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Bridge Project Snarls Alexandria

Changes Planned To Lights, Lanes

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2005; Page B01

Traffic tie-ups in Alexandria caused by the construction of a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge have gotten so severe that lanes in the area will be reconfigured, traffic lights will be re-timed and extra police officers will be stationed at critical intersections, city officials said yesterday.

The problems stem from a traffic change this month that reduced the merge lanes on the ramp from Route 1 to the Capital Beltway from two lanes to one a quarter-mile sooner. That pushed what was normally a relatively small daily backup during the evening rush into a miles-long tangle of merging cars on both sides of Route 1 that is slowing traffic across Alexandria, city and bridge project officials said.

The merge lanes on the ramp from Route 1 to the Capital Beltway have been reduced from two lanes to one a quarter-mile sooner. (Photos James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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"The problem we've been having is that police and fire and our own employees can't get around the city, much less other travelers," said Rich Baier, Alexandria's director of transportation and environmental services. "You can stand in Old Town and see traffic moving on the bridge, and yet this traffic can't get onto the interchange."

The $2.43 billion makeover of the Wilson Bridge is in its fourth year and has entered a stretch where project officials expect severe backups as they reconfigure several interchanges and widen the Beltway to accommodate an expanded bridge.

Project officials said the alteration to the Route 1 ramp was necessary to build a new interchange on a slightly different alignment. The lost capacity won't be regained until next year, when the first of two new six-lane structures is scheduled to open, said John Undeland, a spokesman for the bridge project.

Undeland added that there would be a number of other changes to the interchange in the coming months that will cause traffic problems. Work on the entire Route 1 interchange isn't expected to be done until 2009.

Project and city officials said the traffic changes announced yesterday are designed to ease merging onto the ramp. Project officials said the center lane on southbound Route 1 will be changed from a "through" to a shared lane, so that two lanes can enter the Beltway ramps.

They also said the left-side carpool lane on southbound Route 1 will end at Duke Street rather than four blocks down the road at Franklin Street to cut down on drivers merging across two lanes to get to the ramp on the right side of the road.

Additionally, Alexandria traffic engineers will try to re-time lights on Route 1 south to improve traffic flow, and bridge project officials said they will pay for increased police presence at intersections.

Project officials also said they will carry congestion information on their radio station (1620 AM), and they pledged to improve signage and lane markings. They said the changes will be made as soon as possible.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company