Wilson Bridge project plans season of paving to open all Beltway lanes

A time will come in 2013 when the Woodrow Wilson Bridge corridor will not be under construction. For a driver who’s been commuting through that area for a mere decade or so, that will be a new experience.

There, like a good doctor, I’ve given you legitimate hope. Now let’s talk about this year.

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Even here, the news is not bad. Yes, there will be more pain, but it’s the kind drivers have grown used to. And the cure, which involves a heavy injection of asphalt, will start to take effect.

This weekend

By the Monday morning commute, the THRU lanes on the Capital Beltway’s inner loop should be in their final configuration after a weekend of paving and traffic disruptions in the area west of the bridge on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The THRU lanes are the express lanes on the left side of each loop. The lanes to the right are the LOCAL lanes. They provide access to some exits that the THRU lanes skip.

With the THRU lanes in their final alignment, work will focus on the inner loop LOCAL lanes. From Monday until July 1, when further paving is scheduled to be done, only one inner loop LOCAL lane will be open.

During that time, drivers on the inner loop THRU lanes won’t be able to exit at the Eisenhower Connector. Drivers bound for Eisenhower Avenue will need to exit farther west at the Van Dorn Street interchange.

If the weather doesn’t mess with this schedule, all the inner loop work between Route 1 and the Eisenhower Connector will be done by July 2, leaving two THRU lanes and two LOCAL lanes in their final alignment.

Outer loop

Meanwhile, work will be underway on the outer loop lanes. The outer loop is the more difficult side when it comes to traffic management during construction, but the payoff will be great.

Because of the way the reconstruction of the Beltway interchanges was sequenced, drivers approaching the bridge from the completed Maryland side of the project have been enjoying the advantages of the wider bridge for a few years.

The Virginia side is different, because the Telegraph Road interchange was the last scheduled piece of the project. The outer loop lanes remain constricted in the work zone, so drivers can’t get the congestion relief from the widened bridge until they actually reach the bridge.

So traffic has remained bad at peak periods, and things could get worse for about a month during the outer loop paving. The split between the LOCAL and THRU lanes on the outer loop will occur earlier, and the lane configuration will be different.

Project managers considered various alternatives to this temporary degradation in the traffic flow, but they concluded that the alternatives would have added many months to the time it will take to complete the Beltway work.

This will be a heavy period for vacation traffic, but project managers aren’t so worried about those drivers, who tend to be tentative when traveling through unfamiliar territory. That’s a good thing, the project managers said. It’s the regulars, who have internalized the current traffic pattern, who are most likely to be frustrated by the temporary change.

This difficult period is likely to begin in the middle of this month. The latest plan calls for the outer loop’s THRU lanes to open in their final configuration about June 18, with the LOCAL lanes to follow about July 23.

That’s a date to look forward to — “the final uncorking of the bottleneck,” said Jonathan A. Jacobsen, the project’s executive manager.

Wrapping up

Then the main remaining task will be completion of the Telegraph Road reconstruction. Project managers hope to have the job substantially completed by the end of this year, but some work will continue into next year. All work is scheduled to be done by June 30, 2013.

As with the Beltway lanes, the task of rebuilding Telegraph Road is made more complex by the need to keep heavy volumes of traffic moving through the zone while work is underway. During these past several years of the project, some drivers have written to express their frustration with its pace. They see torn-up areas where no one appears to be working, or sections that look done but have not yet opened.

Jacobsen described the process in terms similar to those used by managers of other projects involving interchange reconstruction, such as the 495 Express Lanes work at Interstate 66 and the Dulles Toll Road, Arlington Boulevard at Courthouse Road and the 11th Street bridge at DC-295.

He talked about the need to sequence work, closing a segment or road and rebuilding it, then opening that up and closing another. The Telegraph Road interchange project was the largest single contract ever awarded by the Virginia Department of Transportation. There are a lot of segments.

Jacobsen said it would do little good to open up one completed segment of roadway if drivers had to hit the brakes a quarter-mile down the road when they reached an uncompleted portion.

 
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