New traffic pattern coming to Maryland commuter route


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Maryland commuters are about to encounter a major change on a bridge over the Capital Beltway in Silver Spring.

University Boulevard work
Drivers have seen the orange barrels for months, but that’s had relatively little impact. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The State Highway Administration plans to shift the lanes on the University Boulevard span next week as the bridge reconstruction project enters a new phase. Drivers have been passing orange construction barrels along this route since last year, and so far, the road work has been relatively easy for commuters to deal with. But the new alignment will shift all traffic to what had been the eastbound side.

The side that normally is used for westbound traffic will be closed to vehicles and pedestrians through late fall while the construction continues, the SHA said. On the open part of the bridge, drivers will find two eastbound and two westbound lanes. University Boulevard, used by about 44,000 motorists daily, normally has three lanes of through traffic in each direction.

This is bound to have a big impact on rush hour traffic, especially during the first few weeks as drivers make adjustments. In community meetings before the project began, SHA officials said the bridge, which was built in 1958, isn’t wide enough to maintain three lanes in each direction during construction.

Crews are scheduled to work for five nights on setting up the new traffic pattern. They plan to start at 7 p.m. Sunday. Each night through Thursday, they will shift all lanes of traffic to the eastbound side of University Boulevard. Sometimes during the nights, traffic will be stopped for up to 15 minutes. The shift to the new alignment is scheduled to be complete by 5 a.m. next Friday.

During the conversion, workers will apply new pavement markings on Williamsburg Drive and Indian Spring Drive, local streets that intersect with University Boulevard on either side of the Beltway. They also will realign the traffic signal at the intersection of the exit ramp from the Beltway’s outer loop to University Boulevard to match up with the new traffic pattern.

Concrete barriers will block off the bridge reconstruction area, where workers will be replacing the bridge deck and the supporting steel beams. Pedestrians will be directed to crossings on the open side of University Boulevard.

Workers will be present between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays and from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays.

After that work is done on the one side, the rebuilding will shift to the other, and the traffic lanes also will shift. The $9.6 million project is scheduled to be done in fall 2015.

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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