Tag Archives: The Beltway @ Yurasko.net

A reference to a 1990s Web site about highways, The Beltway @ Yurasko.net lives on as posts about highways, primarily around Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

REDUCE SPEED: These neon signs used to be all over the New Jersey Turnpike. Photo by Ian Ligget.

REDUCE SPEED: Vintage neon NJ Turnpike sign for sale on ebay

Can somebody please buy, ship and store this outstanding New Jersey Turnpike neon sign for me? It’s only $2,000! You can drop it off with me when I get a house. A really big one, apparently.

In 2013, I mentioned the coming end of NJ Turnpike exceptionalism when it comes to signs. The Turnpike Authority has begun modernizing (note: I did not say “upgrade”) highway signs to comply with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Though not necessarily directly related, the neon “REDUCE SPEED” signs that have been on the Turnpike since time immemorial are being removed in favor of modern LED signs.

I have been wondering what will happen to all of these classic neon signs. I hope that some are saved for museums. Maybe I’ll tweet at them to buy this one, though on second thought the Turnpike ought to donate one. There probably ought to be one or two at a service plaza on the Turnpike itself.

The sign itself probably weighs at least a ton and it has to be picked up. This isn’t a really good time for me to do that logistically or financially. So, a little help?

Failing the acquisition of this neon sign, I’d be okay with a Turnpike trailblazer. A Garden State Parkway, Capital Beltway and even a Pennsylvania Turnpike sign while you are at it.

Photos © Ian Ligget

h/t Steve Anderson

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I-95: Chesapeake House reopened

Chesapeake House the second service area, err travel plaza on Interstate 95 (John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway) north, reopened last Tuesday. Both the renovation and reopening seems to be lacking in the fanfare of Maryland House, but it’s good news for I-95 travelers.

In my experience Chesapeake House, originally opened in 1972, is less crowded than Maryland House, so I have preferred stopping there over the years. The last several years have seen three completely rebuilt service areas along a 40 mile stretch of I-95 between Baltimore and Wilmington. The Delaware Service Plaza was rebuilt in 2008.

Maryland Transportation Authority sealService areas are lasting vestige of the pre-interstate toll roads area. In order to promote commerce along interstate corridors, service areas are banned and have been since the early 1960s. Some interstates were assigned to existing turnpikes like parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and the service areas were grandfathered in.

Unfortunately, an opportunity was missed during the reconstruction of these service areas — flyover ramps from the right side. It would have been eight overall (2 off, 2 on in each direction) but for whatever reason, the Maryland Transportation Authority did not choose to go n that direction. Safety and traffic flow are better when exits and entrances are from the right side.

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dc-traffic-light

An explanation of the D.C. traffic signal system

The Post has a good video explaining the Washington, D.C. traffic signal system. It can be adjusted in real time as needed, for events like Washington Nationals games.

By the way, the photo above is the most popular on my flickr stream with over 11,000 views. Here’s an old-school “art deco” style Crouse-Hinds signal:

These were ubiquitous for decades, but the one pictured was removed around 2005, along with all the other survivors.

UPDATED

I found out after the fact that this was posted on the 100th anniversary of the first traffic signal.

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wh02

I-495, Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia opened 50 years ago today

On April 2, 1964, Administrator Rex Whitton participates in the dedication of I-495, the Capital Beltway from U.S. 1 to the Shirley Highway-the last segment in Virginia. Photo by FHWA

It was on this day fifty years ago that the Capital Beltway was completed in Northern Virginia. I suppose many commuters would have found it opening a day earlier more apropos as the road seems more a burden than anything else and the SPEED LIMIT 55 signs to be a mockery. Back in 1964, most of Virginia’s 22 miles of Beltway was only 2 lanes wide each way. Now, with the HO/T (high occupancy/toll), EZ-Pass Express Lanes, it is 6 lanes each way between Springfield and Tysons.

Inside the Beltway wouldn’t be coined until 1969 (by Mike Causey, then of The Post, now with Federal News Radio), but the highway formed a big wall literally and figuratively in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria. There currently are only 23 automobile crossings of I-495 in Northern Virginia and 15 of them have full interchanges with the road, while another has a partial interchange with lanes. Another one, Live Oak Road, is not a through route. The are also 3 Metro rail crossings (Orange, Blue and Yellow lines) and 2 Virginia Railway Express rail lines penetrate it as well. There are a few pedestrian/bicycle trails too, but overall it is tough to get from one side of the Beltway to the other. A “bridge to nowhere” was built between Van Dorn Street and Telegraph Road, but it never became connected to anything and was torn down in the early 21st century.

The Beltway divides the sprawling newer suburbs with the more established and often denser populated pre-World War II areas like Arlington and Alexandria, whose residents don’t even necessarily think of the Beltway much. Tysons Corner, once a crossroads of two country roads grew into the 11th largest business district with two large shopping malls and a growing skyline most of which is just outside the Beltway. In fact when USA Today left Rosslyn for its own campus, I recall then publisher Tom Curley making it a point to mention in an interview that they’d be outside the Beltway. It really abuts the Beltway by the way or at least it did before they sold off their land with the softball field and path. I digress.

Back in ’64, the Virginia portion of the Beltway was signed only as Interstate 495 as Interstate 95 was then routed along the Henry G. Shirley Highway into Washington, D.C. over the 14th Street Bridge and planned to cut through Northeast D.C. and Takoma Park then onto points north. That didn’t happen and in 1977, the eastern-most portion of the Beltway in Virginia was changed to I-95. That proved to be confusing, so I-495 multiplexed back on the I-95 portion of the Beltway around 1989.

The original Beltway exit numbering began in Alexandria with Exit 1 at US 1 (note US 1 is also Exit 1 in several locations throughout the East, including just over the 14th Street Bridge on I-395) and increased sequentially clockwise until finishing off at Exit 38 for I-295 just east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Around 2001, the exit number was changed in Virginia for the first time (it had changed in Maryland after I-95 was moved to the southern and eastern portions of the Beltway) to be a counter-clockwise continuation of the Maryland numbering scheme that began east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge all the way to the Springfield interchange (Exit 57) where I-95′s mileage-based exit numbering took over, the there is a jump from 57 to 172.

The entire Beltway opened in August 1964, so I’ll have more to say then.

FURTHER READING

Capital Beltwaydcroads.net

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mrplow

Snow plowing information for Virginia, D.C. and Maryland

Once again, we’re getting snowed on again (3¼ inches by 9 a.m. in Alexandria) and everything is closed. After my brother linked to the real-time VDOT snow plow map, I thought I’d compile a list.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

VODTplows.org – pretty good tracker of plows working on Virginia Department of Transportation routes.

Alexandria Snow Removal Priorities and Snow Plow Zones (PDF) – What the city I live in is doing.

Arlington County Snow Alert and Primary & Secondary Snow Removal Map (PDF)

Town of Vienna and primary & secondary street list

City of Falls Church
Snow Emergency Routes (PDF)

Town of Herndon

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Snow Response Reporting System

STATE OF MARYLAND

Snow Emergency Plans

THE PAYOFF

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3687860914_0d27049cb6_z

Nats: The Curly W used to be on road signs, why it isn’t anymore

Photo used with permission of Flickr user SteelYankee
A few weeks ago, DC Sports Bog (The Post) answered a reader question about why the Washington Nationals “curly W” logo was removed from signs along Interstate 395 (Southwest Freeway) for Nationals Park: What happened to the Curly W on D.C. freeway signs?. Presumably, the curly W’s will are have already been removed from other roads like I-695 (Southeast Freeway) and I-295 (Anacostia Freeway).

Something similar happened in 2010 when the Maryland State Highway Administration removed curly W logos from big green signs too. Frankly, I was surprised they were there in the first place. I inquired with the SHA back then and was told they violated the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards. A follow-up email was never answered by SHA and I never got back to writing about those signs, though I did note that both the Washington Redskins & FedEx Field (located at EXIT 16 of I-95/495 Capital Beltway) and the Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens and M&T Bank Stadium logos were still posted. One wonders why just one team was removed, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

In the DCRoads.net Facebook group, Mike Tantillo, a member of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Device gave some me more background the rationale:

In no other city are the sports team logos placed on the signs. And a symbol is technically defined as a pictogram, which the official definition states is a symbol that represents a government agency or other public sector institution. The public sector bit was inserted into the MUTCD for the specific purpose of preventing entities like sports teams and shopping malls from putting their symbols up on primary guide signs (they would be allowed on the “attractions” category of Specific Service/logo signs…along with gas, food, lodging, etc.).

So naturally after arguing the point about public sector vs. private sector in front of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, FHWA was none-too-amused when these logos showed up on the signs right next to their headquarters. So FHWA challenged DDOT and Maryland SHA on the use of the logos, saying that these did not represent pictograms and would therefore have to become “experimental” and go through human factors testing, just like any other experimental traffic control device.

So they did the human factors testing, and they had to prove that the curly W’s actually enhanced drivers’ ability to find Nats Park, without being a distraction…which is the same standard given to an experiment of any other traffic control device. As part of the experiment, DDOT and Maryland SHA had to agree that they would hold funds in reserve to abort the experiment if there were safety concerns or the results were not positive. In this case, the results were inconclusive and showed a distraction, therefore the experimental signs were removed according to the agreement that DDOT and SHA had with Federal Highway Administration.

In order for a symbol to be effective, it has to be simple, easily recognizable, and its meaning needs to be easily understood by all drivers, even those who have not been “taught” in advance what it means. I think DDOT would have had more successful experiment if they had placed a sign saying “Nationals Park, follow ‘W’ “, and then just used the W like a trailblazer. In this circumstance, you’ve taught the unfamiliar non-local driver (remember, that is who we design signs for) what the ‘W’ means in terms of the traffic/road sign context. However part of me thinks that DDOT didn’t originally intend for the W’s to be part of a navigational exercise and thought they could just slap them on as taxpayer-funded advertising for a private enterprise. And lots of it, seeing as these were on primary guide signs, so they were repeated multiple times in a sequence.

I don’t find fault with the decision to remove the curly W, though I would have thought it was a much more useful than their tests showed. That’s why I’m the road geek highway enthusiast and the transportation professionals make the decisions. Note, this line of thinking is not at all applicable to things like analysis of sports or other things of great import.

Having commercial logos on official signs is certainly problematic so that’s reason enough for me, even as a Nats fan. The publicly financed stadium is more than enough. I certainly hope that Maryland has removed those other team logos as they did, so swiftly, with the curly W.

I wonder if the DC United logos have been removed as well.

By the way, it isn’t unheard of for mass transit systems to use team logos in their stations — I remember seeing an Expos sign in the Pie-IX Metro when I visited Montreal in September 2004. I think the Addison stop on Chicago’s L has Cubs logos too. The Nats wanted WMATA to add the curly W to the Metro map and signage (JDLand), but the transit agency declined. By the way, if you are wanting a transit system to add your logo, you may want to think about putting down a deposit to keep the system running.

Lastly, the conversation that came with posting the DC Sports Bog story made me realize that one of my favorite posts, comparing the Nats cap to other post-expansion caps, was lost in a migration. I’ve put it up again. Yay.

Opening Day is 43 days away

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Maryland House service area by C. Patrick Zilliacus

I-95: New Maryland House service area re-opened, Chesapeake House closed

The first service area on Interstate 95 north, Maryland House, reopened recently. The facility was knocked down and replaced after closing in September 2012.

Private money built the new facility, and a private company will operate it.

Here’s what Maryland gets:

“Over $400 million in state revenue over the length of the partnership,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

The 35-year private-public partnership will also mean hundreds of local jobs.

The new Maryland House travel plaza will also have 40 gas pumps.

From 50-Year-Old Maryland House Set To Reopen As Ultra-Modern Rest Stop

Here is the official release: New $30 Million Maryland House Travel Plaza on I-95 Now Open

Further up I-95, the Chesapeake House will be closed until late summer or fall to be rebuilt.

PREVIOUSLY

I-95 Maryland House service area closes this Sunday09.11.2012
I-95’s Maryland service areas to be rebuilt02.13.2012
Upgrades coming to Md. I-95 service areas10.06.2006

Photo used with permission of C Patrick Zilliacus

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Praise for Mike Pettigano and Bergen Record/NorthJersey.com on breaking the Christie GWB scandal

NorthJersey-com-Christie-scandal-mike-pettigano
The allegations that officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration ordered the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close some lanes of the George Washington Bridge (I-95, US 1 & 9) is disappointing on several fronts. What isn’t disappointing is that my friend and former colleague from my Gannett days (and fellow Penn State College of Communications graduate), Mike Pettigano, has been part of the Bergen Record/NorthJersey.com team breaking the story. Some of you may even remember Mike from when he was running Penn State sports blog Black Shoe Diaries or the preview magazine, We Are Penn State 2013 (He’s doing that again this year).

As for Christie, I’m disappointed the people he selected appeared to have acted in such a vindictive way. I’ll be curious to see what the Record learns about his involvement. I have great affection for the Garden State, having been born there and then visiting family, friends and of course, the Jersey Shore, regularly and I was pulling for Christie to rise in his party. Now, I’m probably not feeling that way.

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This Sunday – 4 NFL games and a winter storm for a 235 mile stretch of I-95

This Sunday, at 1 p.m. in an approximately 235 miles span of Interstate 95, there are four NFL games taking place, each located within 2 miles of the East Coast’s main highway:

Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Redskins, Fex Field, Landover, Md.
Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.
Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.
Oakland Raiders at New York Jets, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.


View Larger Map

There is also a winter storm warning, in particular the D.C. region. From Capital Weather Gang – Winter storm watch issued for much of D.C. area Sunday into Monday:

The onset of precipitation across the area is most likely between mid-morning and noon with the precipitation probably starting as snow but changing to sleet and or freezing rain by late afternoon (in most spots)…

…Snow is likely for the commute to FedEx field (and for the Ravens game in Baltimore) with the snow changing to sleet and freezing rain during the game. Sleet or freezing rain is likely for the drive home.

The storm will also hit Philadelphia and the New York area, though seemingly not as hard around game time. Accuweather says:

While a large amount of snow is not expected, the city could receive its first inch or two of snow of the season, joining some of the northern and western suburbs from Friday night’s storm.

Warmer air is forecast to move in during the storm Sunday evening through Monday, causing a changeover to a wintry mix, then rain from the coast to inland areas.

In short, travel on the I-95 corridor could be pretty tough on Sunday, though most major Northeast Corridor traffic bypasses Philadelphia via the New Jersey Turnpike. On the other hand, MetLife Stadium is directly adjacent to the Turnpike. FedEx Field can be bypassed by using the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (unless you are a truck) and the opposite side of the Capital Beltway. M&T Bank Stadium is right near the terminus of the B/W Parkway, but the Harbor Tunnel Thruway provides a bypass too.

There is also a New England Patriots vs. Cleveland Browns game in Foxborough, but the forecast there is sunny and 34°.

I don’t know how much these games impact I-95 in general (an interesting question), but whatever that is could be magnified this Sunday.

Yes, I’m aware I-95 isn’t technically continuous between Pennsylvania and New Jersey

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I-95 service area Maryland House expected to reopen in early 2014

Maryland House to Reopen in Early 2014Aberdeen Patch
Maryland House, the first service area on all of northbound Interstate 95 is now expected to reopen in early 2014. A specific date was not mentioned. Previously, Maryland House was supposed to open this month.

However, there was significant work to be done at the 50-year-old Maryland House, where remediation of fuel-contaminated soil cost $2.6 million, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Maryland Transportation Authority sealPart of the Maryland Transportation Authority‘s John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, Maryland House service area closed in September 2012 after 49 years of service, for renovations. The other service area along I-95 in Maryland, Chesapeake House, will closed down to be rebuilt after Maryland House reopens. Each of the service areas has a unique design; Maryland House invokes the letter “M” while Chesapeake House is designed to look like the letter “C.”

Several years ago, the Delaware Turnpike service area along I-95 was also rebuilt.

DID YOU KNOW? Service areas like Maryland House are not permitted in the interstate highway system. However, the I-95 service areas are grandfathered in since they are primarily along toll roads that were planned prior to the prohibition and were noted funded by federal the federal government.

h/t DCroads.net Facebook group

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