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Use Caution at Beltway Interchange

For many drivers used to taking the exit from the Beltway's outer loop onto University Boulevard in Montgomery County, the new traffic pattern will come as a complete surprise.

Ramp closed.jpg Old ramp to eastbound University Boulevard now shut. (Robert Thomson)

The new ramp from the Capital Beltway outer loop to University Boulevard (Exit 29) is completely operational now, including the traffic light at the top of the ramp that controls traffic heading east and west on University. I drove it three times this morning, and it seemed to work fine. On the ramp, two lanes go east and two go west.

But if you're used to the old traffic pattern at that Silver Spring interchange, which involved an Exit A and an Exit B, then watch out: The second ramp, the Exit B that used to take drivers east toward Langley Park and College Park, is now closed. This eliminates a weaving merge, which is great.

Exit 29.jpg Approaching Exit 29, no indication that second ramp has closed. (Robert Thomson)

The problem is, many drivers won't know that ramp is closed until they're right on top of it and see orange barrels and concrete barriers blocking the former exit.

This is dangerous. Many of these drivers will do what they normally do: Watch over their right shoulders for cars coming down the ramp from University onto the Beltway. Some will move into the merge lane when they have a clear space only to discover that they have to swerve back out onto the Beltway to avoid the new barrier.

Merge.jpg Drivers eyeing merging traffic may be surprised to find second ramp blocked ahead. (Robert Thomson)

The Maryland State Highway Administration, which is in charge of the project, should put up a very visible warning that the second ramp is closed. The A and B markings for Exit 29 are gone, but that's not enough. The only warning sign I spotted there was a detour sign for 193 west. I don't understand why that's needed. You can get to 193 west just fine from the newly constructed ramp. The detour takes you down to Georgia Avenue and brings you round to the inner loop. Why?

By the way, be careful taking that outer loop ramp to Georgia Avenue southbound. The new light that stops southbound traffic to let vehicles exit from the inner loop ramp can create a traffic backup that seemed to surprise some drivers as they made the left turn from the outer loop ramp to pass under the Beltway. Some folks had to stop really hard.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 15, 2007; 12:07 PM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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Comments

"The only warning sign I spotted there was a detour sign for 193 west. I don't understand why that's needed. You can get to 193 west just fine from the newly constructed ramp. The detour takes you down to Georgia Avenue and brings you round to the inner loop. Why?"

Probably so motorists who miss the new exit won't try to back up on the shoulder when they see the old exit is closed. I think it is a nice gesture to sign a detour for these folks, but some more warning signs would be good.

Posted by: Woodley Park | August 15, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

"The detour takes you down to Georgia Avenue and brings you round to the inner loop. Why?"

It was most likely put up when the second ramp, the Exit B, was blocked off and before the new configuration was completely operational. This was the situation when I drove back from Baltimore Monday night. Pre-warned by WTOP traffic, I did not take the Beltway but instead got off I95 at 198.

Posted by: Historian | August 15, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

An excellent heads-up from Dr. G. I'll make sure I'm in one of the two left lanes when I go through there later this afternoon.

Posted by: cb | August 15, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

SHA is in a hurry to finish this project, because they know how much of a debacle it truly is. Why bother with things such as "signs" and "pavement" when you can cover your butt for an ill-conceived, wretchedly implemented project by rushing to finish everything up?

Posted by: Joe in SS | August 15, 2007 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I wonder why the detour forces people to go all the way to Georgia Ave and turn around, when they could simply take Colesville Road South to Silver Spring (the next exit after 193) and take a left at Franklin Ave to get to Route 193 east. Saves people a bit of time.

Posted by: Michael | August 15, 2007 6:44 PM | Report abuse

This rush to eliminate the 'weave' has caused its own unintended consequence. The weave was pretty bad because drivers did not know how to use it (those moving into the intrerchange should slow down and let those leaving go ahead and ...and 'leave'. They are almost always negotiated the other way thus blocking traffic on the interchange exit ramp.) However, now there is a bumper-to-bumper line of vehicles attempting to enter the high-speed road rather than having them somewhat separated. Plus the problem you already pointed out of having a backup from the traffic light. Has an improvement been made???

Posted by: mapuser | August 15, 2007 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Mapuser, You are entirely correct in the bumper-to-bumper traffic that now enters the high speed beltway traffic. The solution to this issue on the west coast is a ramp meter which bascially controls the cars entering the highway. The ramp meter will allow one car to enter the highway every 3 seconds or what have you. It bascially spreads out the cars on the ramp so they don't bog down the mainline, high speed beltway traffic. As annoying as they are from the standpoint of folks entering the highway, they do work.

In most west coast areas, the high volume ramps are all designed with at least two lanes: one for all cars with one occupant which must enter the highway in accordance with the ramp meter and the a second lane for HOV-2 who can enter the freeway without the control of the ramp meter.

The only ramp meters I know of in this area are on I-66 in Arlington, the ramps to westbound I-66 from Glebe Rd and Sycamore St have them, but they're not always operational. Other folks who use this route on a regular basis during rushhour may have more info. (On weekends, they always seem to be off.)

Posted by: xyv1027 | August 16, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I-395 at Little River Tnpk has a ramp meter, as do several other ramps on 395. The first time I traveled down a ramp with one in use (a few years ago), I went through it, basically ignoring it, having NEVER seen one before moving to the area. The sign "metered ramp" meant nothing to me and left me puzzled and feeling like I just broke a law (I saw the red light but at the last minute, not expecting it, and I was already speeding up to merge...hard to stop then, eh?) It did make me look it up and ask some questions, though, so I didn't make that mistake twice. And I agree...they do work. The space out the cars just enough so that there is not an unbroken line of solid metal moving in the lane.

This area has some interesting traffic control devices that are not used often, if at all, in other parts of the country.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | August 16, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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