Virginia to allow travel on Beltway shoulder


Northbound drivers on the Capital Beltway should have an easier time reaching the American Legion Bridge after Virginia opens up the inner loop’s left shoulder to traffic. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The left shoulder on the Capital Beltway’s inner loop will be converted into a rush-hour travel lane south of the American Legion Bridge, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced Tuesday.

The effect will be to have five travel lanes for 1.5 miles from Old Dominion Drive north to the George Washington Parkway interchange. It should remind drivers of the configuration on Interstate 66 west of the Beltway, where drivers are allowed to use the shoulders for travel during peak periods.

The new left lane on the inner loop will be open for traffic during the afternoon rush once a $20 million conversion project is done in late 2014, according to the statement issued by the governor’s office.

This area north of Tysons is jammed during the afternoon rush. It’s also the zone where the northbound 495 Express Lanes, opened in November, merge back into the Beltway’s regular travel lanes.

Many Beltway commuters will welcome this move. It not only widens up a tight spot but also allows the express lanes drivers more distance to complete the merge into the regular lanes. Drivers have written in to say they are concerned about the merge, though I haven’t experienced the problem they describe.

On my drives in the express lanes, I’ve had time and space to merge back. And on my drives in the regular lanes, the traffic may be awful, but I can’t attribute it to the left-side merge. At peak periods, traffic is awful before the merge, and it’s awful after the merge. In fact, it’s awful all the way across the Legion Bridge and through Bethesda.

The biggest beneficiaries of the shoulder opening may be those afternoon commuters who leave the Beltway at the George Washington Parkway. Maryland has announced no plans to ease traffic north of the Legion Bridge.

Virginia plans to start construction in mid-2014, preparing the shoulder and installing the overhead lane signals controlling its use.

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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Robert Thomson · June 25, 2013