New target date for Beltway exit closing

The Virginia Department of Transportation says it now plans to permanently close a left exit from the Capital Beltway to Interstate 66 on Friday. The original target was last week, but the contractor needed more time for the preparations on what will be a major change for many drivers.

The plan calls for closing Exit 49C, the left exit from the inner loop (northbound I-495) to westbound I-66. Drivers instead will use the ramp on the right side, Exit 49A. The right exit ramp will have two lanes to accommodate the additional traffic.

This change will be tricky for drivers accustomed to using the left exit, and probably will cause some extra traffic congestion until they get used to it.

Exiting motorists will need to be in the right lane as they approach the I-66 interchange. The merge onto Exit 49A has been relocated to before the I-66 overpasses. By the time a driver sees the closed exit go by, it’s going to be too late to move across the Beltway to the open exit.

I like the idea of eliminating left exits for safety reasons, but this closing is required to continue construction of the high-occupancy toll lanes. Traffic will be shifting to the new Beltway outer lanes, and work will begin on a new access ramp to the HOT lanes.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.

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