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Get There: February 22, 2009 - February 28, 2009

Dulles Rail Construction to Become More Visible

So far, drivers have witnessed some of the utility relocation along sections of Routes 7 in Tysons Corner. But as early as next Friday, March 6, they'll experience the beginnings of a rapid increase in construction activity on the Dulles Rail project. The traffic lanes of eastbound Route 7 in front of Pike 7 Plaza are going to be shifted to accommodate utility work in the right lane. This means the right lane will be closed and traffic shifted toward the median. To maintain three lanes eastbound, a new lane will be carved out of the median in the construction area, though a median will still exist to divide the eastbound and westbound traffic. This new pattern will remain in place for about nine months. The other, more familiar closures will continue along several sectoins of the service roads by eastbound and westbound Route 7 between Chain Bridge Road and...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 27, 2009; 3:58 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Construction , Driving , Metro , transit  
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Metro Announces Deal For More Cell Service

It's dream fulfillment for some Metro riders, and a nightmare scenario for others: The transit authority has approved a deal to expand mobile phone service in the rail system. In addition to solving the problem with using many cell phone services in the tunnels, the new deal will allow riders to access the Internet from any Web-enabled cell phone and eventually have Wi-Fi access in the system. Twenty of the busiest underground stations will have expanded cell phone service by the end of this year, and the entire rail system will be equipped by 2012, Metro said in an announcement this afternoon. For many years, Verizon was the only service that worked underground. Sometimes, the only noise you can hear inside a Metrorail car during rush hour is the yakking of Verizon customers, sharing their business deals and their love lives with 100 total strangers. Suzanne Peck, Metro's assistant general...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 27, 2009; 3:19 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (14)
Categories:  Metro  
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The Weekend and Beyond

Here are some things you might like to know for your upcoming travels. Nasty Weather There's a good chance of frozen precipitation Saturday night and then again from a second wave on Sunday into Monday. See what the Capital Weather Gang has to say. Metro Delays Workers are replacing a section of track at Mount Vernon Square that was involved in last Thursday's derailment, something that already was on Metro's list of weekend projects. Yellow Line trains won't operate between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten. Board a Green Line train for that part of your trip. But both Green and Yellow Line riders should expect delays of about half an hour during the switch replacement project, because trains will be sharing a single track to get around the work zone from 10 p.m. Friday through midnight Sunday, when the rail system shuts down. I-295 Work Saturday The District Department...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 27, 2009; 9:56 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Advisories  
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VDOT Meeting Tonight on Route 50 Widening

The Virginia Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting to discuss plans to widen Route 50 to six lanes near the Fairfax-Loudoun line. (Yes, really, the state hasn't abandoned all local road building programs because of the recession.) The meeting is from 6 to 9 o'clock tonight at VDOT's Northern Virginia District Office, 14685 Avion Parkway, Chantilly. People will have an hour to review information about the project, then there will be a brief presentation at 7 p.m., followed by a question and answer period. Route 50 is six lanes in South Riding, but goes down to four lanes for 3.6 miles from Poland Road in Loudoun to just before Route 28 (Sully Road) in Fairfax. The widening project, one of the state's top road-building priorities for Northern Virginia in its long range plan, has a cost estimate of $75 million. That's $4 million for preliminary engineering, $20 million...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 4:43 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Construction , Driving  
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D.C. Parking Meters Getting More Expensive

The District is updating its 15,453 meters to reflect rate increases approved by the D.C. Council. The District Department of Transportation said today that all of them should be charging the higher rates by April 30. Under the new parking fee rules, meters that were charging $1 per hour will charge $2 per hour. The rate at all other D.C. meters will increase by 25 cents an hour. Click on this link for a DDOT guide to meter operations. It includes answers to hours of operation, how to use a single-space meter and how to use the newer multi-space meters, which take credit cards. This page on the D.C. Department of Public Works Web site explains how to deal with a busted meter....

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 3:29 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  Driving  
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Drivers: Montgomery Will Use Smart Boot

The announcement sounds so cheery: Your government working for you. Starting Tuesday, Montgomery County will begin a parking enforcement program "that will make it easier for parking violators with three or more delinquent parking tickets to pay their fines on the spot without being towed," the county government said in a statement today. The new system, called PayLock, uses a mechanical boot that can be instantly unlocked once the violator pays outstanding fines using a cell phone and a credit card. (Prince George's County began using the system more than a year ago.) Very modern. And it beats getting towed. "The new self-release boot system will help Montgomery County collect payment from vehicle owners with three or more delinquent parking tickets without preventing them from picking up their kids, getting to work or keeping important appointments," Department of Transportation Director Art Holmes said in the statement. "Instead, of returning to...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 2:55 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Driving  
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Metro Lays Off 40 Administrators

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said today that the transit authority has laid off 40 administrative employees so far as part of the salary cutting intended to help balance the budget for fiscal 2010, which starts in July. Catoe said this was the initial phase of staff cuts, which will total about 300 positions, with about 100 filled. These positions are not directly related to the delivery of transit services, Catoe said. Meanwhile, he said, ideas from riders are coming into Metro through its new Facebook page. Catoe notes that a lot of people are interested in increasing advertising in the system to generate revenue. People share his opinion that service cuts should be the last resort, he said. Catoe also gave a preliminary report on last Thursday's very disruptive train derailments. In the first one, he said, the wheels of a vacuum truck, a piece of maintenance...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 12:04 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  Metro  
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New Metro Chairman Discusses Priorities

Jim Graham, the D.C. Council member who has become the new chairman of the Metro board for this year, wonders if he would have picked 2009 to serve in that role, with all the difficult prospects ahead for Metro's finances and service. Among the challenges ahead, he said this morning, will be addressing persistent rail and bus overcrowding problems. He said he also wants to expand the role of the Riders' Advisory Council, the citizens group that consults with the board on service issues. "I intend to support a stronger role for the RAC in this coming year," Graham said. He wants committee chairs to be able to invite the council to participate in discussion of specific issues. Graham spent a lot of his time talking about his concerns for the Metrobus system. He pledged to focus on restoring the troubled Next Bus technology. The system, which is supposed to...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 11:40 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Metro  
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Metro Riders' Council Chairwoman Introduces Herself

Diana Zinkl of the District, the new chairman of the Metro Riders' Advisory Council, introduced herself at the Metro board meeting this morning. She grew up in Green Bay, Wisc., but is a lifelong transit user, and at 37, has never owned a car. She's been in Washington for six years and works as an analyst at the Government Accountability Office. She asks the board members to live for one week without a car. That many be difficult for some board members, who as Lena Sun pointed out in The Post last Sunday, can't manage to get to Metro headquarters without their cars. The riders' council is very concerned about potential cuts to service. She says it would like to have a better understanding of how the transit authority developed its proposals for bus and rail cutbacks....

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 11:28 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Metro  
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Metro Board Considering Service and Fee Options

Metro board members this morning got into the transportation politics of how to limit service cuts in their jurisdictions without increasing the subsidies that those jurisdictions pay to operate Metro. The staff is calculating that the budget shortfall is down to about $29 million. We're in striking range of potentially solving this problem, said Peter Benjamin, who represents Maryland on the board. Jim Graham, who represents the District and is board chairman, refered to the cuts under consideration -- cuts in bus and rail service and in rail station operations -- as drastic. Stimulus Among the questions under consideration in this board work session at Metro headquarters is whether any of the federal stimulus money can, or should be used to help close the budget gap. Board members and staff do not appear to be real warm to this idea, because it means they wouldn't have that amount of stimulus...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 10:15 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (12)
Categories:  Metro  
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Delays on Yellow and Green Lines This Weekend

Workers will be replacing a section of track at Mount Vernon Square that was involved in last Thursday's derailment, something that already was on Metro's list of weekend projects. Yellow Line trains won't operate between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten. Board a Green Line train for that part of your trip. But both Green and Yellow Line riders should expect delays of about half an hour during the switch replacement project, because trains will be sharing a single track to get around the work zone from 10 p.m. Friday through midnight Sunday, when the rail system shuts down. Metro Resources:  Riding the System  |  Trip Planner   |   Map  |  Post Coverage...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 7:58 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Advisories , Metro  
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Big Increase Coming in Pre-Tax Transit Benefit

The federal stimulus law contains a big boost in what transit riders can set aside from their paychecks tax free to pay their fares. "Employers and employees will see the transit benefit allowance increase to $230 a month beginning March 1," Metro pointed out in a statement this afternoon. The current pre-tax limit is $120. Transit riders in the Washington area are familiar with this through the SmartBenefits program. They can have their employers send the money for electronic transfer to their SmarTrip fare cards. Starting next week, employers will be able to offer employees up to $230 a month -- $2,760 a year -- as a pre-tax payroll deduction. Metro riders can use the SmarTrip card to pay for trains, buses and parking at Metro lots and garages. They also are good on suburban buses. About 400 federal agencies, 4,000 private employers and 189,000 employees participate in the SmartBenefits...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 25, 2009; 2:34 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (8)
Categories:  Metro , transit  
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SB Route 1 Reopens in Fairfax County

Update, 3:41 p.m.: Southbound Route 1 is now open. Original post, 2:11 p.m.: Southbound Route 1 is closed at Gunston Road because of a traffic accident. Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes...

By Mike McPhate  |  February 25, 2009; 2:11 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories , Congestion , Driving  
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Columbia Rd. Traffic Resumes After Manhole Incident

Several manholes exploded about 12:30 p.m. today on a Northwest Washington street, apparently the result of a transformer that failed, D.C. officials said. No injuries were reported in the blasts along the 1800 block of Columbia Road NW. Traffic was disrupted for a short while but is now back to normal, according to officials. PEPCO is working on repairs. -- Theola LabbĂ©-DeBose Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes...

By Mike McPhate  |  February 25, 2009; 1:57 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories , Congestion  
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Fairfax Planning to Undo I-66 Decision

The setback suffered by the I-66 spot improvements project two weeks ago is likely to be reversed by the Transportation Planning Board. Sharon S. Bulova, the chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, told Post reporter Eric M. Weiss that the county's representatives on the regional planning board will switch their earlier votes against the I-66 plan. Dear Dr. Gridlock: I object to Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova's heavy handed tactics in ordering Fairfax County Supervisors Catherine M. Hudgins and Linda Q. Smyth to change their recent vote on the Transportation Planning Board to stop the I-66 "spot improvement" project until VDOT does a comprehensive study of alternatives in the corridor. Hudgins and Smyth were presumably appointed to represent Fairfax County on the TPB because of their interest and expertise in transportation matters. They were not appointed to do Sharon Bulova's bidding. Also, if as Bulova asserts, Fairfax...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 25, 2009; 11:55 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)
Categories:  Congestion , Construction , Transportation Politics  
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Maryland Dreaming of Route 5 Upgrade

The Maryland State Highway Administration has a plan to improve the drive along Branch Avenue in Prince George's County for tens of thousands of travelers, and no money to build it. That's typical for such a large project at this point in its development, and it's not a crisis, but it does reflect the depth of need for transportation improvements in our region. SHA map of Route 5 project area. Maryland has eliminated or delayed more than a half billion dollars in transportation projects because of revenue declines stemming from the recession. The Route 5 project wasn't one of them, because it's not as far along as those others. Route 5 has state money for planning, but not design or construction. Scores of people stopped by a State Highway Administration workshop last night to get an update on the planning. There should be a hearing next winter on location and...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 25, 2009; 7:59 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Commuting , Construction , Driving , Transportation Politics  
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Traffic Alert: Route 29 NB Closed in Md. Due to Fire

Update, 5:46 p.m.: All southbound lanes are now open on Route 29. Original post, 5:21p.m.: Motorists should seek an alternate route along I-95 after a workzone fire closed Route 29 NB between Fairland Road and Briggs Chaney Road. A left lane is blocked heading southbound. Fairland Road is jammed in both directions between Rte. 29 and Old Columbia Pike. Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes...

By Mike McPhate  |  February 24, 2009; 5:21 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories , Congestion , Driving  
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Telegraph Road Closing Starts Tonight

The concrete pouring that will close a portion of Telegraph Road near the Beltway interchange is scheduled to start tonight. The road will be closed between North Kings Highway and East Drive from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. tonight and Wednesday night. This is part of the Wilson Bridge Project. Detours Northbound Telegraph Road: Take a left at Franconia, right at Van Dorn, then the Beltway outer loop back to Telegraph Road. Southbound Telegraph Road: Left at North Kings Highway, then right on South Kings Highway and back to Telegraph Road. On Friday night, Feb. 27, from 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., Telegraph Road is scheduled to close between Huntington Avenue and North Kings Highway for more concrete pouring. Detours Northbound Telegraph Road: Right at North Kings Highway, left at Route 1, left at Huntington Avenue and back to Telegraph Road. Southbound Telegraph Road: Left at Huntington Avenue, right at...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 24, 2009; 3:01 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories , Construction  
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Metro Board Trying to Avoid Budget Battle

The board of directors has scheduled a meeting for Thursday morning to continue reviewing ideas about balancing its next budget, which takes effect July 1. If you want to contact the board with your own ideas, use this e-mail address: BoardofDirectors@wmata.com. Last week, Board Chairman Jim Graham of the District asked the transit authority staff to research several options for saving money or increasing revenue, including research into parking fee options. Metro doesn't charge for parking on weekends. The idea of imposing some fee for weekend parking is one of the ideas that divides riders. Some tell me they think it's crazy Metro isn't tapping into this potential source of revenue. Others say that with all the weekend track work, taking Metro already is off-putting, so why add a parking fee to further discourage weekend transit use? Metro could find the reduction in weekend train fare revenue to be as...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 24, 2009; 8:18 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (3)
Categories:  Metro  
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Traffic Alert: SB Fairfax County Pkwy Blocked

Update, 5:11 p.m.: Northbound Route 7100/Fairfax County Parkway is now open. Southbound remains blocked. Update, 4:32 p.m.: Medevac crew has left the scene. Route 7100/Fairfax County Parkway is blocked each way between Rolling Rd. and Sydenstricker Rd. Original post, 3:20 p.m.: An accident has closed southbound Route 7100/Fairfax County Parkway at Whitlers Creek Drive. Medevac is on the way. Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes...

By Mike McPhate  |  February 23, 2009; 3:20 PM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories  
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Capitol Hill Street Closings Tuesday Night

The president is speaking to Congress on Tuesday night, so for security, Capitol Police have announced street closings, to take effect at 7:30 tomorrow night and continue till after the president leaves after 9 p.m. The closings also will affect five Metrobus routes. Street Closings * D Street between 2nd Street NE and Louisiana Avenue NW * C Street between 2nd Street NE and Louisiana Avenue NW * Constitution Avenue between 2nd Street NE and Louisiana Avenue NW * Delaware Avenue between Columbus Circle NE and Constitution Avenue NE * New Jersey Avenue between Louisiana Avenue NW and D Street NW * Pennsylvania Avenue between 1st Street NW and 3rd Street NW * East Capitol Street between 2nd Street and 1st Street * 1st Street between Columbus Circle NE and C Street SE * 1st Street between Louisiana Avenue NW and Washington Avenue SW * Maryland Avenue between 1st Street...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 23, 2009; 11:09 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories  
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An Indictment of Public Transportation

After last Thursday's Metro board meeting, the one at which the directors began to consider cutting service to balance the next transit budget, several board members shared their early morning experience in riding the system. Chris Zimmerman of Arlington said he had used a Route 16 bus for part of his trip to Metro's downtown Washington headquarters. The route is among many that the transit authority staff suggested the board consider for cutbacks. Catherine Hudgins of Fairfax County told us her arrival at the board meeting had been delayed because she, along with thousands of others, had been stuck on the Orange Line because of a work train derailment. Staff had suggested a money-saving plan to widen the gap between trains, a move that would certainly lead to more crowding. Some other board members feel their time is too precious to share it with Metro riders. When you're in a...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 23, 2009; 8:41 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (5)
Categories:  Metro , transit  
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The Week Ahead on Virginia's Beltway

The Post's Commuter page previews the new traffic pattern scheduled to start this week at Braddock Road and the Capital Beltway. But here's what else to watch out for this week on the HOT lanes project, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. * The left lane of I-395 north will be closed during the day at the Springfield Interchange. * The left lane of Gallows Road east and west will be closed during daytime hours for sidewalk and median removal. * The left lanes of Arlington Boulevard (Route 50) under I-495 will be closed for about the next 65 days. * Night work through Thursday will close the right lane of I-66 east at exit 64, I-495 north. * Westpark Drive in Tysons Corner will be closed at night and a detour will be in effect through Thursday. Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes...

By Robert Thomson  |  February 23, 2009; 8:14 AM ET  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)
Categories:  Advisories , Construction  
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