- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Washington commuters have found their usual routes blocked by new security checks and road closures as they returned to regular work schedules this week.
Drivers who use Interstate 395 in Virginia and Interstate 295 in the District, in particular, have found their morning commutes extended by as much as an hour. Compounding the problem, the region's ban on most noncommercial flights has grounded the planes that provide traffic information to the area's traffic reporters.
"Yesterday and today have been a bear," said Joan Morris, a spokeswoman at the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Northern Virginia office.
She said normal delays on I-395's regular lanes last between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and generally happen in patches on the main route. But Monday and yesterday the delays were continuous from Newington into the District, and rush hour lasted until 10:30. In addition, the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes were backed up to Duke Street.
Last week's terrorist attack on the Pentagon has forced authorities to close roads and exits around the building, leaving drivers to figure out new routes.
Elsewhere, like on I-295, security checks around federal buildings and at military installations have clogged roads.
WTOP radio traffic reporter Bob Marbourg said it will just take time for drivers to adjust and find new routes.
"The wonderful thing about people is, once they identify the problem, they set to work identifying individual solutions," he said. "That is part of what we're seeing. I think we're seeing the beginning of people making adjustments."
One of those adjustments is getting the slug line re-established at the Pentagon. That's where drivers can pick up extra passengers, enabling them to use the HOV lanes.
Also, VDOT says traffic cameras are once again available on the Internet at www.trafficland.com. The cameras are doubly important now, since the planes that help provide that information have been grounded.
"What we do is the backbone of every operation that does anything with traffic in this city," said Stan Fetter, who runs Fetter Aviation, which is the only air-traffic service in the region. When his planes don't fly, traffic information comes from cameras, official reports and commuters who call accidents in.
Mr. Fetter said he has written everyone he can think of to seek an exemption from the ban. So far, his appeals have gone unheeded.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said Mr. Fetter's operation falls under the ban, and there is no timeline for when the ban might be lifted. He said the decision rests with the FAA, in consultation with other federal agencies.
The congestion hasn't been as bad in Maryland partly because there are so many routes into the city and delays on one of them don't cripple the entire system as badly, said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
In Virginia, Interstate 66 hasn't been affected, and neither has Metro's subway system though its bus routes are subject to the occasional street-closing, a spokesman said.
Additionally, except for an HOV-ramp closure near the Pentagon, the afternoon rush isn't affected, since the security checkpoints don't matter to folks leaving facilities.
The good news is that drivers are handling the situation well, probably because they accept it as part of necessary precautions in the wake of the attack.
"If it was anything but this incident, believe me, our office would hear about it," Mr. Buck said.

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