On the outer loop south of Tysons, traffic flowed freely toward the end of the morning rush. But that still meant a jostling, bendy ride through a distracting work zone where drivers must be very focused on the pavement and the white lines, where they can see them.
In coming weeks, we’ll review individual projects in the District suburbs from a driver’s perspective, but let’s start with an overview of the construction scene as it emerges from a mild winter into a busy spring and summer.
The big projects
For their disruptiveness during construction and their potential for traffic relief when done, the highest-impact projects in the suburbs are the Interstate 495 express lanes, the final phase of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project at the Beltway’s Telegraph Road interchange, the Dulles Metro Silver Line and the work to ease the traffic impact of the federal base realignments.
One of the region’s big projects wrapped up last year. The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that the widening of Interstate 95 for six miles between Route 123 and the Fairfax County Parkway saves drivers 10 to 20 minutes on rush-hour trips.
Another is about to begin. During the next few weeks, drivers will notice test work along the I-95 high-occupancy vehicle lanes, where VDOT is preparing to launch the next high-occupancy toll lanes project.
I-495 express lanes
“We’re closing in on the end,” John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation program director, said last week. VDOT and its private partners have an aggressive schedule of road work to complete the 14-mile-long project by the end of the year.
Just this weekend, drivers experienced big overnight disruptions for construction at the Beltway’s Braddock Road and Interstate 66 interchanges. The work at I-66 means a new flyover ramp will be open for Monday’s commuters going from the westbound lanes of I-66 to the Beltway’s outer loop. The new exit will be on the right side.
While some pieces of the project, such as the new flyover ramp, have been opening gradually, the express lanes — those four lanes behind construction barriers in the middle of the Beltway — will open all at once when the entire project is finished.
The completed express lanes will be divided from the general purpose lanes by four feet of white paint topped by bollards. Meanwhile, there are some traffic shifts to come as work around the highway bridges and interchanges advances toward completion.
“As construction ramps down, education will ramp up,” said Tim Steinhilber, general manager for the 495 express lanes. Part of the education program means getting potential carpoolers familiar with a new type of transponder called an E-ZPass Flex, which will become available this summer at E-ZPass service centers in Virginia and Maryland.