Drivers Warned to Stay Out of Mixing Bowl

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

Some of the biggest traffic delays to occur during the eight-year construction of the Springfield interchange will come this weekend, when workers will lift steel beams onto a new bridge, project managers said yesterday.

The nighttime delays tomorrow and Saturday are the first of as many as eight weekends of delays in the Springfield area while workers use giant cranes to hoist 42 steel beams onto the new bridge, which will connect the northbound lanes of Interstate 395 to the inner loop of the Capital Beltway.

The worst delays this weekend will affect drivers heading south on Interstate 395. The ramp between that highway and the inner loop of the Beltway will be closed from 9 p.m. tomorrow until 10 a.m. Saturday. The ramp will be closed again from 8 p.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday.

Drivers heading south from the District and Arlington who want to turn onto the inner loop will have to follow I-395 south to Interstate 95. They will take Exit 166A, which is the Newington/Fairfax County Parkway/Route 7100 east exit, and turn around to get back onto the northbound lanes of I-95. They will take that to exit 170B, which is the ramp to the inner loop.

The new three-lane bridge is expected to open as soon as September and will mark one of the last major parts of the project. It will pull thousands of cars out of the interchange and swing them over it toward Tysons Corner and points north and west.

The reconstruction of the interchange, a dangerous mix of merges where I-95, I-395 and the Beltway meet to form what is known as the Mixing Bowl, began in 1999. Virginia transportation department officials hope the $673 million project will make the interchange safer and more efficient, giving each direction of each highway its own ramp and creating a web of more than 30 ramps and 50 bridges.

Several bridges and ramps have opened, providing significant relief to Mixing Bowl and Beltway drivers. The bridge to the inner loop from I-95/395 is expected to be the next major improvement. The whole project is scheduled to be completed next year.

This weekend, motorists also will be inconvenienced because one of the two lanes on the ramp from the northbound lanes of I-395 to the inner loop will be closed to accommodate the cranes that will be lifting the steel beams, project spokesman Steve Titunik said.

Titunik said drivers who take the detour should expect delays of 25 to 45 minutes. Titunik also said that all southbound drivers would be delayed because the closing of the inner loop ramp will add about 2,000 extra drivers to I-395 and I-95, about double the normal amount at those hours. He said those drivers should expect delays of 20 to 35 minutes.

"Those folks will have an extra 2,000 vehicles joining them," Titunik said. "If you're heading to Richmond, those people will be stuck there with you."

Titunik said drivers should avoid the area if they can. He suggested that Arlington drivers take Interstate 66 or Glebe Road and that those closer to Springfield go west on the Little River Turnpike.

"If you know your way, you can avoid this whole thing," he said, adding that carpool lanes will be open for southbound drivers all weekend.

Project officials said that the inner loop would be reduced to one lane in Springfield but that nighttime through traffic on that part of the Beltway is not heavy enough to cause significant delays.

Titunik said workers hope to lift four of the 320-foot, 120-ton beams onto concrete piers this weekend. The rest will be placed over the next several weekends, excluding Memorial Day weekend and the weekend preceding July 4, until they're all in place.

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