Second Span of Wilson Bridge Opens to Traffic
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Vehicles traveling from Maryland to Virginia crept sluggishly in one lane across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge for much of yesterday as construction crews paved the way for the opening of the bridge's second span. The first cars crossed the new westbound route about 7 p.m.
Construction paused for more than an hour during an afternoon downpour, and a collision earlier in the day snarled bridge traffic. But project officials had said by late afternoon that they were on track.
Yesterday, traffic flow played out as predicted: slow, but not as bad as it might have been given that a three-lane bridge approach was narrowed to one lane for three miles. For most of the day, a column of semis, sedans and motorcycles stretched about two miles, adding approximately 90 minutes to the river crossing, officials said.
Officials credited drivers who heeded warnings to avoid the area. Project planners had spread the word through radio announcements, calls to trucking associations and postings at rest stops as far away as New Jersey.
"Even when they do heed warnings, things like this happen. But more or less, the contractors are definitely on schedule," project spokeswoman Johanna Jones said yesterday afternoon.
Tie-ups were comparable to the situation in June 2006, when traffic was rerouted from the old bridge to the new one, officials said. At that time, a similar advisory campaign diverted about 84 percent of the traffic.
This weekend's work started Friday night, when crews narrowed the inner loop in Maryland to one lane and closed the ramp from Interstate 295 to the inner loop. By this afternoon, planners expect three lanes of traffic coming from Maryland to be moving across the new span and, in Virginia, off new ramps to Route 1 and Church Street in Alexandria.
The exit ramps will mean no more traffic-clogging twists and turns, officials said. It will be a "straight tangent shot," said J.J. Moegling, a senior project engineer with Skanska, the contractor handling the Virginia side of this weekend's work.
The new span will not necessarily speed river crossings. When the inner loop is fully rerouted onto the new span, there will still be three lanes on each span, or six altogether -- the same as before. Four express-type through lanes, or two on each span, are scheduled to open in late fall.
Last night's inauguration of the new span carried little of the historic weight of the 2006 opening. That was when the first cars rolled across the new bridge, a $2.5 billion project that had involved decades of planning, years of building and countless traffic headaches. Bridge buffs watched from folding chairs, bikers braked to take a look and drivers, when finally allowed to cross, cheered.
Still, opening the second span was a milestone for those who have spent years working on the bridge.
"It's a tremendous project," said Tom Fulton, a Skanska project executive standing near the Church Street ramp as steamrollers and dump trucks cruised past. "We're all proud of the fact that we're part of it."