Tysons Braces for a One-Two Punch

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Route 123 Squeezing

Tysons Corner is becoming the focal point for the biggest of the big projects underway in Northern Virginia: the Capital Beltway high-occupancy toll lanes and the Metrorail extension to Dulles International Airport. Commuters and shoppers traveling in the commercial center of the region see the effects, but they're going to see a lot more starting this week on Route 123.

Traffic Delays Likely

The Beltway must be widened and the Route 123 interchange rebuilt to accommodate the HOT lanes and their ramps. In the first phase, a bridge pier will be built in the center of Route 123 to support the Beltway expansion above it. The construction schedule calls for closing the left lane in each direction through November.

Drivers will be restricted to two through lanes and one merge lane in each direction. There are now three through lanes, so there probably will be extra delays on Route 123 during the morning and evening rushes. The impact on Beltway traffic above Route 123 should not be significant, project officials say.

Approaching from west of the Beltway, the lane closing will begin just after the Westpark Drive Bridge. Approaching from east of the Beltway, it will start just past the Capital One Building.

What's Ahead

The lanes will reopen for the holiday season in Tysons but close again in January for an additional 18 months to two years of Beltway and interchange reconstruction.

All Beltway lanes will remain open during peak periods. During 2011 and 2012, the two new lanes built on each side of the Beltway will be opened to traffic while the four inner lanes are closed for conversion into the HOT lanes, scheduled to open in 2013. Meanwhile, the Metrorail extension is under construction on the north side of Route 123, the Capitol One side. That will add to the gawk factor slowing drivers through a constantly changing landscape of construction.

What to Do

People don't drive on Route 123 because they like to. There aren't many alternatives. More than 100,000 people work in Tysons, and they can't avoid traveling in and out of the congested areas.

"We need major changes in behavior by businesses located in and around Tysons Corner," said Rob Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association. "Their managers and employees will determine whether we all suffer head colds or double pneumonia from these construction projects."

Companies are working with their employees on ride-sharing and telework plans. If you haven't heard about any, ask your boss. Access Tysons! (http://accesstysons.com) has ideas for workers and shoppers about how to get through the construction as well as current information on traffic conditions. It can help people find carpool partners. The Virginia Department of Transportation has lots of information on the Tysons projects at its Megaprojects site, http://vamegaprojects.com.

-- Robert Thomson

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