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Summer travel tips, southbound

For travelers in the D.C. area who are planning their vacation getaways into or through Virginia, I have some advice from the Virginia Department of Transportation.These include tips for traveling during the Memorial Day weekend, as well as the summer.

Travel on I-95
Traffic patterns change in the summer. Expect heavier traffic, and for longer periods, said VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris. Example: Friday afternoon traffic can be stop and go all the way to Fredericksburg. Throw in an accident or broken down vehicle and you can count on adding an hour or two to your trip. The Sunday crawl -- north and south -- starts around noon and keeps building. (Same for Interstate 66.)

VDOT adjustments
No temporary lane closures around Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day weekends. (This applies to any holiday weekend, not just the summer ones. Maryland follows a similar scheduled on road work.)

That means that the transportation departments pull up the orange barrels anywhere they can. But Morris points out that the big construction projects have altered travel conditions within their zones, so this will be a tough summer for drivers. That includes the major construction under way for Dulles Rail (which affects I-66, the Beltway, Route 7, Route 123); the Capital Beltway HOT lanes (14 miles on the western side of the Beltway), I-95 widening (six miles) and the Beltway interchange at Telegraph Road, just west of the Wilson Bridge. Allow extra time for travel through those areas.

Weekend travel
This applies to any warm-weather weekend, not just the holiday weekends: Leave early in the day, return early in the day. Heading out of town on a Friday, either leave by 11 a.m. or wait till after 8 p.m. Even better, head out between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Saturday. Heading back into the D.C. area on a Sunday, plan to arrive by 11 a.m. or noon and you're much more likely to miss those massive delays that invariably build because of congestion, accidents or just rubbernecking, Morris said.

I-95/395 HOV lanes
People often write to me asking about the weekend schedule for the reversible lanes. Many think the schedule should be adjusted to ease the traffic flow in their direction.

Once the HOV-3 restriction ends at 6 p.m. on Friday, the lanes are open to all southbound traffic until 2 p.m. Saturday. The lanes re-open at 4 p.m. for northbound traffic. Morris said the goal is to give the extra lanes to the heavier traffic flow. Traffic is typically heavier heading out of town Friday night and Saturday and coming back into town Saturday night and Sunday.

Seasonal adjustment
So that's the weekend pattern. But if you're traveling on I-95/395 on weekdays, you'll want to know this about the HOV lanes during the non-rush periods:

A new schedule is in effect until Nov. 1 to ease delays on southbound I-95, where one lane is closed between the Fairfax County Parkway and Route 123 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

To ease the crunch caused by the I-95 widening project, VDOT is closing the northbound reversible lanes at 10 a.m. instead of 11 a.m., so they can be re-opened to southbound traffic at noon.

From June 21 to late September, the I-95/395 southbound reversible lanes will remain open until midnight, rather than 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Morris said VDOT did this last summer, and it worked well.

Beltway/Braddock Road
A traffic shift for the HOT lanes project illustrates the point Morris was making about the need to be cautious driving through the work zones.

At 9:30 a.m., if the work goes according to schedule, VDOT will shift westbound traffic to the new Braddock Road (Route 620) bridge over the Beltway. The shift will be completed by 3:30 p.m. In about a week, the eastbound traffic will be shifted overnight to the new bridge. VDOT says drivers should expect delays approaching the interchange as crews make final preparations for the shift. See more details on the Braddock Road shift.

See also:
-- Planning summer getaway routes.
-- Tips on timing getaways.
-- More people planning to travel this Memorial Day weekend.
-- Lon Anderson, director of Public and Government Relations at AAA Mid-Atlantic, will be online at 1 p.m. Thursday to discuss Memorial Day travel.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 27, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , Getaway , highways , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, travel tips  
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