Weekend Delays Expected as Two Lanes Added to Outer Loop

With the addition of through lanes, the new Wilson Bridge for the first time will have more traffic capacity than the old bridge had.
With the addition of through lanes, the new Wilson Bridge for the first time will have more traffic capacity than the old bridge had. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2008

Officials are warning motorists to avoid the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and its approaches this weekend, as workers try to open two new through lanes on the Capital Beltway's outer loop.

"It's another find-another-route, stay-away weekend," said Ronoldo T. "Nick" Nicholson, project manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Bridge officials said that only a single lane will be open and that drivers who ignore their warning might wind up dealing with traffic delays of 90 minutes or more. The work will begin at 9 tonight and will finish no later than 7 p.m. Sunday, officials said.

Next weekend, officials hope to open the lanes on the inner loop.

With the addition of the two lanes, the new Wilson Bridge will have for the first time more capacity than the old one had. Since its opening, the new twin-span bridge has been carrying three lanes in each direction, the same as the old bridge, which was a regional bottleneck for a quarter-century.

"This is what we've been working toward for the past nine years,'' said Shirlene Cleveland, bridge project manager for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Nicholson and his counterparts in Maryland are worried about the weekend weather. The roadway needs to be dry and the temperature above freezing for line painting to take place. Weather forecasts include a chance of precipitation, so officials will make the final call this afternoon. If conditions are not right, they will delay the work until the weekend of Dec. 19, with the inner loop work pushed into the new year.

"Our biggest challenge is Mother Nature,'' Nicholson said.

The through lanes, designed to separate long-distance travelers on Interstate 95 from local commuters, will start just east of Telegraph Road and end at Indian Head Highway, or Route 210, in Maryland. Once on the through lanes, motorists will not be able to take local exits.

John Undeland, spokesman for the bridge project, referred motorists to a "lane decider" tool on the project's Web site, http://www.wilsonbridge.com, that will help them decide whether to take the through or local lanes, depending on their starting point and destination. Bridge officials hope that the through lanes will eventually carry about half the traffic across the bridge.

"Don't be afraid of the through lanes,'' Undeland said.

He said the new lanes will be useful for local drivers as long as they don't need to exit at Route 1, Interstate 295 or any of the exits in between.

To make things easier for motorists, signs directing drivers to the through lanes will be topped in white; local lane signage will have a black banner.

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