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Beltway Closures Scheduled

Delays Anticipated This Weekend at Mixing Bowl

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page B01

The outer loop of the Capital Beltway will be closed near the interchange with Interstate 95 in Springfield late Saturday and early Sunday, the first in a series of major closings planned over the next several months as crews finish the Mixing Bowl project, Virginia transportation officials said yesterday.

Officials said drivers should expect delays of at least a half-hour as they are detoured 10 miles onto I-95 south to the Fairfax County Parkway exit before being directed back onto I-95 north to access I-395 north and the outer loop. The closures will be in place from 8 p.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday.

Bridge project spokesman John Undeland warns of more delays. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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Additionally, two outer loop lanes leading to Springfield will be closed, and drivers on I-395 south will hit delays of as much as 20 minutes because of the periodic closures, officials said.

Two lanes of the outer loop will also be closed Saturday night around the Telegraph Road exit, a short stretch east of Springfield, for work that is part of the nearby Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

Officials for both projects said they try to coordinate closures but the work has to be done on weekend nights to minimize traffic delays. "Our sense is that it will be a relatively small number of people who will experience both" delays, said Wilson Bridge spokesman John Undeland.

Commuters and most residents are off the highways during those hours, but the closings will have a significant effect on truckers looking to make time by traveling through the region at night.

Mike Russell, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association, said that long haulers have been notified of the closings and will probably take Route 301 or I-81 to get around the delays.

"It's a pain in that it takes time and we're generally driving in traffic that's not used to having large trucks around and roads that are not built to deal with heavy traffic," Russell said of the alternative routes. "We don't like to be there, and most motorists don't like us to be there, either."

The lane closures in Springfield are necessary for work crews to hoist giant steel beams over the highway for a ramp that will connect I-395 south to the outer loop that is planned to open by the end of the year.

The ramp is one of several scheduled to be open during the next two years as the $676 million Mixing Bowl project nears its final stages. The six-year-old project aims to untangle the dangerous merges of I-95, I-395 and the Beltway by giving motorists from all directions their own flyovers. So far, one has opened.

Project officials expect other closings this spring and summer for work on a two-lane bridge that will connect northbound I-95 to the outer loop and is also expected to open by year's end. Several major ramps and bridges connecting I-95 and the Beltway west of the interchange, as well as reconfigured lanes on I-95 and I-395, are scheduled to open early next year.

"Throughout the summer, there could be anywhere from 10 to 15 occasions" where the Beltway, I-95 or I-395 is closed, said project spokesman Steve Titunik, adding that closures would be restricted to Saturday evenings, weather permitting. Titunik said there will be major closures on all but one weekend in April and two in May.

A partial closing last month led to miles-long backups on I-95 on a weekday morning after a contractor missed a deadline by nearly an hour. Titunik said Virginia officials will closely monitor work throughout Saturday night to make sure that doesn't happen again.

"If we feel that something's not on schedule, we will make the decision to do the right thing," he said.

The weekend closures are in addition to regular nighttime closings during most weeks.

Day and night closures have also become commonplace for the $2.43 billion Wilson Bridge project, where full highway shutdowns could be coming in the next few months, Undeland said.

"There will be times when we'll lose a lane, lose a couple lanes, or even have periodic shutdowns when we're hoisting a huge steel beam across the highway," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company