morning, so I can't comment on today's Green Line conditions. On Friday morning, I was on a jam packed train from Branch Avenue to L'Enfant Plaza. Later, watching trains pass through the Anacostia Station, there was some variety: One train would be jammed, but the next one would have about a dozen standees per car.
Today was the first day the MTA commuter buses shifted their schedules and included some stops at Metro stations. The buses get stuck in the same traffic as everyone else, though the drivers do have some flexibility about where they cross the river.
The District notes that the Anacostia Station and the RFK Stadium park and ride lot have extra capacity -- and that was certainly true on Friday -- but you still have to get through traffic congestion to reach them.
Share your adventures with the new commute. You can post a comment here, of course. Or you can send an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or join me at 1 p.m. today for our regular Live Online discussion of local transportation issues.
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