The Inner Scoop

Road closures planned for State of the Union address

Posted on: Tuesday 1/28/2014 12:51pm

Road closures Jan. 28, 2014 (Capitol Police)
This map shows roads that will be closed starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 for President Obama's State of the Union address.

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress is set for 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 in the Capitol.

Some D.C. streets will be closed that evening for the State of the Union address. U.S. Capitol Police released the following list and map detailing what streets will be affected:

Restricted access: Capitol Square

The following area will be restricted to event credentialed and authorized pedestrians only beginning at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 28, 2014:

  • First Street between Constitution Avenue, NW and Independence Avenue, SW
  • Independence Avenue between First Street, SW and First Street, SE
  • First Street between Independence Avenue, SE and Constitution Avenue, NE
  • Constitution Avenue between First Street, NE and First Street, NW

Road closures The U.S. Capitol Police will put the following road closures (affecting vehicular traffic) into effect at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 and will lift these restrictions upon conclusion of the event:

North side of Capitol Square

  • D Street, NE between 2nd Street, NE & Louisiana Avenue, NW
  • C Street, NE between 2nd Street, NE & Louisiana Avenue, NW
  • Constitution Avenue between 2nd Street, NE & Louisiana Avenue, NW
  • Delaware Avenue between Columbus Circle & Constitution Avenue, NE
  • New Jersey Avenue, NW between Louisiana Avenue, & Constitution Avenue, NW
  • Pennsylvania Avenue between 1st Street, & 3rd Street, NW
  • East Capitol Street between 2nd Street, & 1st Street, NE/SE
  • 1st Street between Columbus Circle, NE & C Street, SE
  • 1st Street between Louisiana Avenue, NW & Washington Avenue, SW
  • 2nd Street NE between Constitution Avenue & East Capitol Street NE

South side of Capitol Square

  • Maryland Avenue, SW between 1st Street, & 3rd Street, SW
  • Independence Avenue between 2nd Street, SE & Washington Avenue, SW
  • C Street between 1st Street, SE & Washington Avenue, SW
  • Delaware Avenue between Washington Avenue, SW & C Street, SW
  • New Jersey Avenue between Independence Avenue, & D Street, SE
  • South Capitol Street between Independence Avenue & D Street, SE/SW

Capitol tours

Public and staff-led tours will be suspended at noon Tuesday. The Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) will also close at noon. However, visitors with gallery passes may continue to enter via the CVC main entrance.

The House Gallery will remain open until 5:30 p.m. or until House recesses, whichever is later. The Senate Gallery will remain open until 6:00 p.m. or until the Senate recesses, whichever is later. Tours will resume on a normal operational schedule on Wednesday, January 29, 2014.

Tour buses

Tour buses will be allowed to drop off and pick up in Peace Circle and Garfield Circle until 4:30 p.m.

We appreciate the assistance of our law enforcement partners, event support personnel, and the community in working with us to manage this significant event. Due to road closures, we advise the public to prepare in advance for detours around the Capitol Square area. We thank you for your patience and apologize for any inconveniences in advance.

If there are any questions about this event, please contact the United States Capitol Police Public Information Office at 202-224-1677.

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Weekend Wakeup: Weather affects road projects

Posted on: Friday 1/10/2014 6:00pm

Weekend drivers hibernate during the winter -- or so it would appear. Whereas summer weekends are abuzz with rush-hour-like-traffic, the roads go quiet during the dreary winter months in Washington.

Even recurring congestion like on I-66 and the predictable sluggishness on the B/W Parkway in Maryland diminishes, with any delays amounting to little more than a nuisance. Barring icy weather or accidents, the wintertime weekend commute is usually a breeze.

There are challenges this time of year: It's pothole season. The last freeze-thaw cycle has left many of the roads around the region pot-marked. Highway crews will be out this weekend repairing these road hazards.

Temperatures this weekend are expected to be 10 to 15 degrees above winter norms, so drivers won't have any ice or snow to worry about. The roads will be slick with rain, especially Saturday afternoon. Big puddles are likely. Slow your speeds and turn your headlights on so other drivers around you can see where you are.

Roadwork Ahead

Most of the long-term road projects across the region will put work on hold until the weather improves. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has postponed Friday's overnight closure of I-395 North at Edsall Road until next weekend. Other previously scheduled work zones along the 29-mile-long project area will likely be scrubbed.

Skies should begin to clear by the latter half of the weekend.

VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division are scheduled to close lanes on I-95 South and Backlick Road south of Springfield, for steel beam placement on Saturday night. If the weather cooperates, all lanes will be closed on Backlick Road and three of the four lanes on I-95 South will be closed starting at 10:30 p.m. Temporary stoppages of traffic are possible on I-95. In the case of inclement weather, the work may be delayed until early morning or put off until Sunday night.

On Sunday morning, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) plan to close a lane on eastbound and westbound Route 50 (John Hanson Highway) between the Capital Beltway and Route 410 in New Carrollton, Prince George's County. The lane closures are necessary for BGE contractors to relocate utility poles and overhead power lines. Crews may hold traffic for up to 15 minutes at a time. The work should be completed by 10 a.m.

Metrorail Rebuilding

Plan for some delays if you're taking Metro this weekend but all stations are expected to remain open. The track work starts at 10 p.m. on Friday and will last through Sunday night.

Red Line trains between Shady Grove and Glenmont will run every 16 minutes throughout the weekend. Trains between Shady Grove and Union Station will run more frequently during the daytime hours.

Orange Line trains will operate every 20 minutes due to continued reconstruction near the Minnesota Avenue and Deanwood stations.

Blue Line, Yellow Line, and Green Line trains will also run at 20-minute- intervals.

Weekend Events

There are no events this weekend that pose the potential to cause widespread, major delays. The Washington Wizards will host the Houston Rockets at the Verizon Center at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Metro testing automatic train operation next month

Posted on: Thursday 1/9/2014 5:37pm

WASHINGTON -- More than four years after a fatal Red Line crash, Metro is getting closer to resume automatic train operation, one of the key components of automatic train control.

In basic terms, the automatic train control is a system of circuits, signals and other equipment that relay signals to track every train and ensure two trains do not collide. It has two key subsystems, automatic train prevention and automatic train operation. The latter allows the train to maintain a smooth and consistent speed that keeps it spaced far enough away from trains in front and behind it. The former helps slow down, or even slam the brakes, when a train gets too close to another train in front of it.

Investigators found the fatal 2009 occurred when the system didn't recognize a train near Fort Totten, sending another train crashing into the back of it.

Since then, Metro has aggressively replaced older circuits made in the 1980s and the older 1000 series cars with new 7000 series cars.

While automatic train control has been always working, trains were switched to manual operation after the crash. In 2014, train operators still manually operate trains.

However next month, Metro plans to begin testing the operation subsystem during the overnight hours. It is the first step towards returning passenger trains to automatic operation.

"It's not only about a safer operation, but it's a smoother operation for the passengers. When we went to manual operation, people were complaining that the stops were a little too short, that the accelerations were a little too quick. That is done away with in automatic train operation," says Metro General Manager Richard Sarles.

He would not offer a timeline on when passengers can expect Metro to switch back to automatic mode, saying he didn't want to rush the job to meet a publicly announced deadline. Metro will meet with the National Safety Transportation Board in March to discuss a safety systems analysis on the entire system. The NTSB made several recommendations after the 2009 crash to improve the system and replace older trains.

D.C. region's worst rush hours of 2013

Posted on: Tuesday 12/31/2013 8:19am

WASHINGTON - Washington commuters expect congestion and delays. Crashes, roadwork and police activity are part of the game.

But put all three together at the height of rush hour and the gridlock ripples across the region. These horrific traffic jams can last for hours and scar drivers for life.

Accidents that wreak havoc in a road network involve overturned trucks, large fires, hazmat responses, spills and serious injuries. They often take hours to resolve and lengthy police investigations prolong their grip on traffic. As officials block a heavily traveled road, drivers quickly overwhelm nearby arteries as they scramble to find an alternate route.

Here are WTOP's five worst rush hours of 2013. Each featured major incidents and extreme, widespread delays that affected tens of thousands of motorists far and wide.

Tuesday, Jan. 8

Gridlock in Georgetown, Key Bridge Closes for Hours

All of the bridges that span the Potomac River near Washington are considered vital for the well-being of the traffic flow near the Nation's Capital. Even a minor, short-lived incident on a bridge can clog lanes on other river crossings.

In 2013, an early January afternoon commute turned into a struggle in Northwest Washington and Arlington, Va., when the Metropolitan Police Department closed the Key Bridge during an apparent suicide negotiation.

The bridge was closed to all traffic for more than three hours during the heart of the afternoon commute. It didn't take long for gridlock to build in Georgetown and Rosslyn. The extended duration of the negotiations and continued closure of the Key Bridge put tremendous strain on the other Potomac River crossings and the routes leading to them in Washington and Virginia. Unusual delays were reported on the Roosevelt Bridge, Memorial Bridge, 14th Street Bridge and Chain Bridge.

Woman struck by vehicle on Suitland Parkway dies

Posted on: Friday 12/27/2013 11:27am

WASHINGTON - A woman is dead after she was struck by a vehicle on the Suitland Parkway, which closed the Maryland roadway Friday morning.

A vehicle hit a woman as he was crossing the street on inbound Suitland Parkway near the intersection of Forestville Road at about 6 a.m. Officials have not yet released the name of the woman who died.

The driver stayed on the scene. Authorities say the driver had a green light at the time of the crash.

U.S. Park Police Capt. Steven Booker says the area is not safe for pedestrians.

"There's no cross walk so it's very unsafe for pedestrians to cross here; it's very hazardous," Booker says.

The crash closed all lanes of inbound Suitland Parkway at Forestville Road from Route 4/Pennsylvania Avenue. Officials reopened the lanes at about 10:45 a.m.

Officials are investigating the crash and are asking any witnesses to come forward.

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Editor's note: A previous version of this story said a man died in the crash. U.S. Park Police later corrected the report to say a woman died. We regret the error.

Weekend Wakeup: Travelers, shoppers and light Metro work

Posted on: Sunday 12/22/2013 6:20pm

WASHINGTON - Holiday delays have slowly crept up on unsuspecting commuters. Usually latent in the weeks following the Thanksgiving getaway, they tend to reemerge by mid-December.

Most road work put on hold

The roads carry more long distance travelers, shoppers and delivery trucks this time of year. The increase in commercial and discretionary travel leads to delays that are often less predictable.

Sitting in an unexpected delay is just one of the many stresses of the holiday season, so local highway departments have done what they can to minimize disruptions to traffic. During this busy travel weekend, most lane closures for long-term road projects have been suspended.

Work crews for the I-95 Express Lanes Project will block some lanes during the overnight hours along the 29-mile-long corridor, but will strive to have all lanes reopen by 7 a.m. each morning.

HOV open

The I-95/395 Express Lanes will be open to traffic this weekend. The lanes are expected to operate southbound until early Saturday afternoon. They are expected to serve northbound drivers by late Saturday afternoon and Sunday. This is subject to change.

Metro track work light-to-none

Metrorail customers can breathe a sigh of relief this weekend - most track work has been put on hold and nearly all trains will operate at regular intervals. Customers between Greenbelt and College Park can expect to ride a shuttle bus instead of the train on Saturday and Sunday. Riders using shuttle bus service should allow about 15 minutes of travel time.

Crash involving an overturned shopping cart

Expect the roads leading into shopping-center parking lots to be congested this weekend. Sometimes the "spill-back" out of the big retail complexes can affect the major roads nearby.

A queue of traffic that back-builds onto another road causes what highway engineers call an "arterial" delay -- hazardous for through-travelers because it often appears suddenly and at high speeds. The delay can cause friction against through traffic and slow the adjacent highway's traffic flow.

This phenomenon has been observed over the past week in Parole on Route 50 east at exit 23, Route 100 east at Arundel Mills Boulevard and in Frederick on Interstate 270 near exit 31 toward the Francis Scott Key Mall.

In Virginia, expect heavy traffic on Route 7 through Tysons Corner. At its worst, the delay toward Tysons Galleria on Route 7 can begin on the Beltway. Drivers on Interstate 95 near Potomac Mills will likely see some evidence of delays near the Opitz Boulevard and Dale Boulevard exits.

Terrible Redskins = Not-so-terrible traffic

On Sunday, the Redskins take on the Cowboys at FedEx Field at 1:00 p.m. Despite the team's record, Redskins fans will likely begin heading to Landover early Sunday morning, if nothing else, to enjoy the mild tailgating weather. Expect delays on the Beltway before and especially after the game on Sunday afternoon.

Spray-delays possible

Scattered rain showers could affect drivers during the latter half of the weekend, especially Sunday afternoon.

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Embassy bomb threat closes West End streets during rush

Posted on: Thursday 12/19/2013 6:59pm

WASHINGTON - A bomb threat at the Swedish Embassy has closed Rock Creek Parkway and other downtown streets, stalling traffic during the afternoon rush.

Someone left a message at the embassy switchboard Thursday afternoon claiming there was an explosive device in the building, at 2900 K St. NW.

Swedish Embassy officials say the building was cleared however bomb units remained on scene sweeping for explosives. The embassy building also houses apartments and offices and authorities planned to check each, one by one.

As of 6 p.m. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier tells WTOP that officers have cleared the scene. However it was unclear what, if anything, was found or what triggered the threat.

WikiLeaks tweeted that the threat was tied to its founder Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden.

An embassy spokeswoman said that members of the Swedish press in D.C. had inquired about the link to Assange but she could not confirm such a connection to WTOP.

The police activity shut down the Rock Creek Parkway north of the Kennedy Center along with K Street and 27th Street, causing delays in Georgetown and the West End. The Whitehurst Freeway was open but jammed outbound.

Rock Creek Parkway reopened before 7 p.m. however major delays were expected to continue.

WTOP's JJ Green contributed to this report. Follow @WTOPtraffic and @WTOP on Twitter.

Water main break causes problems on Connecticut Ave. (Video)

Posted on: Tuesday 12/17/2013 9:55am

WASHINGTON - One southbound right lane of Connecticut Avenue has reopened after a water main break closed the southbound lanes for much of Tuesday morning.

A 12-inch pipe burst on Connecticut Avenue between M and N streets in Northwest after midnight. The break caused both directions of Connecticut Avenue to close to traffic near Dupont Circle. By 5 a.m., the northbound lanes reopened.

One southbound lane between 18th Street, N and M streets reopened just before 10:30 a.m.

Authorities say it is unclear when water will be restored to the area.

Chief of External Affairs for DC Water John Lisle says as a result of the water main break, four commercial properties are without water -- two of which are commercial high-rise properties.

The initial time for repair was expected to be completed in eight to 10 hours, but it may take longer, Lisle says.

WTOP's Kristi King took this video at the scene early Tuesday:

Below is a map with the location of the incident:

View Larger Map

WTOP's Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @kingWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

Tuesday's snow forecast sparks memories of 2011

Posted on: Monday 12/9/2013 5:29pm

In this WTOP file photo, cars try to navigate a messy rush hour commute in Arlington in January 2011. Congestion and a fast snow fall clogged Interstate 270 Sunday afternoon and a similarly heavy snowfall could cause havoc on the roads Tuesday morning. (WTOP File/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON - On Jan. 26, 2011, a moderate snowfall blindsided the Washington area.

The storm wasn't meteorologically unusual or noteworthy. The center deepened at a normal mid-winter rate. Spatially and temporally, it was concentrated and fleeting.

It produced about 5 to 10 inches of snow, no more than an average season's highest single-storm total. But its effects were crippling. The metro area's transportation network was brought to its knees.

Although the federal government was criticized for sending its employees home early during the height of the storm and despite Washington's perceived inept winter weather driving, the coup de grace for the disastrous afternoon commute was the timing and, more importantly, the rate of snowfall.

The storm moved rapidly through central Virginia into the Washington metro area during the early to middle afternoon hours. Heavy sleet quickly changed to snow. The snowfall rates exceeded 2 to 3 inches per hour.

Traffic slowed as highway volume increased and visibility lowered. Then there were accidents. Traffic slowed further. All the while, snow was quickly piling up. Snowfall rates approached 3 inches per hour. Long traffic backups became frozen in place as drivers were shrouded in a thick blanket snow. The plows were unable to clear the snow and the roads were clogged with stranded motorists and abandoned cars.

The storm was the culmination of many factors that paralyzed the region's road network. But the snowfall rate is what transformed the routes with a single bottleneck into one giant parking lot entombed in ice.

A recent example of this phenomenon (on a smaller scale) played out Sunday on Interstate 270.

The snow was heavier than expected northwest of Washington, particularly in Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland where more than 6 inches fell in a short period of time.

A few motorists spun-out at the onset of the snow. Some vehicles slid off the roadway. Passersby stopped to assist those in need of help.

A few minor crashes led to a dramatic slowing of traffic during a short period of very intense snowfall. The skip lines on I-270 disappeared and it wasn't long before two nearly 10-mile-long backups in both the north and south lanes were buried under several inches of snow. Some motorists were stuck for longer than two hours on what would otherwise be a 15-minute drive.

On Tuesday, a quick-hitting round of winter weather is expected to strike Washington during the heart of the morning rush hour. As in 2011, the National Weather Service has offered advance notice. Whether Washingtonians have learned from the mistakes made three winters ago will become apparent soon, perhaps by noon tomorrow.

Morning commuters should plan for the potential of a significant disruption to travel. Those who have the luxury of being flexible should consider revising their morning plans. Unnecessary travel should be postponed until the afternoon when the weather is expected to improve.

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Expert tips to navigate the worst winter road conditions

Posted on: Monday 12/9/2013 7:57am

A car hit a gaurd rail on a ramp from Cascades Parkway to Route 7 in Sterling Sunday afternoon. Holding too tight to the steering wheel is one common mistake drivers make when trying to navigate snowy and slick roads. (WTOP/Jim Battagliese)

WASHINGTON - Freezing rain can cause some of the worst driving conditions, according to a driving expert from Michelin, who has tips to help you drive and arrive safely during any hazardous mix of freezing rain, snow and ice.

"Freezing rain is just atrocious," says Carl Nadeau, chief instructor of the Michelin Winter Driving Academy.

To avoid sliding into that ditch or guard rail, Nadeau says to look where you want to go. He says people have an uncanny ability to fixate on, and hit, things like parked cars.

"If you are looking at it, you are going to aim for it," he says.

He also says drivers should sit up straight and keep a loose grip on the steering wheel so your car can give you feedback. Otherwise, that white-knuckle grip can actually contribute to you spinning out of control.

"When you hit the threshold, if you hold the steering wheel too tight, you're not going to feel the threshold, so by the time you are going to feel it, it's already too late," Nadeau says.

He also says not to peer over the hood to look for slick spots. Instead focus your eyes further ahead to see what you are approaching like snow-covered pavement or stopped cars.

More Tips for Driving in Snow and Ice

The best tip that can be given for bad weather conditions is not to drive if you don’t have to. If you absolutely have to drive, here are some tips from The Weather Channel on driving in snow and ice:

  • Make sure your car is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions.
  • It’s helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you’re familiar with how your car handles. Consult your owner’s manual for tips specific to your vehicle.

Driving safely on icy roads

  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. 
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake. 
  • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. 
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean. 
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills. 
  • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. 
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges. 
  • Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind. 
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your rear wheels skid…

  • Take your foot off the accelerator. 
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right. 
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control. 
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently. 
  • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid…

  • Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately. 
  • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck…

  • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper. 
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. 
  • Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out. 
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car. 
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction. 
  • Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services

Make sure your car has an emergency kit. Here's what AAA recommends you put in it:

  • Cellphone
  • Blankets/sleeping bags
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Drinking water
  • Extra clothes
  • Sand or cat litter for traction
  • Shovel
  • Scraper/brush
  • Jumper cables
  • Tool kit
  • Flares or orange triangles
  • Knife
  • Towels
  • High calorie, non-perishable food

WTOP's John Aaron and Paula Wolfson contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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