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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 09:15 AM ET, 02/14/2012

Drivers complain about Va. Beltway ramp narrowing

The top complaint among drivers during my online chat Monday concerned the recent narrowing of the Capital Beltway ramp from the outer loop to westbound Interstate 66.

Because so many travelers wanted to vent, I didn’t get a chance to publish all of their comments, so I’d like to share some more of them here.

To orient those unfamiliar with the Beltway/I-66 work zone for the 495 Express Lanes: Last year, the project shut the left-side exit from the inner loop to westbound I-66 and adjusted the right-side exit to handle extra traffic. But there still was extra congestion.

Now, the Virginia Department of Transportation has eased that problem by creating more room on westbound I-66. But to do so, VDOT narrowed the ramp from the outer loop onto westbound I-66.

The drivers who submitted chat comments are describing the impact of the narrowing, pleading for relief and suggesting adjustments:

Outer loop into I-66 West evening commute: Traveling from Maryland to Virginia on the outer loop has been terrible these days. The ramp to I-66 west from the Beltway outer loop merges to form one lane. (Before there were two.) This is the major issue. Another issue is that the ramp from Tysons to the outer loop has to merge with the Beltway traffic in one lane. What is being done about this? When can we see the ease? How is the HOT lane construction going to provide the solution in these respective places?

66W & the Beltway: The traffic has been horrendous since they made this switch [on the ramp] from two lanes to one about a week or so ago. I work in Rockville and live in Fairfax, and the commute home has been awful compared to normal. The backup to enter I-66W extends for miles!

I-66/I-495 merge: Now that they’ve fixed the backups on I-66 West by taking away a lane from the ramp from I-495 South [outer loop] to I-66 West, 495 is backed up onto the entrance ramp from Route 7 East. One day last week, it was backed up past on Route 7 past the mall.

And this was at 2:30 p.m.! I can’t imagine what it’s like at 4:30 or 5. I used to be able to get into the HOV lanes and make it almost to my exit in Gainesville before the HOV restrictions came on. Now, I’m only halfway home at 3 p.m. Are there any fixes in the works, or should I just resign myself to ever shorter workday because of all the construction?

Toll Road @ Beltway — different pattern?For a while, traffic from the main toll plaza on the Dulles Toll Road to the Beltway was moving nicely. As of about a week ago, however, we seem to be experiencing a lot of traffic in the two left lanes heading toward I-66. (Prior to that, the bottleneck was the Beltway exit, but that is moving fine and the traffic has shifted to the left I-66-bound lanes) Do you know what changed this traffic pattern and when it might be relieved? Best I can tell, it’s now due to traffic exiting onto 123 toward McLean, but I’m not entirely sure.

DG: Is this evidence that drivers are looking for a way around the Beltway traffic?

Outer loop ramp to I-66: There seems to be a lot of outrage over the ramp change at I-66. The change greatly helped the situation on westbound I-66 with the merger from the inner loop going from four lanes down to two in 100 yards.

But there is one thing I don’t really understand. Why have two lanes on a ramp when traffic will have to merge down to one lane? Okay, I get some of the reason is to have more room for traffic to sit on the ramp before it starts to backup onto the feeder road. But, if that second lane is in itself the cause for the backup, wouldn’t it make more sense to only have one lane on the ramp?

The real problem at I-66: I think the problem at I-66 isn’t necessarily the elimination of the odious old left exit from the inner loop. I think the problem is that the construction of the Express Lane ramps to and from the westbound I-66 overpass across the Beltway impinges on the space available for through traffic due to the need to store equipment and provide a safety buffer for workers.

From what I read on the Dr. Gridlock blog and on WTOP’s site, apparently the recent reconfiguration was done to allow for opening of a third lane on westbound I-66. That is, after the left exit was closed, traffic going around the two-lane loop ramp from the inner loop to go west had to merge in with through traffic coming from D.C. and choke down to two lanes to go over the Beltway.

That funnel effect obviously caused jams. So they moved the jersey walls to allow a third lane of through traffic. Problem is, that means they had to move the construction equipment and the like to another location, which necessitated narrowing the ramp from the outer loop to westbound I-66. I think it seems like a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation” and that ultimately we all have to chalk it up to being the nature of big road works projects.

I-66W/I-495 Interchange: I was always taught that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. You’ve stated that the reconfiguration of the outer loop to I-66W ramp was reconfigured to take pressure off the traffic coming onto I-66W from the inner loop and I-66W inside the Beltway.

While certainly the changes have done just that, the result is now an absurd traffic jam that backs up the Beltway for 15 miles or more. From what I observed before the change, I-66W inside the Beltway backed up to 267 and the inner loop of the Beltway backed up to Route 50 (about 5 to 7 miles of combined backup).

So could you please explain how easing congestion for those getting onto I-66W from I-66 inside the Beltway and the inner loop of the Beltway, resulting in 15 miles of backup, is better than what we had before? I can certainly understand if the shift needed to be made to create space for construction, but this particular reconfiguration seems to have been made as a convenience to the I-66W and inner loop drivers who didn’t have it nearly as bad as the outer loop drivers have now.

DG: VDOT is looking at the impact of the ramp narrowing. It’s possible that adjustments could be made in the short term. That’s certainly my hope. And I also hope that VDOT and the contractors can find ways to speed up the work that will allow restoration of the second lane on the ramp. But as of right now, the current configuration is scheduled to remain till summer.

By  |  09:15 AM ET, 02/14/2012

Categories:  Capital Beltway, Congestion, Construction, Virginia | Tags:  DC transportation, Capital Beltway, Virginia Department of Transportation

 
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