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Timing the Commute

Here's a good question from a commuter looking for a way around the traffic generated by the two-month shutdown of the District's Douglass Bridge. We've talked a lot the past few days about routes, but what about alternative times?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Does the back-up on I-295 dissipate significantly after the end of "normal" rush hour? If the northbound trip were made at 9:30 a.m. or so, would it be reasonably close to "normal"? (Same question for the southbound trip at
6:30 or 7:00 p.m.)

This information would be most helpful to those of us who might be able to alter our work hours a bit for part or all of the next several weeks.

Nan Reiner
(Trying valiantly to get from Southeast Alexandria to North Capitol Street and back.)

I haven't driven on I-295 after 9 a.m. since the bridge closed, but from what I could see of the traffic on that route and on the inner loop of the Beltway, it did not appear that the bottleneck around the detour route across the 11th Street Bridge would be gone by 9:30 a.m.

Travelers have generally been more positive about the afternoon commute than the morning commute around the shutdown, except for those who find themselves in the M Street backup for the 11th Street Bridge. That's a difficult merge onto I-295 outbound, expecially with the extra volume.

When Metro reported on Tuesday that the Anacostia Station parking garage, which normally has extra capacity, was filled by 7 a.m., I was curious: Why would drivers who had battled their way through the worst of the congestion on I-295 or Suitland Parkway stop to park and ride from Anacostia Station? "Woodley Park," a frequent commenter here, had a good theory: Drivers are positioning themselves for the homeward commute. They want to get a jump on that downtown traffic, stuck back on roads such as M Street.

Have any of you been working later than a 9 to 5 shift and experienced the commute around the bridge shutdown?

By Robert Thomson  |  July 11, 2007; 11:44 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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For the commuter coming from Southeast Alexandria: I assume that you're originating from near the Ft. Hunt/Mt.Vernon area of Alexandria/Fairfax. If so, why not take 95, or Telegraph Rd. to Duke Street, and then
take 395 into DC, getting off at the Mass. Ave exit and turn onto North Capitol. Better yet, if where you work is Metro accessible, take the Yellow Line from Huntington or Eisenhower Metro and then transfer to the Red or Green Line (which ever is closer to your job) or take the bus.
My point is that you don't need to take the 295 route unless you really want to.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | July 11, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I've been following this affair intently, YS23. I will be moving to Alexandria next week to start a job at NRL. As such, I'll be doing Beltway to 295 every day. Do you know if the 295 hell reaches the NRL exit on 295 (I believe it's the first one after exiting the Beltway)? And if so, should I go to work early (like around 6, 6:30) or late?

Posted by: TheMatt | July 11, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: "TheMatt," based on what I saw, I'd say leave early, rather than late.

I drove south along I-295 on Friday, Monday and Tuesday between 6:30 and 7 a.m. to watch the inbound traffic back up. On Monday, I made a second pass at about 8 a.m. Even on the early passes the inbound traffic backups on I-295 stretched pretty far down toward the Beltway. On the second pass on Monday, it was pretty solid traffic to the Beltway.

As I drove around checking other routes, Lisa Baden on WTOP reported continued heavy traffic on I-295 down to the Beltway.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 11, 2007 5:16 PM | Report abuse

TheMatt: I do VA/WWB to NRL every day, typically at 9 - 9:15am. Monday it was a little slow, but tuesday and wednesday it was fine. NRL has its own exit lane so as long as it's used only by the folks that need it, it should move faster than the main lines. Just stay to the right and it shouldn't take you more than an extra 5 or 10 mins, even on a heavy day. (Of course, now I've said that...)

Posted by: Wrinkle | July 12, 2007 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I commute from Alexandria to NRL every day. The exit lane for the Lab on 295 was more backed up than the main lines on Monday, mostly with people turning right at the bottom of the ramp to head towards Bolling. I've been bypassing 295 and heading to 210N to Chesapeake St SE (left turn)(which leads you directly under 295 to Gate 2). It hasn't been bad, with the exception of all the people on 210N trying to get on the inner loop of the beltway. They are blocking the intersection of 210 and 414 and taking up one of the 2 through lanes of 210N trying to cut into the entrance ramp). Once you're past that, its only a few lights into the lab. I'm still able to leave my house by 8:10 and make it to work by 8:30 (if the lights aren't all against me).

Posted by: AlextoNRL | July 12, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

To YS23: Thank you for the suggestions. I am familiar with the alternate routes, both via car and public transportation. I've tried just about all of them. In a word, they all stink -- and increasingly so -- during the ever-widening slices of the day that are designated as "rush hours". Getting to and on 395 from the Mt. Vernon area is no easier than slogging through Old Town. (Not to mention counter-intuitive, although I understand why you suggested it.) And making the myriad connections (walk, bus, multiple trains) required to take public transportation takes even longer. And, of course, all problems are exacerbated beyond tolerable limits when an event such as construction takes away a popular route anywhere in the area; folks quickly spread out among all other routes, as we are seeing now. The only thing I've found to make a significant difference in my commute has been staggering my hours whenever I can... which is why I sought the information that I did.
FYI to others in the same position, I did travel up 295 to the SE/SW Freeway on the late side (toward mid-morning) on Tuesday and Wednesday; I found it more congested than usual, but bearable. The key will be figuring out how soon after the end of "rush hour" this will become feasible! (All information in that regard would be much appreciated... and I'll be sure to contribute my experiences, too.)

Posted by: NMR | July 12, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I feel your pain NMR. I used to live in the Mt. Vernon/Hybla Valley area of Southeast Alexandria/Fairfax, and I hated feeling like I was so far away from DC and MD in terms of reasonable commutes.
I live near 395 now, so it's a little better, but I agree that the commute does stink.

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