Each spring, as the weather turns mild, they sprout beside our roadways. Their color defines the season.
Commuters know what I’m talking about: orange barrels.
Road work projects that had lain dormant through the winter’s cold and snow are beginning to emerge across the D.C. region. Here are a few of the early bloomers that are going to hang around for many months.
Capital Beltway. When this bridge rebuilding project got underway last year in Silver Spring, it looked like something Maryland drivers could handle. Just some work in the median of the bridge over the Capital Beltway and on the sides of University Boulevard.
They may be rethinking that estimate now. Since last Friday, only half the bridge remains open. The traffic shifts, and the lanes go from three to two in each direction on this major commuter road that includes ramps that connect with both loops of the Beltway.
The traffic shift in which workers tackle half the structure, then move over, is a common strategy for rebuilding heavily used highway bridges. It keeps traffic going both ways, but it takes a long time to finish. This project won’t be done till fall 2015.
Repaving Georgia Avenue. This project also will affect traffic in Silver Spring. The Maryland State Highway Administration is resurfacing Georgia Avenue between Eastern Avenue and 16th Street. That’s a bit over a mile and a half along another major commuter route. The plan is to finish by late summer.
The work involves replacing the top layer of asphalt, adding new asphalt and putting down pavement markings, the SHA said. Crews will resurface the southbound side first, then turn to the northbound side.
Greenbelt Road repaving. Greenbelt Road in Greenbelt is a close cousin of University Boulevard in Silver Spring. They’re both segments of Route 193, an important east-west link for the D.C. suburbs. The SHA is repaving Greenbelt Road between Rhode Island Avenue to the west of the Beltway and Southway, to the east. Work began last spring and should be done by late this summer.
Crews are working on the westbound side first, then will switch to the eastbound side.
Interstate 66 widening. Don’t feel left out, Virginians. The Virginia Department of Transportation just announced a continuation of the project that has widened I-66 on the west side of the D.C. region.
Work is just getting underway between Route 29 in Gainesville and Route 15 in Haymarket. That’s about 2 1 / 2 heavily traveled miles. When the project is done in summer 2016, drivers will have three regular and one HOV lane in each direction, matching what they have to the east in the segments previously widened. The result will be 25 miles of that configuration between the Beltway and Route 15.
Another feature of the project will be the addition of a left-turn lane on the westbound I-66 ramp to Route 15, an area that’s now a bottleneck during the evening rush. That work should be done by the end of June, VDOT said, but meanwhile, watch out for left shoulder closings and off-peak lane closings in that area.
Mobile work zones. In the District, Maryland and Virginia, road workers have been assigned to various pothole-patching campaigns. Drivers should slow down and use caution in any work zone, but the crews in these short-term work areas are particularly vulnerable in traffic. They can’t get behind the concrete barriers that are part of the longer-term projects, like the one at the University Boulevard bridge.
Those orange barrels really aren’t much protection.
The traffic improvement of the year, and one that’s unlikely to be dethroned soon, is the opening of the extra lane on the District’s 11th Street Bridge. Since the extra lane on the inbound span over the Anacostia River was added a month ago, drivers have consistently had an easier time during the morning rush. That was no small trick, because it had been one of the worst bottlenecks in the region.
The 11th Street Bridge project is a many-layered thing, consisting of three spans and numerous ramps. Each phase did some good thing, but not all at once.
Reconstruction of the bridge occurred in a tight space wedged between freeways. The engineers and workers had to remove two old spans and put in three new ones, with many additional connections to freeways and neighborhoods. Each time they pulled an old piece out, they put a new piece in. But this was still disruptive, and nowhere more so than on the new inbound span.
Because construction continued on the Navy Yard/Capitol Hill side, inbound drivers crossing the Anacostia River had to fit into two lanes to continue on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway toward downtown Washington and the 14th Street Bridge.
The combination of heavy volume and weaving drivers left commuters asking, “How is this better?”
But in early March, the project on the Navy Yard/Capitol Hill side entered a new phase, allowing the opening of the third inbound lane onto the freeway. And that has made a big difference not only on the inbound span but also on the approaches from D.C. 295 and Interstate 295.
Drivers still have cause to be grumpy. Freeway traffic on both sides of the river is no breeze. But the problem is no longer on the bridge itself.