Patience is what Alexandria transportation officials are calling for as the last leg of the Duke Street widening is completed.

By July 1, a $7 million, yearlong project that widens Duke Street to five lanes between Elizabeth and Henry streets will be completed. Henry Street is where the heavily traveled Route 1 passes through Alexandria.

Before the project began, there were three lanes on the six-block stretch of Duke Street. As the finishing touches are put on the street, it now has turn lanes at the intersections, concrete medians, and four lanes to handle 46,000 cars per day that travel that section of Duke Street, according to Charles Kenyon, transportation division chief for Alexandria.

"It's a pretty darn congested section of Duke Street," Kenyon said. "It has become much more congested since the King Street Metro stop opened." That station is one block from Duke and Elizabeth streets.

Kenyon said the two new lanes will be able to carry 25 to 35 percent more traffic, which could save up to five minutes for a commuter traveling that section of Duke Street during rush hour.

The most difficult part of the widening is occurring in the last four weeks, according to Richard Herbert, the project inspector for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

"Working under so much traffic has been the most difficult part of this project," Herbert said. "When we reconstructed the intersection of Reinekers Lane, Holland Lane and Duke, we had to completely close off Holland Lane over a whole weekend because there was no way to divert traffic on either side."

When the project is completed, the entire portion of Duke Street west of Route 1 in Alexandria will be widened to four lanes with a fifth turn lane at many intersections.

It marks the completion of the Duke Street widening that actually began in the late 1960s and was completed in sections throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Duke Street, one of the major east-west arteries for commuter and local traffic, runs from the city's western border to South Union Street, the last street before the Potomac River.

Much of the commuter traffic comes from Fairfax and Prince William counties via Van Dorn Street and Route 1.

The only portion of Duke Street that will not be widened runs east from Route 1 to South Union Street. It is virtually impossible to widen that portion because it runs through historic Old Town, where town houses are closer to the street than buildings in the West End.

According to Kenyon, the volume of traffic Duke Street carries each day varies. About 42,000 cars per day travel the section from Van Dorn Street to Ripley Street, 32,000 cars per day travel the section between Gordon and French streets, and the intersection of Duke and Beauregard streets sees some of the heaviest traffic, with more than 60,000 cars a day passing through there, Kenyon said.

The widening project ends the long-running debate between city officials and residents who disagreed on the need for the widening of the eastern leg of Duke Street. Residents of the West End saw the widening project as necessary to speed traffic from the many high-rise condominiums in the western portion of the city, while Old Town residents felt the widening would bring too much traffic onto their already clogged streets.

Some city officials and Old Town residents said the widening would disrupt the ambiance of Old Town. In the decade since that debate roared through City Hall, traffic in the city has taken a quantum leap in all directions, the result of development in Fairfax and Prince William counties, new high-rises on the West End, and new office buildings in north Old Town, which has increased the east-west commuter traffic flow.

The widening project was originally scheduled for completion in February, but was delayed because of severe weather in December. About 77 percent of the funds for the project came from the federal government, 18 percent from the state and 5 percent from the city.