Steeling for Delays and Detours On Md. Side of Wilson Bridge

Tommy Patton, left, Juan Mejia, Jose E. Gomez and Hilario Calderon recently worked on the Wilson Bridge. Part of the Beltway is closing weekend nights this month for steel work.
Tommy Patton, left, Juan Mejia, Jose E. Gomez and Hilario Calderon recently worked on the Wilson Bridge. Part of the Beltway is closing weekend nights this month for steel work. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2006

The Capital Beltway on the Maryland side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge will be closed at nights this and every other weekend this month so steel work can be done on a new interchange, project officials announced yesterday, adding to a growing list of highway closings at the bridge and the nearby Springfield interchange.

This weekend's activity at the Wilson Bridge is likely to delay drivers by a half-hour or more. Ten 425-foot-long steel beams must be lifted over the Beltway for a new interchange at Route 210. Motorists will be detoured around the work.

The Beltway will be closed from 10 p.m. today and tomorrow to as late as 8 a.m. the following mornings and from 10 p.m. Sunday to as late as 5 a.m. Monday. The same sorts of closures will occur on weekends during the remainder of the month.

The detours and delays are in addition to the backups that are likely to occur on the Virginia shore next Friday through June 12, when traffic on the Beltway's outer loop is rerouted onto the first of two new spans. To make room for roadwork needed for the switch, the outer loop will be reduced to a single lane for up to four miles. Several exits will be closed, and northbound Interstate 95 traffic will be detoured around the western side of the Beltway.

Project officials said motorists could be delayed from an hour to four hours for the entirety of that weekend. Nighttime drivers on the outer loop will confront the switch-over delays on the Virginia shore and more delays when they are detoured on the Maryland side of the bridge.

Major day and night delays are also likely the weekend of July 14-16, when inner loop traffic is turned onto the new bridge. But that will come after the interchange work is complete. Similar steel construction work will cause long nighttime delays for about the next 10 weekends a few miles east at the Springfield interchange.

That work, needed to build a bridge from the northbound lanes of Interstate 395 to the inner loop, will close the inner loop in Springfield from 9 p.m. today to 10 a.m. tomorrow and from 8 p.m. tomorrow to 10 a.m. Sunday. The work will continue Sunday night if needed. Some ramps connecting to the Beltway in the Springfield area will also be closed.

Officials at both projects said they expect minimal delays from the Beltway closures even though they are so close together, and the closings are so extensive.

"The fact is these are the lowest volume nights on both stretches of the Beltway at any time during the week," said Ronaldo "Nick" Nicholson, Wilson Bridge project manager for Virginia. "Regardless of the fact that we have two mega-projects doing major closures, because the volume is low and spread out, we won't have a significant or major problem."

Wilson officials suggested that drivers use the western side of the Beltway or Route 301 to avoid delays.

Some travelers criticized the timing of the notice about the changes and said the effects would be severe.

"Something of this magnitude is going to have a very serious effect on our motor carriers coming through here," said Mike Russell, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association. "Fifteen thousand to 17,000 of our people pass through this area on a daily basis, and closing all the lanes of I-95 is going to have a drastic effect, not a minimal effect."

He said many, if not most, of those truckers drive through the area at night to avoid daytime backups.

Russell said the notice, which popped into his e-mail basket shortly before noon, caused him to go on "red alert" yesterday afternoon to get drivers to avoid the area. He planned to call satellite radio providers, the trade media and Web site managers to help spread the word. He also said that it would be the lead item in a fax sent to truckers and that he would contact all 50 state trucking associations immediately.

Russell said the alternate routes aren't attractive. A secondary highway such as Route 301 doesn't help truckers, especially this weekend, when the road is expected to be crowded with NASCAR fans headed to and from Dover, Del. And, he said, the western side of the Beltway is bad because of narrow lanes and numerous tight curves.

John Undeland, spokesman for the bridge project, said that some regular bridge users were notified of the closings last week but that the news could have been better timed. "I suppose if we could rewind and had gotten it out earlier, it would have been better," he said.

As for scheduling Beltway-closing work at the same time as the Springfield project, managers at both projects said they try to avoid simultaneous closings, but sometimes they can't be helped lest work be halted.

Springfield spokesman Steve Titunik said that although both projects are closing portions of the Beltway, few drivers pass through both areas at night. Motorists will be able to get to I-95 south at Springfield without detouring.

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