Arlington Co. offers short-term fix for gridlock caused by airport ride-share drivers

ARLINGTON, Va. — For people who live just outside of Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, gridlock has caused headaches, thanks in part to a waiting lot for Uber and Lyft drivers.

With Reagan International Airport undergoing a big makeover, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) made the decision to relocate the waiting lot for ride-share drivers to a parking lot situated between Jefferson Davis Highway and South Eads Street near South 27th Street.

The parking lot opened in April and since then, residents say traffic in the area has become unbearable at times, as the lot can only be entered and exited from South Eads Street.

“When the lot becomes full, traffic backs up into the street and nearby neighborhoods. Arlington resident Barbara Montoya said it’s scary when the cars spill onto her road and drivers become more impatient and aggressive.

“When they’re coming around the corner, and you have kids learning how to ride their bike, and they’re laying on their horns, it’s like, ‘Why are you disrupting my peace?’” said Montoya.

Arlington County began studying the issue and discovered that the lot has brought a dramatic increase in the traffic seen on South Eads Street. For a 24-hour period in September, the county counted 3,927 cars entering the lot from the street, and 3,404 exiting in the northbound direction, which takes drivers to the airport.

“The volume is quite high,” said Hui Wang, bureau chief for transportation, engineering and operations for Arlington County.

At a meeting held by the county, some residents called for the lot to be shut down. Others called for more ways to get in and out of the lot.

Arlington County officials have offered a solution: Reopening an exit at 27th Street, which would allow ride-share drivers accepting passengers to quickly leave the lot and turn onto the nearby airport access road.

Wang said the hope is the change will reduce the number of cars exiting the lot onto Eads Street by half.

“That is what we hope, but the Uber-Lyft travel behavior is different from your general traffic,” Wang said.

Little data exists for situations involving ride-share drivers, Wang said. Factors for those drivers would include when a ride is accepted, how fast they want to get to the airport, and when they come to the lot and wait.

The Route 1 exit took state approval, and now temporary turn signals, which will be mounted on wires attached to wooden poles, are going up. Cars could begin using the exit in a couple weeks.

Wang said only exiting traffic would be allowed to use the Route 1 gate because of the configuration of parking spots in the lot. Future goals include a more permanent solution, which would include stronger metal poles to hold the lights, and better alignment of the exit, so more cars can exit at once.

The temporary light will set the county back $30,000 and the more permanent plan will cost $250,000. The final project would take close to 14 months to complete.

Some residents believe the MWAA should be the one to foot the bill for the changes, not the county.

“It shouldn’t be Arlington County’s problem to solve,” said resident Dana Bres.

While working on the short-term fix and planning a long-term one, the county, according to Wang, has to be careful to not cause even bigger delays on Route 1, which sees more than 49,000 cars a day.

“We will try to achieve a balance. Balance doesn’t mean perfect. Balance means everyone shares a little bit of the burden,” Wang said.

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