Traffic congestion now 24/7 with night road work

|
Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

Cars screech to a halt behind a half-mile stretch of stopped traffic along Interstate 66. It's a normal sight in the Washington area -- even at 11:05 p.m.

Road construction and the resulting lane closures mean driving at night can be just as bad -- or worse -- than rush hour in D.C.

"It's hard to get around in the daytime because of all the congestion. And it's hard to get around at night because of all the construction," said AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend. "What you have now is congestion 24 hours a day, seven days a week because of this."

Current and planned night road work
Virginia
Fairfax County Parkway -- Repaving
The Beltway (Interstate 495) at the Dulles Connector Road, Chain Bridge Road, Leesburg Pike -- Building express lanes
Interstate 66 -- Resurfacing
Leesburg Pike (Route 7) at the Dulles Toll Road -- Dulles Rail construction
Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) at Tysons Boulevard -- Dulles Rail construction
D.C.
New York Avenue -- Bridge resurfacing Union Station -- Columbia Plaza rehabilitation
Maryland
Rockville Pike (MD 355) -- Road widening
U.S. 50 -- Resurfacing from D.C. to Cheverly
Interstate 270 -- Resurfacing
MD 97 -- Patching

Cab driver Carolyn Robinson said she was once stopped on Interstate 66 for an hour and a half while crews worked on a ramp to the Dulles Toll Road, raising what would have been a $55 fare to the airport to $85.

Heavily traveled highways like Route 7 in Tysons Corner, where Beltway express lanes are being installed at one end and the Metrorail line to Washington Dulles International Airport is being built at the other, have been turned into parking lots in the middle of the night.

Making matters worse for drivers is that road crews are shutting off the lights along the highways where they're working with heavy equipment, to avoid hitting a live wire.

"[Route 7] is a terrible bottleneck," said Rob Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association. "The problem is we just had too much development for the road system there. They're trying to fix it. You can put 10 pounds in a 10-pound sack, and Fairfax County's got about 20 pounds and the sack can't hold it."

As bad as the nighttime traffic jams can be, officials said it would only be worse if they were trying to do the work during the day. To reduce congestion, project managers are already sifting through pages of rules and restrictions that dictate when they can close a lane and when they can't.

The District Department of Transportation prefers to block lanes only at night and from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., between the morning and evening rush hours, spokesman John Lisle said.

The same rush-hour restrictions keep Maryland and Virginia crews working through the midnight hour.

"We know it may be frustrating for motorists, but we're just so limited as to when we can do our work," Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joan Morris said.

As bad as it is now, transportation officials warn that nighttime traffic woes will only worsen by summer.

Road work is going to force the closing of lanes on some of the region's busiest highways, including Interstates 495, 66 and 95 in Virginia; New York Avenue in D.C.; and Rockville Pike, Connecticut Avenue and Georgia Avenue in Maryland.

"We're just blessed in this area that we're flush with the money to do these projects," Townsend said. "The downside of it is it's painful and it's painstaking."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment