New signage, possibly barriers, coming to northern GW Parkway after traffic pattern change

This week marked the first week that morning and afternoon rush hour commuters were faced with a new temporary traffic pattern on the George Washington Parkway, and the new configuration has led to some confusion among drivers.

That’s because those driving into Maryland must enter the right lane, three miles before their exit, while motorists in the center lane are only routed on the Capital Beltway to go further into Virginia.

WTOP Traffic Reporter Dave Dildine who has been watching the impact of the traffic pattern change said it has led to drivers learning the hard way that they got into the wrong lane.

“What we were watching was a lot of erratic driving over the flex posts at the last minute and switching lanes abruptly,” Dildine said.

Dildine said thankfully it hasn’t led to any big crashes, as drivers acclimate to the changes.

The temporary three-lane configuration on the northbound side is in place, so construction crews can completely rehabilitate the southbound lanes, which includes bridges, stormwater drainage systems and more.

WTOP reached out to the National Park Service, and spokesperson Mark Malloy, a spokesman, said they have noticed issues, mostly during the afternoon rush, during which drivers looking to get onto Interstate 495 in the direction of Maryland mistakenly get into the center lane, and then resorting to illegally driving over flexible barrier poles to get into the right lane, allowing them to exit.

“We are working to get more signage up that’s going to explain to people that if you are heading on the Inner Loop toward Maryland, you need to stay in the right lane,” Malloy said.

He said before the afternoon rush on Thursday, changeable message signs will go up to better explain to drivers headed out of D.C. what to do before they accidentally get into the center lane.

The center lane, he said, is only for drivers looking to go further into Virginia on the Capital Beltway. Drivers headed in that direction can also get to an exit via the right lane, but using the right lane for that is not recommended.

Also, with the flexible posts already taking a beating, Malloy said discussions are underway to add “curbing material” to prevent illegal crossings by drivers who try to get into the right lane to make the exit toward Maryland after entering the center lane.

“This is kind of a fluid situation so nothing definitive has been made yet, but there will be changes coming in the next few days,” Malloy said.

Malloy said the NPS understands how frustrating the traffic pattern change has been, and he does recommend avoiding the road if at all possible.

“We appreciate people’s patience while they’re going through this,” Malloy said. “This is a really necessary rehabilitation project.”

Now, Dildine did note one positive to come from the traffic pattern change when it comes to northbound travel on the parkway.

“The northbound merge, the Beltway was notorious for queue jumping and weaving, but that’s happening to a lesser extent now because you’re essentially forced into the correct lane early,” Dildine said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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