Widened I-66 Near Manassas To Open

A regular lane and a carpool lane were added to Interstate 66, shown last year, for four miles in each direction.
A regular lane and a carpool lane were added to Interstate 66, shown last year, for four miles in each direction. (By Peter Cihelka -- Potomac News Via Associated Press)
By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The orange barrels will be taken away this morning and four new lanes of pristine blacktop will open to traffic on Interstate 66 near Manassas, saving drivers significant time in traffic.

The I-66 widening is the latest improvement in a year filled with transportation fixes. The first of two spans of a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge opened during the summer. Two major ramps that are part of the Springfield interchange project opened this year, bringing that eight-year effort nearly to a close. And in Maryland, officials broke ground on preliminary work on the intercounty connector, an 18-mile highway that is planned to connect the northern suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The new lanes on I-66 are the first half of a widening between Manassas and Gainesville designed to unclog one of the region's worst bottlenecks, which backs up traffic several miles each day. I-66 in both directions goes quickly from four to two lanes, leaving commuters stuck in long weekday backups and delaying vacationers on weekends.

The project adds a regular lane and a carpool lane for four miles in each direction, making the highway eight lanes wide. The highway had narrowed at the Route 234 bypass, and the new lanes extend to the Prince William Parkway. The median will be preserved for additional carpool lanes or a transit line, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The new lanes are expected to provide relief to drivers who exit near Manassas but won't solve problems for commuters who live in the scores of new developments farther west, because the bottleneck will just be shifted a few miles west. More relief for those drivers is expected when the highway is widened another two miles to Gainesville. Construction on that part of the project, which will also upgrade some ramp and bridge sections, is expected to begin this spring.

Prince William County Supervisor John Stirrup (R), who represents the area of the I-66 widening and has long cursed the long backups, said the bottleneck created an evening traffic jam that could be six or seven miles long.

"As soon as construction started, people were asking me about when it would be done,'' Stirrup said. He said the project came in on budget and on schedule.

The widening effort is projected to cost about $148 million, including $14 million in engineering and land costs. The section that opens today cost $44 million. The second phase will cost about $90 million, according to VDOT.

Officials of the Springfield Interchange project say they plan to open another major ramp, from the outer loop of the Capital Beltway to the southbound lanes of I-95, before the end of the year.

"This will do away with a major area of weaving and merging,'' said project spokesman Steve Titunik, adding that project officials hope to finish before Thanksgiving.

In Maryland, major work on the intercounty connector is expected to begin next year, though environmental groups have threatened to file suit against the project, claiming that adequate air quality studies were not done.

"Everything is ready to go forward," said Ronald F. Kirby, transportation planning director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "There is a legal challenge that needs to go work itself out, but otherwise major construction should start next spring."

Also in Maryland, the Montgomery County Council voted this year to set aside $160 million in local funding for some key improvements on state roads. Montgomery officials hope that the extra local money will help move up or jump-start projects that the state can't afford or has put off.

Last week, Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan agreed to move up two important road-building projects in the county, describing them as pilot projects that could lead to greater cooperation between the county and the state. Flanagan said Howard County has done this in past years and it has worked well.

A project to build a bridge over the CSX railroad tracks at Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway will be accelerated by two years. And a project to build a grade-separated interchange at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road will also be moved up the list.

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