2 Megaprojects Turn Tysons Into the Land of Dizzying Detours

Concrete barriers block the Beltway's Route 123 north ramp, which will remain shut through September.
Concrete barriers block the Beltway's Route 123 north ramp, which will remain shut through September. (By Robert Thomson -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tysons Corner is home to two highly visible megaprojects -- high-occupancy toll lanes and Dulles Rail -- so commuters know that when they blink, the landscape can change. For drivers returning from summer vacations, the changes can be disorienting. Here's a look at some of the recent activity that has affected longtime travel patterns:

HOT Lanes

Route 123 Ramp: The ramp from the Capital Beltway's outer loop to Route 123 north (toward McLean) closed this past week and is scheduled to remain shut through September. Workers are building bridge piers for an artery that will provide HOT lane access from Westpark Drive onto the Beltway. The closed ramp will be reconfigured.

Detour Difficulty: This is a little tricky, because drivers who used the now-closed ramp on the right side of the Beltway must exit early and to the left. They might not notice the variable message boards announcing the closing. There are bound to be days commuters won't remember this until they see the concrete barriers that now block access to their Route 123 ramp and read an orange sign over the green marker for exit 46B that reads, "EXIT CLOSED."

New Route: Use exit 45B on the left side of the Beltway. Leading up to it, drivers will see a green overhead sign that displays the HOV diamond and says "To Interstate 66 East." Below is an electronic display reading "HOV 2 ONLY, 6:30-9 AM, MON-FRI." Don't worry: You're not going to get onto the HOV highway. But you should stay alert, because you're going to exit quickly to the right, taking exit 19B to Route 123 north toward McLean or exit 19A to go south toward Tysons. Drivers heading east from the Dulles Toll Road should use those same exits to reach Route 123 inside the Beltway, rather than getting on the Beltway and heading south to the now-closed exit.

Other Work: The left lanes of Route 123 under the Beltway are scheduled to remain closed until November, when they will reopen for the holiday season, then close again in early 2010 for 18 to 24 months. This summer, drivers have been watching construction of the concrete bridge piers that will support the new Beltway lanes. On Monday night, construction cranes are scheduled to place the first steel beams for the bridge over Route 123.

HOT Lanes Refresher: The entire project stretches for 14 miles along the western side of the Beltway between the Springfield interchange and just north of the Dulles Toll Road. Two lanes will be added to the outside of each loop, so all the bridges along the way must be widened. The project, separate from the now-suspended proposal for HOT lanes on Interstate 95/395, is scheduled to be done in 2013.

Dulles Rail

Driver Orientation: There's so much construction in Tysons, it's sometimes difficult for a commuter to distinguish between projects. The HOT lanes work is near the Beltway. The Metrorail line will be built on the north side of Route 123 (the Tysons Galleria side), through a short tunnel at the junction of routes 123 and 7, and along the median of Route 7 out to the Dulles Toll Road, where it heads west.

What's Visible: Drivers can see preparations for construction of the 2,400-foot tunnel from International Drive to Route 7 under the natural high point of Fairfax County, the start of work on station foundations and installation of supports for the elevated rail line. A concrete plant has been built in the construction area north of Route 123, where much of the equipment is hidden from view behind a big green fence.

New Traffic Pattern: Preparing for construction of the Tysons Central 7 Station, the project has made several important changes affecting traffic around the route 123/7 junction. The Route 7 median just west of Route 123 is now closed. The ramp that connects southbound Route 123 to Route 7 is open to westbound Route 7 traffic only. That means a right turn onto Route 7 is now the only option at the end of the ramp. It will be like this for about three years.

These changes are permanent: Traffic exiting Marshall's Drive and Frontage Road onto Route 7 can turn right only. Traffic may not turn from Marshall's Drive to westbound Route 7, or from Frontage Road to eastbound Route 7. Traffic may not cross Route 7 from Marshall's Drive to Frontage Road, or from Frontage Road to Marshall's Drive.

Detour: Drivers heading south on Route 123 who would normally go up to the route 123/7 interchange and use the ramp to eastbound Route 7 should turn left before that, at the light at International Drive. That will take them down to Route 7, where they can go left or right.

Upcoming: As commuters return from summer vacations, they will begin to see significant changes in traffic patterns as the pace of construction increases. Along the one-mile section of Route 7 from the Dulles Toll Road to Route 123, look for lane shifts in the eastbound lanes in a few locations to make room for two Metro stations in the median. Mid-block left turns along Route 7 will be eliminated. Left turns and U-turns will be allowed at intersections with signals. By the end of the year, the service roads along Route 7 will close permanently, but access to businesses will be maintained. By the end of the year, construction will begin on the Tysons East Station at Route 123 and Colshire Drive.

Dulles Rail Refresher: This is phase 1 of a project that planners hope will eventually bring rail service to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County. The first part will go from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue, on the east side of Reston. Tysons will have four stations, known as Tysons East, Tysons Central 123, Tysons Central 7 and Tysons West. Construction on this portion is scheduled to end in 2013.

-- Robert Thomson

© 2009 The Washington Post Company