The Virginia Department of Transportation has moved up the timetable for easing the new traffic congestion on the Capital Beltway’s outer loop at the ramp to westbound Interstate 66.
Work on the ramp and the westbound lanes is now scheduled to start at 9 o’clock Thursday night and continue till 6 a.m. Friday, VDOT said Wednesday afternoon. The original schedule called for the work to be done overnight Saturday.
To restore the Exit 49 ramp to two lanes and add a fifth lane on I-66 West at the interchange, crews must redo the pavement markings and move barriers. Work on the pavement is especially dependent on favorable weather.
The Capital Weather Gang’s forecast shows overnight temperatures dropping this weekend. VDOT judged conditions to be more favorable for getting the job done Thursday night. However, there is a chance of showers Thursday through Saturday, and that also has the potential to interfere with the work. It’s still possible VDOT would need Friday or Saturday nights to complete the mission.
During the work, the exit ramp will be closed and westbound I-66 will be reduced to one lane at the interchange. That’s going to back up traffic, and it would be best to avoid the work zone.
A detour will be set up to get outer loop drivers around the ramp closing.
They will be directed to continue south on the outer loop to Exit 52B for eastbound Little River Turnpike (Route 236), then to take the loop ramps and follow signs to the inner loop (I-495 North) back north to Exit 49, where there’s a right-side ramp to I-66 West.
Why the fix
This month, VDOT narrowed the outer loop ramp to westbound I-66 in the hope of easing traffic congestion on the other side of the Beltway and along I-66 in the area of the interchange.
But the traffic didn’t behave as the planners had predicted. Outer loop traffic sometimes backed up to the American Legion Bridge and beyond. Drivers on Route 7 and the Dulles Toll Road in the Tysons Corner area were among those affected.
I got an e-mail on Sunday from Hanwen Mao of Annandale that said in part: The jam backs up not only to the American Legion Bridge, but also to the split of I-270 in Maryland. Last Thursday, a rain day, it took one hour and 45 minutes to reach home in Annandale from Gaithersburg (a 30 to 40 minute driving before the narrowing of the ramp). This traffic change directly led to a long waiting line for vehicles to take the exit, but even more seriously caused a traffic stoppage for most drivers on the outer loop.
VDOT heard many similar complaints, so it came up with the new plan to restore the ramp to two lanes and add a fifth lane on I-66 West at the interchange.