The Inner Scoop
Find out the story behind the back-up on the WTOP Traffic Blog. The WTOP traffic team will have the lastest on road closures, construction projects and other useful information relating to your commute.
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Posted on: Monday 12/9/2013 5:29pm
WASHINGTON - On Jan. 26, 2011, a moderate snowfall blindsided the Washington area.
The storm wasn't meteorologically unusual or noteworthy. The center deepened at a normal mid-winter rate. Spatially and temporally, it was concentrated and fleeting.
It produced about 5 to 10 inches of snow, no more than an average season's highest single-storm total. But its effects were crippling. The metro area's transportation network was brought to its knees.
Although the federal government was criticized for sending its employees home early during the height of the storm and despite Washington's perceived inept winter weather driving, the coup de grace for the disastrous afternoon commute was the timing and, more importantly, the rate of snowfall.
The storm moved rapidly through central Virginia into the Washington metro area during the early to middle afternoon hours. Heavy sleet quickly changed to snow. The snowfall rates exceeded 2 to 3 inches per hour.
Traffic slowed as highway volume increased and visibility lowered. Then there were accidents. Traffic slowed further. All the while, snow was quickly piling up. Snowfall rates approached 3 inches per hour. Long traffic backups became frozen in place as drivers were shrouded in a thick blanket snow. The plows were unable to clear the snow and the roads were clogged with stranded motorists and abandoned cars.
The storm was the culmination of many factors that paralyzed the region's road network. But the snowfall rate is what transformed the routes with a single bottleneck into one giant parking lot entombed in ice.
A recent example of this phenomenon (on a smaller scale) played out Sunday on Interstate 270.
The snow was heavier than expected northwest of Washington, particularly in Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland where more than 6 inches fell in a short period of time.
A few motorists spun-out at the onset of the snow. Some vehicles slid off the roadway. Passersby stopped to assist those in need of help.
A few minor crashes led to a dramatic slowing of traffic during a short period of very intense snowfall. The skip lines on I-270 disappeared and it wasn't long before two nearly 10-mile-long backups in both the north and south lanes were buried under several inches of snow. Some motorists were stuck for longer than two hours on what would otherwise be a 15-minute drive.
On Tuesday, a quick-hitting round of winter weather is expected to strike Washington during the heart of the morning rush hour. As in 2011, the National Weather Service has offered advance notice. Whether Washingtonians have learned from the mistakes made three winters ago will become apparent soon, perhaps by noon tomorrow.
Morning commuters should plan for the potential of a significant disruption to travel. Those who have the luxury of being flexible should consider revising their morning plans. Unnecessary travel should be postponed until the afternoon when the weather is expected to improve.
Posted on: Monday 12/9/2013 7:57am
WASHINGTON - Freezing rain can cause some of the worst driving conditions, according to a driving expert from Michelin, who has tips to help you drive and arrive safely during any hazardous mix of freezing rain, snow and ice.
"Freezing rain is just atrocious," says Carl Nadeau, chief instructor of the Michelin Winter Driving Academy.
To avoid sliding into that ditch or guard rail, Nadeau says to look where you want to go. He says people have an uncanny ability to fixate on, and hit, things like parked cars.
"If you are looking at it, you are going to aim for it," he says.
He also says drivers should sit up straight and keep a loose grip on the steering wheel so your car can give you feedback. Otherwise, that white-knuckle grip can actually contribute to you spinning out of control.
"When you hit the threshold, if you hold the steering wheel too tight, you're not going to feel the threshold, so by the time you are going to feel it, it's already too late," Nadeau says.
He also says not to peer over the hood to look for slick spots. Instead focus your eyes further ahead to see what you are approaching like snow-covered pavement or stopped cars.
More Tips for Driving in Snow and Ice
The best tip that can be given for bad weather conditions is not to drive if you don’t have to. If you absolutely have to drive, here are some tips from The Weather Channel on driving in snow and ice:
- Make sure your car is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions.
- It’s helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you’re familiar with how your car handles. Consult your owner’s manual for tips specific to your vehicle.
Driving safely on icy roads
- Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
- Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
- Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
- Keep your lights and windshield clean.
- Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
- Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
- Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
- Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
- Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.
If your rear wheels skid…
- Take your foot off the accelerator.
- Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
- If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
- If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
- If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.
If your front wheels skid…
- Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
- As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
If you get stuck…
- Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
- Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
- Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
- Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
- Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
- Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.
Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services
Make sure your car has an emergency kit. Here's what AAA recommends you put in it:
- Blankets/sleeping bags
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Drinking water
- Extra clothes
- Sand or cat litter for traction
- Jumper cables
- Tool kit
- Flares or orange triangles
- High calorie, non-perishable food
WTOP's John Aaron and Paula Wolfson contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.
Posted on: Saturday 12/7/2013 8:57am
WASHINGTON -- The biggest hurdle for travelers this weekend will likely be winter weather. Snow, sleet and, a driver's worst nemesis, freezing rain, are forecast to begin early Sunday.
ABC7 Chief Meteorologist Doug Hill calls it the "dreaded wintry mix" for good reason. Sunday's storm will likely begin by pelting the roads across the region with a layer of snow and sleet. The precipitation is expected to then change to freezing rain, which may rime whatever ice has already accumulated.
The routes well north and west of the metro area will be especially icy. Interstate 81 and roads in northwestern Virginia and central Maryland will likely be treacherous for most of the day as the cold air will remain entrenched in the Shenandoah Valley.
Ice buildup on power lines will likely lead to some power outages and dark intersections in a few areas.
Travel is strongly discouraged during icy conditions. Annually, more accidents are blamed on freezing rain than snow.
Saturday looks like the better day to hit the roads. There will be plenty of holiday-themed events across the region including the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, National Harbor's Holiday Festival and the Manassas Christmas Parade at 10 a.m.
The Redskins have a home game this weekend at 1 p.m. Turnout at Sunday's match-up against the Chiefs is expected to be light due to the weather, amid other factors. Even so, look for heavier traffic on the Beltway and the routes through Largo and Landover before and after the game.
I-95 Express Lanes Extension project
Construction crews postponed work on the I-95 Express Lanes Extension Project on Thursday night and Friday due to rain. They may find a dry window to perform some work on Saturday before the next round of weather moves in. Road work zones on I-95 and across the region should remain sparse because of the forecast.
Track work will affect Metrorail customers. On the Blue Line, shuttle buses will replace trains between the Rosslyn and Pentagon stations. Tack on an extra 15 minutes of travel time for the bus trip between Rosslyn and Pentagon. Trains between Largo Town Center and Rosslyn will run every 20 minutes.
Trains on the Red Line will operate a 10 to 20 minute intervals throughout the weekend. Trains on the busier segment between Grosvenor and Silver Spring will run every 10 minutes between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Orange Line trains will run every 20 minutes due to work at Minnesota Ave and Deanwood. All stations will remain open.
Green Line trains will operate every 15 minutes throughout the weekend.
Yellow Line trains will operate every 15 minutes throughout the weekend due to the schedule effects of rebuilding work on the Blue and Green lines.
Posted on: Saturday 12/7/2013 6:51am
WASHINGTON - With snow and later ice predicted to fall over the D.C. region Sunday, emergency responders urge drivers to review basic winter weather safety tips.
The Maryland State Highway Administration's Charlie Gischlar says drivers who have to head out in rough weather should be prepared with a full tank of gas, decent tires and plenty of patience.
Gischlar says that with two football games in the area Sunday - the Redskins at FedEx Field, in Landover, the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore - thousands of people will be on the I-95 corridor. "So if you're trying to head out to the game, keep an eye on the weather. If it does go bad, know before you go," Gischlar says, advising drivers to give themselves lots of extra time both Sunday and Monday.
"Even people with four-wheel drive, if you encounter ice, you're going to have no control of your vehicle; you're just going to skid in four-wheel drive," Gischlar warns.
If drivers see a snow plow or salt truck on the road, Gischlar says it is important to be patient and not try to pass them.
"The uncleared and untreated road is ahead of them, and the treated roadway is behind them, so there is no earthly reason why you should pass them. If you do pass them and you end up skidding out or becoming disabled, it disrupts everything, and they have to pull over and help you of course. But that also is letting all that weather pile up on the roadway ahead, so that's not really fair to other motorists and it's not safe either," Gischlar says.
Lt. Steve Hawkins, with the Virginia State Police in Fairfax, recommends putting that ice scraper in your car and any other safety supplies now - before Sunday's weather hits.
Items such as blankets, food and drinks can come in handy if your car becomes disabled. A bag of sand or salt can help give your tires the traction they need to get up a hill or just get out of the driveway.
If are out on the road in the bad weather, Hawkins says, "Drive at a safe speed, and that may not be the speed limit."
Most accidents happen within the first two hours after a storm begins, so make sure you buckle up. Put down the cell phone and pay attention to the road, and know who is in front of you and all around you. And give yourself plenty of time and space to safely stop, he says.
"If this weather hits like forecasters are saying, then we will be busy. But we will have resources and troopers out on the roadway to respond to all the incidents," Hawkins says.
But if you don't have to be on the road Sunday, then stay home so VDOT can clear the roads, he says.
If reason doesn't change your ways, there are always cheesy slogans to help remind drivers how to stay safe.
"We say 'Don't crowd the plow', and 'On ice and snow, take it slow'," Gischlar says. There's also the old, "Know before you go."
Stay with WTOP for the latest on road and weather conditions.
Posted on: Friday 12/6/2013 3:45pm
WASHINGTON - Sudden gridlock is common near the White House when motorcades are afoot. This time, the congestion comes with some advanced notice.
The National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and concert on the Ellipse begins at 5 p.m. during the Friday afternoon rush hour. Organizers say it will take place rain or shine.
In years past, the closure of the streets of either side of the Ellipse -- 15th and 17th streets -- left many downtown commuters sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
WTOP veteran traffic reporter Bob Marbourg says it would probably payoff to plan on "going into work-around mode."
"If you know something is going to be there, you have the opportunity to rethink your route and go for the end-run around it," Marbourg says.
D.C. police tweeted out a list of street closures early Friday for advance planning:
NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING CEREMONY TRAFFIC ADVISORY **ATTACHED** PAGE (1) pic.twitter.com/zfJdMhjjQR— DC Police Department (@DCPoliceDept) December 6, 2013
Jim Battagliese, Director of Traffic and Weather at WTOP, offers this advice:
"If you're trying to get out of town, the best way to go is away from the White House. Whichever side of the White House you're on, head the opposite direction. If you're on the west side, exit to the west. If you're on the east side, exit to the east."
Heading south from K Street on either 19th Street or 9th Street will probably get you around the event. The problem with that route is that everyone else will think of that. The challenge will be to outthink the competition ahead of time. Forewarned is forearmed.
WMATA also says more than two dozen downtown Metro bus routes will be affected by the street closures. Metro officials are also expecting the downtown Metro stations, including Farragut North, to be extra crowded. Click here for a full list.
Stay with WTOP for all the latest on road and traffic conditions.
Posted on: Sunday 12/1/2013 5:57pm
WASHINGTON - Drivers headed home from the long holiday weekend were plagued with major delays on Interstate 95 in Virginia on Sunday, due to a series of accidents in Prince William County.
Four separate wrecks occurred in the 2-mile stretch of the interstate's southbound lanes, between the Prince William Parkway and Dale Boulevard between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Each crash occurred in the fast lanes of I-95 and the responders to each incident forced traffic to use a single right lane from late morning until mid- afternoon.
At its height, the backup on I-95 extended from near the Telegraph Road interchange on the Beltway into Woodbridge -- nearly 19 miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Interstate 95 is in high demand this time of the year and delays are common on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, says Jim Battagliese, director of traffic and weather at WTOP.
"The Sunday problem is simple. People try to stay with their family as long as possible after Thanksgiving and leave Sunday, since most need to be back to work or school on Monday. There's not as much flexibility going home as there is in leaving," Battagliese says.
The mishaps on I-95 only affected the southbound drivers headed toward Fredericksburg and Richmond. Northbound travelers experienced volume delays through Caroline, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.
The High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, or express lanes, were oriented northbound and were not available to southbound drivers.
Corinne Geller, with Virginia State Police, explains that as traffic gets heavier, patience and stopping-distance wanes.
"When you've got heavy traffic, anytime you have one crash, you can have chain reaction crashes," Geller says.
When one incident clears, Geller says some drivers lurch forward to get ahead of the pack. If conditions are right, one crash can lead to another.
"People are suddenly putting their brakes on and folks simply don't have enough space between them and the vehicle in front of them," she says.
"We've had additional state troopers working throughout the holiday weekend to make sure that if we do have crashes like what happened on I-95 today we can get the resources deployed as quickly as possible."
All lanes reopened to traffic on southbound I-95 around 3:30 p.m. When the final accident in the series was cleared from the roadway, the heavy traffic surged downstream through Marine Corps Base Quantico and Stafford County.
The WTOP Traffic Center fielded many calls from frustrated motorists during the ordeal. A caller named Ralph was stuck in the delay and was nearing the final stretch of his trip in southern Stafford County.
"It's brutal. I haven't moved in over 10 minutes," the caller said.
Posted on: Monday 11/25/2013 9:51pm
WASHINGTON - Research has found that gratitude as a mindful practice can offer many health benefits.
The Health Benefits
- Physical and emotional well being
- Gratitude group experienced less stress and depression
- Improves your ability to cope with stress
- It is physiological impossible to experience stress and gratitude simultaneously
- Grateful people are more optimistic and optimism boosts your immune system
- Gratitude "resets your thermostat and you instantly focus on what is important in your life"
- You produce healing hormones into the body that restores peace, love and balance
Begin a Gratitude Practice Today
- Waking up: Open your eyes, take a deep breath and be thankful for your body and the healing sleep you received
- Set Your Alarm: Set your alarm on your smart phone three times a day and when the alarm goes off, smile and say something you are grateful for
- Meals: Be grateful for your food, the people and work it took to bring it to your table
- Other people in your life: Tell others that you are grateful for them in your life and why you are grateful for their gifts they bring into your life
- Office: At weekly staff meetings begin the meetings by going around to each person and each tells what they are grateful for in their lives that week
- Bedtime: Close your eyes, take a deep breath, smile and say "Thank you for this day of my life, my family, friends, the people at work. Thank you for my health. Thank you for my prosperity."
Teach Your Children Gratitude
- Gratitude Journal: Teach your children to keep a gratitude journal and have them write three things they are grateful each day
- Before Meals: Teach your children to be thankful for their food, the people who labored to bring the food to their mouths. Grateful to the animals that gave their lives for their life
- Lunch Napkins: Hand write "Thank You" on your child's lunch napkin when you pack their lunch
- Bedtime: Before bed have your children give thanks for their day and specific things that happened
Listen as Kathleen Hall talks about how to become more grateful in your life:
Posted on: Thursday 11/21/2013 4:54pm
WASHINGTON -- Have you heard of the term "backtracking" when it comes to the Dulles Access Highway? If not, you are not alone. That's why police are working to get the message out about "backtracking" and its consequences.
Those who use the Dulles Access Highway instead of the Dulles Toll Road -- even if they're not going to the airport -- be warned. There is beefed up police presence on the road.
"We put out a press release and put it on social media to make the public aware," says Stephen Holl, police chief for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "Backtracking is our one word label for people who are using the Dulles Airport Access Highway without conducting official business at the airport."
Holl says the access road was set up for airport users only, while the toll road was built for local traffic.
Drivers who are caught using the access road despite not heading to the airport will face fines that begin at $92 and three points on their license.
"We generally write out about a thousand of these violations a year," Holl says.
The fines go to the county in which the ticket was written -- Fairfax or Loudoun. Meanwhile, the tolls help fund construction of the Metro Silver Line as well as the operation and maintenance of the toll road and the access road.
Posted on: Tuesday 11/19/2013 8:12am
UPDATE: Tuesday - 11/19/2013, 7:52 am
Amtrak has reopened the railroad. Delays persist.
UPDATE: Tuesday - 11/19/2013, 7:40 am
WASHINGTON - Amtrak is temporarily suspending service between Baltimore and Washington as a crane tows a disabled train from the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel.
Riders of the Penn Line on MARC should expect 30- to 60 minute delays.
Metro is honoring MARC tickets.
UPDATE: Monday - 11/18/2013, 9:27pm ET
WASHINGTON - MARC and Amtrak report that rail service has resumed between Washington and Baltimore both northbound and southbound.
Amtrak trains are single-tracking in the Baltimore area and delays are expected through the evening.
The passengers on the disabled train returned to the Baltimore Penn Station shortly after 9 p.m.
MARC train No. 548 left Washington on time. However MARC trains 446, 448 and 451 were cancelled.
EARLIER: Monday - 11/18/2013, 8:32pm ET
WASHINGTON - An Amtrak train carrying passengers derailed in a tunnel south of Baltimore Monday evening halting rail traffic along the busy Northeast Corridor.
None of the 158 passengers was hurt in the incident. However the derailment caused delays for MARC riders.
The Amtrak train was heading south when the lead wheels of the locomotive came off the rails about 7 p.m. All passenger cars remained upright and on the tracks, according to Amtrak.
The disabled train remained inside the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore.
A rescue locomotive has been sent to bring the passengers to Baltimore Penn Station.
The disabled train also halted travel on the MARC Penn Line. MARC announced after 8 p.m. that buses were on their way to the BWI station to transfer passengers.
Posted on: Friday 11/15/2013 6:54pm
WASHINGTON - Motorists can expect another weekend with lane closures along Interstates 95 and 395 in Virginia but many Metro riders will also have a longer trip across the Potomac.
No Yellow Line trains will run this weekend. However a shuttle train will take riders between Huntington and Braddock Road.
Riders coming from Huntington toward the District should connect to the Blue Line at Braddock Road. Riders who would normally take the Yellow Line to Virginia from Downtown D.C. should give themselves extra travel time, and take the Blue Line toward Franconia-Springfield.
A stretch of the Green Line will also be shut down between 10 p.m. Friday and closing on Sunday. Buses will run between Archives, L'Enfant Plaza, Waterfront and Navy Yard stations.
On the Green Line, trains will run every 10 minutes between Greenbelt and Archives during daytime hours, and every 12 to 15 minutes between Branch Avenue and Navy Yard. The trains will run less often at night. L'Enfant Plaza will be open for Blue and Orange line trains only.
Orange Line trains will be running every 20 minutes all weekend because of single-tracking near Minnesota Avenue and Deanwood.
Red Line trains will run every 16 minutes this weekend because of track work between Dupont Circle and Van Ness. Extra trains will run during the day between Farragut North and Silver Spring only.
The Blue Line is scheduled to have normal weekend service.
Virginia Road Work
The I-95/395 HOV lanes will close from Friday night through Sunday afternoon.
There are also a number of other lane closures along I-95 in Northern Virginia this weekend for the Express Lanes construction and most will take place from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m.
On Interstate 66, overnight construction tied to the Silver Line will close two lanes in each direction near the Dulles Connector Road. The lane closures will continue overnight during the week.
Other Silver Line-related closures will block lanes on the Dulles Toll Road, Dulles Connector Road and local roads in Tysons Corner.
Maryland Road Work
Sunday morning, the State Highway Administration says two lanes will be shut down on I-95 South at Old Gunpowder Road (just south of the Inter-County Connector). Crews will be inspecting the overpass between 5 and 11:30 a.m.
Further north on I-95 in Maryland, watch out for overnight construction Sunday night that will close two lanes in each direction at the Baltimore/Howard county line.
Overnight road work continues on the Beltway in Prince George's County. The State Highway Administration says there will be lane closures on both the Inner and Outer loops between D'Arcy Road and Arena Drive.
Beginning Monday night, crews are scheduled to close lanes overnight on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. The pavement patching project is scheduled to last into late December.
DC Road Work
Sunday afternoon, DDOT plans to close 8th Street SE between Virginia Avenue and I St SE. The closure between noon and 6 p.m. will allow contractors to work on a new ramp from 8th Street to Interstate 695.
Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets will be closed to traffic and pedestrians from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday so cranes can place a prison tower and rail car onto the site of the future Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is currently under construction.