John Townsend
Public Relations Manager, DC
O: (202) 481-6820 (ext. 4462108)
C: (202) 253-2171
jtownsend@aaamidatlantic.com

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, September 3, 2019) –– It is Terrible Traffic Tuesday, the beginning of the end of the late summertime lull on area freeways.   On the day after Labor Day, people living in and around the Washington metro area will once again experience the full brunt of the returning third-worst traffic congestion in the entire nation, as well as some of the nation’s longest traffic delays, according to the latest Urban Mobility Report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). Yet when it comes to the mental and physical cruelty, as well as the economic toll, exacted on area commuters, perhaps fewer freeway segments in the greater Washington region rival the agony endured by travelers on the Maryland section of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.  Maryland roads have “the highest traffic volume in the nation.”

 

This Terrible Traffic Tuesday, there will be “plenty of misery to go around” because  commuter congestion and the daily grind are worse than ever before on  both sides of the Potomac River and across it  in both directions in the nation’s capital, which experiences 1.9 million vehicle trips each workday. In addition to the Inner Loop and Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway inside Maryland,  and I-270, “the misery index” will also manifest itself on Interstate 95 South at Exit 133A to the Fairfax County Parkway; Interstate 66 (outside the Beltway), a multi-year highway construction work zone with traffic shifts, traffic stoppages, and multiple lane closures, and I-495 at the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia, and  along the heavily congested 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River into  the District.

 

Just when you thought the commute couldn’t get any worse on Terrible Traffic Tuesday, six Blue and Yellow line Metro stations south of the Ronald Reagan National Airport will remain closed through Sunday, September 8, 2019, as impacted commuters head for free shuttle services or frustrated riders hop into their cars, compounding the gridlock on area roadways the first workweek of the month and first school week of September.  In August, motorists in Maryland, Virginia and the District were lonesome and they enjoyed the highways to themselves.  Now, the temporal relief is wistfully all in the rear-view mirror, as of Terrible Traffic Tuesday. That’s especially true for Maryland commuters, who suffer the second-longest commutes in the nation.   Once again, “the slowest slogs in the state” will befall “morning rush-hour commuters on the outer loop of the Capital Beltway between Route 1 and Route 29, and evening rush-hour commuters on the I-270 Spur into I-495, and on the Inner Loop of the Beltway between the Virginia state line and I-270.”

 

 “Gridlock will worsen with each passing workday in September following Terrible Traffic Tuesday.  It robs each area commuter of an extra 102 hours per years (or 248 million hours cumulatively across the region) and it comes with a big price tag: an additional cost of $1,840 per local commuter (for a grand total of $4.6 billion for the region), as the TTI confirms,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. The road to hell is paved with peak-period traffic volumes and levels, travel delays, over-capacity conditions, and downstream bottlenecks. The Capital Beltway near both Potomac River crossings in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, and I-270, are chock-full of such.”

 

What does the nation’s third worst traffic congestion look like starting Terrible Traffic Tuesday? That is a big concern for commuters stuck in rush-hour traffic along Interstate 270 and Interstate 495 in Maryland. It is the last place they want to be at rush hour.  More than a one-day phenomenon, Terrible Traffic Tuesday is merely a harbinger of the worst traffic days to come all month long. Each day, the travel delays and headaches will grow a little worse than the day before throughout September. While the debate continues to roil over adding Express Lanes to the Maryland section of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270, traffic volume intensified in recent years by more than 25,000 vehicles per day from the Virginia side of the Potomac River via the American Legion Memorial Bridge to the Clara Barton Parkway along the Maryland side of the river.

 

 But that pales in comparison to the voluminous escalation in traffic along the freeway segment on Interstate 495/I-95 inside Maryland stretching from the Virginia state line side across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the most heavily traveled Potomac River crossing, to Interstate 295. Average daily traffic volume soared by nearly 40,000 vehicles per day on the eastern side of I-495/I-95 near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Maryland in the period from 2012 to 2017, before dipping ever so slightly from riverside to riverside in 2018.  

 

With historical traffic counts of 267,000 vehicles a day in 2017, and approximately 266,000 vehicle trips daily in 2018, the spur off Interstate 270 to Montrose Road continues to generate 19,000 to 22,000 more vehicle trips per day than it did in 2012.  Beset by long queues of traffic at rush hour, southbound I-270 from Montrose Road to MD 189, is carrying 10,000 fewer cars per day than four years ago. Yet the junction still conveyed  a quarter of a million vehicles daily in 2018, or 92.7 million vehicle trips annually, ensuring that it still ranks as one of the most unreliable freeway segments in the entire I-270 Corridor and in the nation.

 

Yet there are other freeway segments nearly equidistant from opposite ends of the Capital Beltway in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, where the typical daily traffic flow tops 251,000 vehicle trips, which exceeds the level of congestion in the bottleneck-inducing road segments near both river crossings, and rivals the bottlenecks incurring from I-270 SB to the Outer Loop of I-495. Unfortunately, that fate befalls daily commuters and through travelers sieving through the freeway segment along I-495/I-95 in Prince George’s County, particularly between Route 1 to Route 29 and beyond, as did 91.6 million vehicles in 2018.

Counting Cars: Daily Traffic Volume Changes On Capital Beltway & I-270 In Maryland 2012-2018

Freeway Segment AADT*

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Daily Traffic Change

2012-2018

I-495/I95- VA ST/L to MD 210

198,840

200,631

199,300

214,291

230,900

236,441

235,022

36,182+ vehicles

(+18.2%)

I-270 Spur to Montrose Rd.

246,160

248,381

248,132

268,380

260,971

267,232

265,633

19,473+ vehicles

(+7.9%)

I-95:US 1 to I-495

221,490

223,481

223,262

212,110

206,251

211,202

251,340

29,850+ vehicles

(+13.5%)

I-495/I95- VA ST/L to

Clara Barton PW

N/A

N/A

227,350

244,451

237,702

252,710

251,191

23,841+ vehicles**

(+10.5%)

I-27: Montrose Rd.-MD189

249,910

252,161

251,912

263,740

256,461

262,622

253,980

4,070+ vehicles

(+1.6%)

I-495:MD 650 to PGC Line

244,933

247,144

246,905

265,905

247,970

243,921

252,402

7,469+ vehicles

(+3%)

* Annual Average Daily Traffic, Maryland DOT SHA ** Change from 2014 to 2018

 

In June, the Maryland Board of Public Works voted by a 2 to 1 margin to green-light Governor Lawrence Hogan’s proposal to weigh bids from the private sector to build and operate Managed Lanes on the Capital Beltway inside Maryland and along Interstate 270. However, the board voted to prioritize improvements to I-270. To the chagrin of daily freeway travelers, traffic relief for the American Legion Bridge and I-495 in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, which are ranked among the “worst bottlenecks in the nation,” shifted to Phase Two and Phase Three of the proposed congestion relief project. Marylanders already endure the second-longest, tediously time-consuming, commute to work in America.

 

Interstate 495 and Interstate 270 rank among Maryland’s most heavily traveled commuter routes. The annual number of drivers passing some mile markers is 16 times larger than the state’s populace. Together, those corridors tend to “out-Herod Herod” among all other freeway segments across the Washington metro area, in terms of the cost of time and fuel lost to traffic congestion per commuter, many motorists in Maryland swear.  It all returns come Terrible Traffic Tuesday, and increases workday by workday. Mired in seemingly intractable gridlock on I-495/I-95 from the American Legion Bridge to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and vice versa, and at junctions along I-270, motorists are crying out for significant congestion relief now.

 

The Capital Beltway

 The portion of the Capital Beltway that connects Virginia and Maryland across the Potomac River near National Harbor in Prince George’s County has witnessed a phenomenal increase in the daily total volume of vehicular traffic. That is according to a review by AAA Mid-Atlantic of the 2012-2018 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) Count report by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) State Highway Administration (SHA). Daily traffic volume surged from 198,840 vehicles per day during 2012 to 236,441 average daily trips in 2017, and lessened to 235,022 cars on an average day in 2018, for an overall 18.2 percent growth in traffic volume since 2012. Even before the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor debuted in December 2016, traffic was already increasing across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Alexandria.

 

In terms of daily traffic levels and historical trends, the American Legion Bridge is one of the biggest bottlenecks in Montgomery County. In recent years, the freeway segment along the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway from the Virginia state line to the Clara Barton Parkway has become an even bigger bottleneck and headache. Unsurprisingly, that was the case in the period from 2014 to 2017, when the average inventory of vehicle trips along mile-points on that stretch of the Capital Beltway/Interstate 495 soared from 227,350 vehicles per day in 2014 to 252,710 automobiles a day by 2017, overwhelming the capacity of the segment.

 

It comprises an 11.1 percent increase in the total volume of vehicle traffic. Traffic count trend-lines slipped slightly in 2018 to 251,191 automobiles per day, for 91.6 million vehicles last year. In May, Virginia announced it hopes to extend the I-495 Express Lanes from the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the vicinity of the American Legion Bridge, already “the most congested interstate segment in the entire Washington metro area.” In 1997, the average daily traffic volume on the American Legion Bridge was 204,000 vehicles.

 

Daily traffic counts also increased on the freeway segment from the Clara Barton Parkway to MD 190 by nearly 17,000 automotive vehicles each day in the period from 214,744 in 2012 to 231,375 every day by 2017.  It represents a 7.7 percent dailiness increase in the sum of motorists sifting through the segment dreaded for its insufficient capacity at rush hour. Day-to-day, 228,463 drivers passed through the segment during 2018.

 

During the morning commute, the five-mile segment of the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County between Route 1 and Route 29 was deemed “the worst congested highway in the state,” in TRIP’s “Keep Maryland Mobile Report,” released March 29, 2019. Here is the tale of the tape, according to MDOT’s database. Average daily traffic counts magnified from 221,490 vehicles a day in 2012 to 251,340 vehicles day after  day in 2018 from US 1 to 1-495.

 

Traffic counts on one of  the busiest sections of I-495/I-95 inside Prince George’s County from the Montgomery County line to I-95 dropped from 265, 905 vehicles daily on average in 2015, to an average of 253,921 vehicles in 2017, and then to 252,402 vehicles per workday in 2018, assuaging commuters in no small measure. This is likely due to the effects of the Intercounty Connector (ICC)/MD 200, which runs parallel to this segment of I-495, and has diverted significant traffic off the Beltway. Still, it equates to 92.1 million vehicles along this Beltway segment a year.

Interstate 270

Traffic flow multiplied by nearly 27,000 more automobiles day-in and day-out in the stretch of the Capital Beltway from Maryland 190 to the Interstate 270 Spur to points west. The segment to lower I-270 carried 222,233 vehicles each 24-hour period on average back in 2012 compared to an average of 248,891 vehicles daily during 2017.  It represents a 7.7 percent hike in traffic growth trends where Interstate 270 splits into two branches. Yet the daily tally of automobiles passing through this segment slipped to 228,463 in 2018, or 83.3 million annualized, while “demand increases beyond the available capacity” of the freeway segment. 

 

The  amount of traffic swelled by an additional 19,500 to 22,000 vehicles each workday along Montgomery County’s heavily traveled I-270 Corridor “just north of the Capital Beltway” from the I-270 Split to Montrose Road in the six-year period from 2012 to 2018. Commuters were stuck in traffic in 245,160 vehicle trips per day in 2012, compared to 267,232 primary trips per day in 2017, for an 8.5 percent uptick in traffic volume. Following this, the traffic count averaged 265,633 vehicles on any given day of the year during 2018, according to MDOT’s latest traffic data collection. It equates to 96.9 million trips per year. Here, rush hour commuters are plagued day after day by “recurrent congestion” and “unstable stop-and-go conditions.

 

Although traffic volume near the southern terminus of I-270 between Montrose Road and MD 189

(Falls Road) dropped from an average of 264,000 vehicles a day in 2015 to 254,000 cars per day in 2018, it offers proof that there is a correlation or nexus between congestion levels and the shift to alternate routes, such as the ICC, which is now heavily traveled during both rush-hour periods. The ICC reached a daily average of 50,900 vehicles in 2016. Wending east-west from I-270 to US-1, the ICC is the second most-used toll facility in Maryland.

 

Traffic is projected to increase to 300,000 vehicles per day on segments of I-495/I-95 a decade from now, that is to say by 2030. A May 2019 poll by The Washington Post revealed 61 percent of Washington-area residents “favor adding express toll lanes to Interstate 270 and Maryland’s part of Capital Beltway.”

 

Encircling Washington, D.C. the Capital Beltway stretches 64 miles in clockwise and counterclockwise directions. However, the Maryland side of the Capital Beltway wends 44 miles, while the segment of the circular road in Virginia extends “22.06 miles from the District of Columbia border.”  The Maryland SHA is seeking to add Express Lanes along 70 miles of highway in the I-270 and I-495 corridor.”

 

“Congestion on Maryland highways in the National Capital Region costs the economy about $1.3 billion a year in traffic delays, and travel times are expected to increase by 70 percent by 2040,” according to the Maryland SHA. The average commute time to work in Maryland is 32.7 minutes.  

 

In layman’s terms, the Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) count is the “annualized average 24-hour volume of vehicles at a given point or section of highway.” Automatic Traffic Recorders (ATRs) “collect data 24 hours a day, 365 days annually, for each lane. The equipment records traffic volumes, speed and classification of vehicles.” 

 

 

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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 58 million members nationwide and nearly 79,000 members in the District of Columbia.  AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years.  The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit  http://aaa.com

TEDx Wilmington Salon

Who's in the Driver's Seat? The Transformation of Transportation

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, AAA and TEDx Wilmington held the first TEDx Salon dedicated to ideas worth spreading in transportation.

This event had:

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  • Online viewers came from all 50 states and approximately 30 countries around the world

View a slideshow from the event

This TEDx WilmingtonSalon was organized in partnership with AAA

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