Traffic, traffic everywhere: Wednesday’s PM commute ensnared in crash aftermath

The fire is in the outer loop portion of the bridge. Smoke has shut down traffic on the inner loop. (Courtesy MDOT)
The fire was in the outer loop portion of the bridge. Smoke shut down traffic on the inner loop. (Courtesy MDOT) (Courtesy "Coach Gator" via Twitter)
Wednesday's Wilson Bridge fire apparently began with a collision involving a boom truck. (Courtesy "Coach Gator" via Twitter)
Wednesday’s Wilson Bridge fire apparently began with a collision involving a boom truck. (Courtesy “Coach Gator” via Twitter) (Courtesy "Coach Gator" via Twitter)
Heavy smoke rises from the accident site Wednesday morning.(Courtesy Shannon Bishop-Green via Twitter)
Heavy smoke rises from the accident site Wednesday morning.(Courtesy Shannon Bishop-Green via Twitter) (Courtesy Shannon Bishop-Green via Twitter)
The view from Alexandria (Courtesy Fernando Granados via Twitter)
The view from Alexandria (Courtesy Fernando Granados via Twitter) (Courtesy Fernando Granados via Twitter)
A construction worker is lowered onto a police boat that was patrolling the Potomac when its crew heard the boom and saw an explosion the Wilson Bridge. The officers rushed to help and positioned themselves to help rescue bridge workers who were lowered to safety. (Courtesy Prince George's County Police Department via Twitter)
A construction worker is lowered onto a police boat that was patrolling the Potomac when its crew heard the boom and saw an explosion the Wilson Bridge. The officers rushed to help and positioned themselves to help rescue bridge workers who were lowered to safety. (Courtesy Prince George’s County Police Department via Twitter) (Courtesy Prince George's County)
The fire is in the outer loop portion of the bridge. Smoke has shut down traffic on the inner loop. (Courtesy MDOT)
The fire was in the outer loop portion of the bridge. Smoke shut down traffic on the inner loop. (Courtesy MDOT) (Courtesy MDOT)
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The fire is in the outer loop portion of the bridge. Smoke has shut down traffic on the inner loop. (Courtesy MDOT)
Wednesday's Wilson Bridge fire apparently began with a collision involving a boom truck. (Courtesy "Coach Gator" via Twitter)
Heavy smoke rises from the accident site Wednesday morning.(Courtesy Shannon Bishop-Green via Twitter)
The view from Alexandria (Courtesy Fernando Granados via Twitter)
A construction worker is lowered onto a police boat that was patrolling the Potomac when its crew heard the boom and saw an explosion the Wilson Bridge. The officers rushed to help and positioned themselves to help rescue bridge workers who were lowered to safety. (Courtesy Prince George's County Police Department via Twitter)
The fire is in the outer loop portion of the bridge. Smoke has shut down traffic on the inner loop. (Courtesy MDOT)

WASHINGTON — If you felt like traffic around the D.C. area was particularly awful Wednesday, it really was: The effects of a fatal crash on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge rippled throughout the Capital Beltway.

Traffic around the Beltway slowed considerably after a deadly collision between a tractor-trailer and several other vehicles ignited a blaze around 11 a.m. on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, shutting down a portion of the bridge for hours. The driver of the tractor-trailer was killed, and thru lanes reopened just before 11 p.m.

Local lanes going from Virginia toward Maryland reopened by 2 p.m.

So, how could a crash that happened in the morning still impact the evening commute?

“I can’t explain why things are the way they are,” said Bob Marbourg in the WTOP Traffic Center. “We had the Wilson Bridge accident, but there are more people on the road at once going nowhere than normally would be.”

There were many forces that acted against drivers on Wednesday.

An extended bottleneck on the region’s busiest bridge sent drivers detouring through the city on I-395 and I-295. The Nationals game led to increased volumes on the same routes later in the day. And rain may have slowed the pace across the entire region.

All of these events caused traffic delays to ripple across the District, Arlington and Alexandria, and the onslaught of afternoon rush hour ensured the effects would stay put.

“The ripples in the pond were large and as they clashed together, the waters remained choppy for hours into the late evening,” said WTOP Traffic Reporter Dave Dildine.

Marbourg called Wednesday afternoon’s traffic conditions “a rush hour of extraordinary proportions,” adding, “It is extraordinarily heavy not only on the interstate but on the surface streets.”

A number of D.C.-area drivers took to social media to air out their grievances.

Through the early afternoon, areas around the White House and U.S. Capitol were backed up during a protest march and rally of Falun Gong practitioners.

And, just before 4:30 p.m., Reagan National Airport started tweeting about heavy traffic on airport roadways and advised travelers headed to the airport to get there using Metro. Airport garage exits were also backed up, with cars bumper-to-bumper. But, by 7:30 p.m., the airport tweeted that traffic was looking much better, except for ramps to the northbound George Washington Parkway.

Marbourg said that he and other WTOP Traffic reporters have been speculating on why there were so many people on the road at the same time, but he didn’t have concrete answers. He wondered if people’s reliance on “being guided electronically” through phone apps or GPS may have put everyone on the same path, or perhaps, the decision to leave early was unanimous Wednesday.

“The overall bailout volume is really an extreme case,” Marbourg said.

He added that weather wasn’t a particular factor in Wednesday’s traffic delays, but the traffic pattern made it seem like people were leaving early on a snow day — except, of course, without the snow.

Traffic on East Taylor Run Parkway
Traffic backed up on Alexandria side streets and did not clear out until well after 9 p.m. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

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