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Weekend Delays Likely at Beltway/Telegraph Rd.

Stay away from the Capital Beltway at Telegraph Road this weekend. There are some good things happening with new ramps opening, but in the process there are plenty of lane closures from Friday night into Monday morning.

Telegraph Road ramps Web.jpg Click for larger image of Telegraph Road ramp improvements. (Wilson Bridge Project)

The inner loop's Thru and Local Lanes will go down to one lane each and the ramp from Telegraph Road north to the inner loop will close till 5 a.m. Monday. Ramp detour: Continue north past the ramp, turn right on Pershing Avenue, right on Stovall Avenue, right on Eisenhower Avenue, right onto Mill Road and right onto Telegraph Road South to the inner loop.

Meanwhile, the ramp from the outer loop to Telegraph Road south will be closed till 10 p.m. Saturday. Detour: Take the Telegraph Road North exit, go right on Pershing Avenue, right on Stovall Avenue, right on Eisenhower Avenue, right onto Mill Road and right onto Telegraph Road South.

This is the good part: The weekend closings will clear the way for a traffic shift onto new elevated ramps taking vehicles over Telegraph Road to Huntington Avenue and North Kings Highway, or directly to Telegraph Road south. Also, a ramp wil open from southbound Telegraph Road and tie into the elevated ramp to Huntington Avenue, allowing motorists to make a right onto the ramp and eliminating the need to pass through a traffic signal to make a left onto Huntington Avenue.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  May 29, 2009; 3:51 PM ET
Categories:  Advisories , Congestion , Construction , Driving  
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Next: Traffic Alert: Slow Going on 14th Street Bridge


I drove through there today coming back from Old Town via Huntington Avenue to southbound Telegraph Road. That means I didn't use the new ramps, but while sitting at the light to go left onto Telegraph from Huntington I got to observe a lot of traffic. I haven't gotten to see what sort of signs VDOT posted on southbound Telegraph advising of the new traffic pattern, and I know it's still a work zone so any signs will be temporary, but from what I saw today, Monday's commute is likely to be a disaster unless there are some state troopers or Fairfax County cops directing the traffic. Traffic going south on Telegraph wanting to go east onto Huntington is supposed to use a new ramp to the right to loop around and fly over Telegraph, but nobody was using it. I saw at least 10 drivers stop in the left lane of Telegraph (the old turn lane is blocked with barrels) and then turn left illegally once the way was clear, and I saw at least seven more drivers make U-turns after passing Huntington Avenue so that they could then turn right onto Huntington.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to block off the whole intersection of Huntington Avenue and Telegraph Road with barrels because that would make it impossible to turn left from westbound Huntington to southbound Telegraph (as I was doing). But it appears that either the signage is inadequate (as I said, I can't comment, not having seen it, and Ms1995hoo wouldn't have put up with a detour just so I could look at big green signs!) or (more likely) drivers are ignoring the signs because they know that they've made a left turn for umpteen years and they intend to do the same until forced to do otherwise.

Some sort of traffic direction during both rush hours on Monday will be crucial to avoid a series of wrecks over there. Police presence will be a necessity to prevent people from trying to make the now-illegal left turn.

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 30, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: 1995hoo, thanks for your helpful observations, as always. I'll be watching that scene on Monday.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | May 31, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Heard on WTOP this morning that the police are indeed out there directing traffic and that, sure enough, the majority of drivers are attempting to make the left turn notwithstanding some signs. Good to know the police are there.

(Since I don't need to go out during rush hour, I don't!)

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 1, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Following up on my last comment, WTOP online says that the police are handing out tickets to people who ignore the new traffic patterns on Telegraph, even to bus drivers! Wow! The report I heard on the radio didn't mention that part. I daresay getting a ticket would make ME remember that the rules had changed!

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 1, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I just came back from Old Town again and this time I used Telegraph Road. I think I see the major cause of the problems, aside from drivers simply following longstanding habits.

Both of the portable VMS units advising of the traffic pattern change are on the right side of southbound Telegraph Road, whereas the superseded turn is on the left. That's a problem from the start. At least one of the signs should be on the left, since drivers not aware of the new pattern will be to the left and will not normally be focused on anything to the right. While normally you put a sign for a right-hand exit on the right side of the road, you have to consider that you're dealing with a left turn that's been in place for well over 25 years (probably much longer) and plan for driver behavior accordingly.

Second problem: None of the VMS units say "NEW TRAFFIC PATTERN AHEAD." We saw this same problem on the Beltway when the quad-carriageway Wilson Bridge setup opened. "NEW TRAFFIC PATTERN" (in bold type) is a lot more likely to grab driver attention than a simple "Huntington Avenue" (screen 1) followed by "Keep Right" (screen 2). I do not understand why none of the VMS units associated with the Wilson Bridge project have used this simple phrase.

(More in a moment in another post)

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 1, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Third problem, and perhaps the easiest to fix: There is no ground- or eye-level "NO LEFT TURN" sign at the intersection of southbound Telegraph and Huntington. Instead, the no-left-turn sign is up on the mast arm for the overhead traffic lights. Problem is, the mast arm is slightly to the right of the leftmost lane, and people planning to turn left aren't looking up there. Rather, they're craning their necks to look down the other side of Telegraph Road to see if the way is clear to go left. There needs to be a low-level no-left-turn sign both before and after the gap in the barrels at Huntington Avenue. (As noted in my prior comment from this weekend, there must be a gap so that traffic going westbound on Huntington can go left to head south on Telegraph.)

At one point while waiting to turn onto Telegraph I saw about seven cars in a row all make the now-illegal left turn. All told while I waited through two light cycles I'm sure I saw close to 20 drivers do this. That says to me that a better sign is needed to clarify that this maneuver is no longer allowed. It's easy to assume that it's just first-day jitters and people not knowing about the change, but when 20 cars made this move in barely five minutes I think there's something more to the problem.

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 1, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

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