U. S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
HS 808 705
List of Tables
List of Figures
Operation and Design Issues
Details of this topic were discussed by motorists in Groups 1, 3 and 4. The topic also was covered in one of the commercial driver groups.
Maintenance and Repair
Two of the three groups are satisfied with how well the Beltway is maintained and specifically mentioned improvements within the last three years. In Group 1, however, initial reaction to the question, "Do you think the Beltway is kept in good repair?" was "no." Several people in Group 1 said it is much better than it was in the past. One person remarked that during heavy construction last year the road was terrible but is much better now. Another person disliked the uneven lanes during re-paving. Another individual complained specifically about undulations in the pavement between the Van Dorn exit and the Wilson Bridge. Others complained about potholes and bumps.
People in Group 3 generally think the Beltway is well maintained. One person remarked that it is amazing that it can be as well maintained as it is, considering the amount of traffic on it. Another said that he frequently drives visitors from other countries around the Beltway and they often remark about what a good road it is. Group 4 also felt the Beltway is in pretty good repair. One participant said the expansion joints are a bit rough on some bridges but otherwise it is good.
The Roadway drivers say they think that the Beltway is very well maintained and the road conditions are better now than they were three years ago. The road has been widened in many places and changes have been made in ramp design to make them safer. The Dulles airport pick up driver appreciated the fact that a new right exit has been opened to I-66 since he complained about the left exit three years ago. However, the dump truck drivers said the whole Beltway is rough, with a lot of bumps and potholes. They focused on one particular section that "bounces the rear wheels up off the ground" between Van Dorn and Telegraph Road. This same section was mentioned by the Roadway drivers at the terminal on Van Dorn. They said a driver lost his trailer there when it bounced off the fifth wheel.
Differences Between States
When Group 1 was asked if they noticed any differences in the roadway when they passed from Maryland to Virginia, and vice versa, the initial responses were in regard to the condition of the road. The first remark was that the road was noticeably rougher on the northbound side in Virginia from I-66 up to the bridge. Someone else said they felt that Virginia did a better job of warning about construction ahead. Another person remarked that Maryland could do a better job of lane marking. He would like to see raised reflective lane markers like they have in California, particularly in Maryland where the road is curvy near the Mormon Temple. It was noted that the raised markers might also be a deterrent to excessive lane changing because the bumps, felt while changing lanes, are annoying.
One of the members of Group 1 mentioned that he liked the on-ramps better in Virginia. He liked the fact that traffic merging onto the Beltway was completely segregated from Beltway traffic until the entering traffic gets up to speed. On the subject of design, the woman who previously pointed out the problem of needing to cross multiple lanes in too short a space to get from the Clara Barton Parkway to I-270 re-argued her case. Others supported her and pointed out that it is just as bad getting from I-270 to the Parkway. It was also claimed that the problem is the result of a recent extensive re-design of the I-270 interchange which was supposed to make the interchange safer.
When members of Group 3 were asked what differences they noticed between the Maryland and Virginia portions of the Beltway, the first thing mentioned was the sharp curves in Maryland. Next, the signs that list the next three exits in Virginia. One woman said that she has not noticed similar signs in Maryland and wished they had them because they are very helpful. When prompted, someone said that Virginia had longer and better ramps than Maryland. Someone also responded that the merge lanes were better in Virginia than Maryland and the on-ramps are longer allowing greater opportunity to safely merge into traffic.
Some in Group 4 said that, overall, they thought the Beltway in Virginia was better designed. One man said what he liked was that the ramps and merge lanes are better so that merging is less of a problem. A woman added that, overall, the Virginia section seems less curvy and more spacious. She continued that Virginia also was more uniform in width than Maryland with fewer lane drops to think about. No members of the group indicated a preference on signs or lane markings. Several said that they did not notice much difference.
Other than having trouble seeing lane markings in bad weather, as previously mentioned, Group 3 thought both states did a good job with them. They said they have always been good and have not noticed any recent changes.
Creating More Lanes
While all groups favored adding additional travel lanes, all were equally adamant against narrowing existing lanes and opposed HOV lanes. They supported using the shoulder during rush hours. Group 1 acknowledged that while these measures would move more traffic, they seem less safe. One woman noted that longer acceleration lanes would help more with the congestion problem than additional travel lanes. In general, they said that HOV lanes do not stimulate enough car pooling to fill a lane. One member of the group car pooled in the past and another is considering it but none currently do. Car pooling had nothing to do with being able to use HOV lanes, but rather the economic advantages of commuting to the same place at the same time with a friend. One of the participants praised Virginia for changing lanes that were previously HOV-3 to HOV-2. His reasoning was that getting one friend to car pool is much easier than finding two. He thinks that the HOV lanes are better utilized since the change went into effect.
Group 3 also thought narrowing lanes to create more traffic lanes was laughable. They were a little less derisive about using the shoulder as a travel lane but the idea was not warmly endorsed. The group was generally in favor of building additional lanes where possible but strongly rejected the concept of making them HOV lanes. Several members of the group gave impassioned responses regarding HOV, believing that they are a waste of taxpayer money and a contributor to congestion.
Group 4 also was negative toward the idea of creating extra travel lanes by narrowing existing ones. They also rejected the concept of using breakdown lanes as travel lanes during rush hours because it makes them nervous. If new lanes are built, this group, like the others, did not want them to be HOV lanes. Their reasoning was that most Beltway use is suburb to suburb and there are not enough people going to the same place to make car pooling feasible for most Beltway users.
Rush Hour Tolls
Group 3 (the only group asked) strongly rejected the concept of rush hour tolls as a method of reducing traffic congestion. One participant pointed out the toll booth backups that occur on the toll road near Dulles Airport as an example of why the toll strategy would be counterproductive.
Mass Transit Solutions
One member of the first group said he takes the Metro to work all the time. It saves, he said, wear and tear on both the car and the driver. Another man said he takes the Metro when the weather is bad. Although the Metro stops are very convenient both to where he lives and where he works, he prefers to drive when weather permits because he believes it is less expensive. Most of the people in the group did not take mass transit because there is no service to the places they need to go. A few others cannot take mass transit because of the need to use their cars as part of their work.
None of the members of Group 3 take public transportation to work. A couple tried it. One stopped doing it because it was too expensive. Another said he needs to get from place to place during his working day and to try to do so using public transportation is exhausting. A third says he used to take the Metro when he lived close to a Metro station. Now, it would take twice as much time to take the Metro as it takes to drive.
Mass transit was not an option for most of the people in Group 4. With one exception, those who can take mass transit do so. The one woman who could use the Metro and does not said it is too expensive. If it were as cheap as driving, she would do it.
Group 3 supported the idea of building additional roadways to take the traffic pressure off of the Beltway. One participant favored an I-95 bypass to take the North/South through traffic off the Beltway. Another participant suggested that a new East/West route across Montgomery County is greatly needed. Group 4 also seemed to be in agreement that more roads should be built to take pressure off the Beltway but did not make any specific suggestions.