Change in D.C.’s crash response means minor problems cause huge delays

This is going to add up. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON – Traffic delays in the District of Columbia have been much worse lately. For the past several months, the city’s army of highway help trucks have been forced to sit in the very backups they are tasked with preventing.

Under the District Department of Transportation, the city’s fleet of specially equipped help vehicles and professionally trained drivers are known as the Roadway Operations Patrol, or ROP. The program is intended to maximize traffic flow by clearing incidents off of the city’s roadways before major congestion results. They move disabled vehicles and wreckage out of the lanes and respond to other bottlenecks, such as debris, as quickly as possible.

Similar programs exist in Virginia and Maryland.

But late last year, the Metropolitan Police Department accused one of the ROP operators of driving recklessly while responding to a traffic tie-up on a downtown freeway.

In response to the accusation, the District Department of Transportation then banned its ROP drivers from using flashing lights and sirens to swiftly reach bottlenecks. The help truck operators are also now confined to “established” routes that are often clogged with traffic.

Since the change, the WTOP Traffic Center has reported on major delays resulting from relatively minor incidents on D.C. roads. The morning rush hour on Jan. 15 was marred by two broken down vehicles on both the Key and 14th Street bridges, the latter snarling traffic for more than five hours before finally being relocated. The duration of the incident created a 10-mile-long traffic jam that extended into Springfield, Va., on Interstate 395.

This comes as Maryland’s Coordinated Highway Action Response Team, or CHART, is further improving on its program by moving to a 24/7 operation this spring. The Virginia Department of Transportation recently consolidated its Traffic Operations Centers, including its Highway Safety Service Patrol, to better coordination between patrols in various regions.

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