Eisenhower Connector Changes Making You Loopy?

Signs abound near a lane split on the Beltway's outer loop approaching the Eisenhower Connector.
Signs abound near a lane split on the Beltway's outer loop approaching the Eisenhower Connector. (By Robert Thomson -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Drivers who use the Capital Beltway's southeastern section in Virginia wouldn't know that the nation is short of money for road construction. Their highway landscape contains the rough pavement, lane shifts, warning signs, orange barrels and traffic congestion common during the heyday of the Interstate Highway System building program. It's all part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project, done in phases that wrap up with work in the Telegraph Road area. This month, the temporary reconfiguration at the Eisenhower Avenue Connector has been the center of attention.

Summer Job

The connector provides convenient access to Eisenhower Avenue, on the north side of the Beltway in Alexandria, between the Beltway's Van Dorn Street and Telegraph Road exits. Right now, things aren't so convenient. Engineers needed to clear space to widen the Beltway. In January, they temporarily closed the inner loop exit ramp to the connector, detouring Eisenhower Avenue-bound traffic to either Van Dorn Street or Telegraph Road.

This month, they temporarily shut the connector and its outer loop ramps and reconfigured the outer loop lanes above them. Now, two left lanes continue through. So does the one on the right, but first it drops down along what normally would be the exit ramp to the connector, then moves up along what normally would be the entrance ramp from the connector to the outer loop. This configuration is slated to remain in place through September.

Driving Challenges

All the signs on the Beltway tell the truth about what's coming up. But there are an awful lot of them providing a great deal of information along a short, congested stretch of highway. This part of the outer loop already was notorious because traffic must squeeze from four lanes to three approaching the Telegraph Road work zone.

Now drivers must also deal with the lane split. They see green overhead signs that bear the I-95 and I-495 Interstate shields with white arrows pointing down to lanes, an orange overhead sign to the right with a black arrow pointing down and the words "Lane Ends 1/2 Mile," and a variable message board on the grass to the right that says, on two screens, "Lanes Divide Ahead . . . I-95N Use All Lanes."

Some drivers either don't pick up that information or they'd rather not use the ramp lane, with its recommended speed limit of 35 mph.

Suggestion: At rush hour, 35 mph often looks pretty good. Using the ramp lane is easier than merging left in congested traffic, and the ramp lane will simply rejoin the Beltway on the far side of the connector.

Bikers and Walkers

Temporarily closing the connector also shut off a convenient route under the Beltway for cyclists and walkers, and there aren't very many alternatives in the area. The project suggests Van Dorn Street as an alternative, but some cyclists have asked for other options.

Here's one: From Clermont Drive (approaching the underpass) take Elmwood Drive east to Telegraph Road. Turn left (northbound) onto Telegraph Road and continue a short distance north to Huntington Avenue. Turn right on Huntington. Continue east on Huntington to Route 1 (Richmond Highway). Pick up the new pedestrian/bike path on the east side and head north to the Washington Street bridge over the Beltway, where you can reach the Mount Vernon Trail.

-- Robert Thomson

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