Beltway's Outer Loop Is the Place Not to Be

The new northbound span, right, of the Wilson Bridge awaits its first vehicles this weekend. The southbound span will open in about a month.
The new northbound span, right, of the Wilson Bridge awaits its first vehicles this weekend. The southbound span will open in about a month. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Michael Alison Chandler and Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 10, 2006

Crews at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge began work last night on the lane shifts that are likely to cause traffic backups all weekend long on northbound Interstate 95 but that will result in the opening of the bridge's first new span.

Despite sporadic showers, contractors began at 8 p.m. to set up orange barrels to close ramps at Route 1, said Michelle Holland, spokeswoman for the Wilson Bridge Project. They proceeded to close down lanes on the outer loop about 9:20 p.m., aided by scores of cones and police cars with lights flashing.

By 10:30 p.m., workers had narrowed the interstate to one northbound lane, and traffic was backed up for about a mile to Telegraph Road, said John Undeland, a project spokesman.

By the end of this weekend, all vehicles on the Capital Beltway's outer loop will cross the Potomac River over the new span. And in a little more than a month, inner loop traffic also will move onto the new structure.

The project's managers have been warning for weeks that pain will come before the gain: The shift requires that outer loop traffic be narrowed to a single lane as it nears the bridge, giving crews time to pave the approaches and exits.

The lane closures and detours could back up traffic for miles, delaying travelers from one to four hours. Lanes on the Virginia side will be milled down about 30 inches and then repaved. On the Maryland side, the lanes to the bridge will be built up about 15 inches.

If the work goes according to schedule, the first vehicles will cross the new span today.

The effort is scheduled to be completed by 5 a.m. Monday. Until then, here are some tips for motorists traveling in the area:

To prevent hours-long delays, tens of thousands of motorists will have to pay attention to highway signs, plan routes well and be patient. Consider the odds on that, and instead try to avoid the area entirely.

To help divert northbound I-95 traffic, the Springfield interchange ramp from northbound I-95 toward the Wilson Bridge will be closed. Local traffic will be directed to Interstate 395 and the 14th Street Bridge, and long-distance travelers will be routed to northbound Interstate 495 across the American Legion Bridge.

Long-distance travelers should consider as an alternative Route 301, which is nearly equal in mileage to taking I-95 across the Wilson Bridge.

Signs posted on I-95 well before the Beltway should help long-distance drivers pick alternate routes to avoid delays.

Camera views of highways are available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/traffic , and more about the project can be found at http://www.wilsonbridge.com/ .

More information and weekend updates are available by phone at 877-463-6992. Drivers can also listen for information on 1620 AM radio as they approach the bridge.

The work involved in opening the new span is in addition to the effort underway last night and tonight to rebuild the Route 210 interchange on the Maryland side of the bridge.


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