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Closures and car fires: Va. rush hour was one for the books

Wednesday - 10/19/2011, 5:48pm  ET

By Tim Bracken, wtop.com

To say that drivers in Virgina had it bad this morning is a huge understatement. We had it all today: rain, emergency closures, car fires (yes, more than one!), roadways shut down, overturned cars and thousands of frustrated commuters.

Here’s how it began: On northbound I-95 between Dale Boulevard and the Prince William Parkway, overnight paving had just the left lane getting by. When VDOT cleared and allowed drivers into the recently paved lanes, the roadway essentially fell apart, forcing authorities to again block the lanes off, leaving just one lane open to commuters in the 5 a.m. hour.

VDOT lifted HOV restrictions, but it didn’t help much. VDOT spokesperson Joan Morris did talk to WTOP’s Mike Moss to explain the situation and to apologize to commuters.

A little later on, there was a crash on northbound I-395 near Duke Street, and just one lane was open to traffic for almost the entire 6 a.m. hour. Right after that cleared, there was a car fire that shut down the northbound I-395 HOV lanes near King Street. These incidents helped to create a near-solid delay from Garrisonville all the way up to Alexandria. That’s almost 40 miles! It was that bad before 7 a.m.

Meanwhile, we talked to more than 100 cranky commuters stuck in the delay, giving us updates on how long it was taking them to get to work. One listener from Garrisonville, Brad,  hit the delays on northbound I-95 before Dumfries. Almost two hours later, he had just cleared the construction closure at the Prince William Parkway. He called me back after he got to work in Alexandria about an hour after that, so his commute (which normally takes about 50 minutes) was about three hours. I heard the three-hour figure from so many folks today.

Getting back to the epic delays…In the 7 a.m. hour, many drivers began attempting to make illegal U-turns out of the I-395 HOV lanes at Edsall Rd. That caused a serious accident on SB I-395, leaving one lane of four open to travel.

Before 8:00 a.m. there were two more accidents that happened on northbound I-95 near Falmouth, adding to the delays leading to the construction.

VDOT started clearing construction barrels and cones near the Prince William Parkway around 7:50 a.m., and cleared the last of the cones near Dale Boulevard around 8:30 a.m.

The real kicker about these kind of problems on I-95 is that there is no viable workaround for Virginia drivers. Whenever something happens on I-95, people bail onto Route 1, causing huge delays there…and that’s just when there’s a little fender-bender! When something major happens, we immediately see huge delays build in a matter of minutes, and each big traffic hang-up seems to be worse than the last one.

Were you stuck in the huge mess this morning? What was your commute like? Let us know by tweeting to @WTOPtraffic!

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)