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Dysfunction Junction Vol. 10: I-395, Exit Six


Dysfunction Junction chronicles the most forlorn, baffling, and wonderful crossroads of our fair city. The column is written by Ben Ball, a transportation nerd in his spare time. He lives in LeDroit Park. Ben previously wrote about Florida/U St and 7th St/Georgia Ave.

This stretch of highway is proof positive that the inner loop was a terrible idea.  Not only does it slice poor old Southeast in two, but the signage when you come in from Virginia is atrociously misleading.  If you’ve made it to exit six, you’ve already had to make several rapid fire decisions with little or no warning.  (Left exit to 14th St!  Right exit to 12th St!)  Then the fun begins.

At exit six, you have a hugely complex and counterintuitive decision to make.  Option one is C Street SW/The House/US Capitol.  C Street SW and the House of Representatives are of course on opposite sides of the Capitol building.  It might make sense if that was the only option.  But then there’s option two – 395 North/D Street NW/US Senate.  D Street NW and the Senate are also on opposite sides of the Capitol building.  Shouldn’t C Street SW and the Senate be on the same exit?  And shouldn’t D Street NW and the House be on the other exit?  It just doesn’t make sense.  Before my head explodes, let me also point out that the House, Senate, and Capitol all refer to the same building.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the C Street SW/The House/US Capitol sign is marked as exit only.  But it’s not the far right lane.  The 395 North/D Street NW/US Senate sign is in the far right lane, but it’s not an exit only sign.  How does that work exactly?  Oh, and there’s something about Union Station and Metro, but a big tree handily blocks any useful information on that sign. (One final nitpick:  Why is it the US Senate, but just “the” House?)

Then there’s what the signs don’t tell you.  The actual end point of the 395 tunnel is 4th Street and New York Avenue NW.  Exit six is actually the last practical exit for any point in northwest DC.  If you miss that one off-ramp, it’s going to take you forever to get to Washington’s largest quadrant.  Your terrible options will include either a detour to Nationals Park (good luck turning around!) or a trip across the Anacostia River.  Having accidentally done the Anacostia River version of this trip on several occasions by mistake, I can tell you that it adds a good twenty minutes to any trip.  Welcome to DC!  Now get out.

It’s probably taken you about a minute and twenty seconds to read up to this point.  Judging by this video of someone driving 395, the actual time you’d have to perform the mental calculus for exit six is about ten seconds.  That’s a lot to process, particularly for out of town visitors.  We’ve got such a miniscule highway “system” – you’d think we’d be able to keep it simple.  But this is DC.  Not so much.

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