Exclusive: Southeast-Southwest Freeway signage still askew

Looking eastward across the inbound lanes of the Southeast/Southwest Freeway, several signs mislabel the exit to C Street SW and the U.S. Capitol as Exit 2B. It is actually Exit 6. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Looking eastward across the inbound lanes of the Southeast/Southwest Freeway, several signs mislabel the exit to C Street SW and the U.S. Capitol as Exit 2B. It is actually Exit 6. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The ramp from I-395 North toward the 3rd Street Tunnel splits before entering the tunnel. The left ramp leads toward the Rayburn Office Building and C Street SW but is mislabeled as Exit 2B. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The ramp from I-395 North toward the 3rd Street Tunnel splits before entering the tunnel. The left ramp leads toward the Rayburn Office Building and C Street SW, but is mislabeled as Exit 2B. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Older signage indicates the exit from I-395 to C Street SW as Exit 6, the correct exit number. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Older signage indicates the exit from I-395 to C Street SW as Exit 6, the correct exit number. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Heavy traffic moves each way on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway near the 3rd Street Tunnel earlier this year shortly after the misleading signage was installed.  (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Heavy traffic moves each way on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway near the 3rd Street Tunnel earlier this year shortly after the misleading signage was installed. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
I-695 DC
Although locals think of the Southeast-Southwest Freeway as a single route, it is technically two interstate highways — I-395 and I-695. The latter ends near the real Exit 2B, on the outbound side of the 11th Street Bridge. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
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Looking eastward across the inbound lanes of the Southeast/Southwest Freeway, several signs mislabel the exit to C Street SW and the U.S. Capitol as Exit 2B. It is actually Exit 6. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The ramp from I-395 North toward the 3rd Street Tunnel splits before entering the tunnel. The left ramp leads toward the Rayburn Office Building and C Street SW but is mislabeled as Exit 2B. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Older signage indicates the exit from I-395 to C Street SW as Exit 6, the correct exit number. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Heavy traffic moves each way on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway near the 3rd Street Tunnel earlier this year shortly after the misleading signage was installed.  (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
I-695 DC

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of drivers on Washington’s busiest road, the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, are getting bad guidance, and six months after WTOP pointed it out, the problems remain.

In February, WTOP reported that five signs above the inbound lanes of the freeway, officially Interstate 395, appeared to contradict one another. The misleading signs remain in place.

“We’re definitely going to move forward with urgency to have this issue resolved,” says Keith St. Clair, acting communications director for the District Department of Transportation.

There are a total of five exit signs above the freeway for C Street SW, three of which appear to incorrectly list its number as Exit 2B. The ramp to C Street SW and the U.S. Capitol, near the Rayburn Office Building, is really Exit 6. Exit 2 is a pair of offramps in East Potomac Park, nearly a mile from Capitol Hill. Exit 2B on Interstate 695 is about 2 miles ahead — a ramp that leads from the outbound 11th Street Bridge onto D.C. 295.

“The signage in this location is something DDOT is working to clarify. At this point we are evaluating the cost, schedule, and traffic management related to fabricating and installing up to 12 large signs on this and other I-395 locations,” St. Clair says.

St. Clair says a few of the replacement signs will measure more than 100 square feet in size.

The Federal Highway Administration wrote the book on nationwide sign design. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices spells out specific fonts, dimensions and coloration of overhead guide signs, the contents of which are to be simplified since the average driver can only absorb a limited amount of information at highway speeds.

“We’re not at a stage where we have specifics on the wording. We’re working on the verbiage needed per MUTCD standards and trying to clarify everything so that it will make sense to both local and out of town drivers.”

The poor signage illustrates a larger conundrum on the busiest road in the nation’s capital, which carries roughly 150,000 vehicles through Southwest every day.

While most drivers consider the east-west oriented Southeast-Southwest Freeway a single road, it is technically two separate interstates, I-695 and I-395, which join together at the 3rd Street Tunnel. It wasn’t until the completion of the 11th Street Bridge Project that the District began assigning exit numbers to I-695, the eastern half of the freeway.

To add to the confusion, the proximity of low exit numbers on D.C. 295 and Interstate 295 means that, in less than three miles, a driver could potentially pass three unrelated Exit 1s, four Exit 2s and two Exit 3s.

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