Drivers continue to write in with complaints about the congestion in the high-occupancy toll lanes work zone where the eastbound Dulles Toll Road meets the Capital Beltway. Here’s a sample from my Dr. Gridlock online discussion Monday:
Dear Dr. Gridlock,
A few weeks into September commuting eastbound on the Toll Road, and I can report that the dangerous mess immediately after the main toll plaza continues. It is basically a free-for-all once you pass through the gates, with no lane markings and just a mass of vehicles jockeying for position, weaving from lane to lane seeking any open space. Fender-benders occur daily. The left lanes handling the merge from the access road, and then diminishing two more times before reaching the connector to I-66, are worse than ever. Please tell me something good about any progress on this debacle.
The best news I could think of was that the scheduled lane shifts that have annoyed drivers since the start of summer are done. The last one occurred several weeks ago when the lane to the northbound Beltway was shifted slightly.
But there’s no plan for any major changes in the work zone that would ease traffic flow over the next few months.
Project managers say the Toll Road interchange is the most challenging along the 14 miles of the HOT lanes. It’s even more difficult than the Interstate 66 interchange to the south. Though the overall construction project is about three quarters done, there’s still about a year of work to do at the Toll Road interchange.
I had a chance to look at this work zone from the inside out last week. The interchange sprawls over a vast amount of land. But the roadways, ramps and bridges are tightly packed, especially on the western side of the Beltway. And the project managers say they have 17 bridges under construction in the work zone. There’s little flexibility in setting up safe work zones, they say.
The good news for drivers will start to flow in the spring. The project managers say these things will happen:
The extra lane to the northbound Beltway will be restored in the spring. New connections from the Airport Access Highway to the Beltway will eliminate the need for that traffic to weave its way across several lanes.
There will be a new ramp alignment for regular traffic from the eastbound Toll Road to the southbound Beltway.
But the removal of the orange barrels won’t be complete until next fall, as the entire HOT lanes construction wraps up.