Deborah Sims said there's no way, no how she's getting near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge this weekend. "I won't be going over that bridge, and I won't be coming back over that bridge," the Alexandria resident said.
Tanya Green said that's just the kind of sentiment she's counting on, and that's why she's planning for a nice, easy ride over the bridge. "A lot of people will stay away, so all that means is there's more reason for me to head across," the Accokeek resident said.
What drivers such as Sims and Green do will be critical for traffic across the Washington region this weekend, when all but one lane of the inner loop of the Capital Beltway are scheduled to be closed on both sides of the bridge from 8 o'clock tonight until 5 a.m. Monday so workers can realign a section of highway. Severe weather could delay work, and a final decision on whether to go ahead will be made at 6 p.m. today.
Managers of the project have virtually begged motorists to stay away, warning of backups of up to 15 miles on the Beltway and crowded local roads even if most people take alternate routes. They've been airing radio ads across the East Coast and sending e-mails to truckers and other regular highway users for two weeks to get people to go another way.
But many drivers said they were inclined to ignore those warnings after similar work was accompanied by similarly dire warnings a month ago. Not only did no major backups occur, traffic on the Beltway was lighter than on a normal day. Drivers were able to zip around more or less at their leisure.
"I remember what they said last time, and that didn't happen," said Oxon Hill resident Catherine Foster, who said she would be willing to drive through the area this weekend.
That's just what scares project managers.
"Our biggest concern is that people will not listen to us and heed warnings themselves, thinking other drivers will stay away," said John Undeland, spokesman for the bridge project. "If everybody does that, nobody stays away. We really need people to take the warnings seriously or we could face a very serious slowdown."
During the work period, the inner loop will be reduced to one lane from just before Interstate 295 in Maryland to Route 1 in Virginia.
Ramps from southbound I-295 and Route 1 to the inner loop will be closed, as will ramps from the inner loop to Route 1 and Church Street (to Mount Vernon). Detours will be posted for all routes.
The work being done this weekend will connect the inner loop to a newly paved stretch of road on the Virginia shore.
Last month's work connected the outer loop to the new section.
The paving is part of a new, 12-lane, $2.43 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge that will replace an aging structure that carries nearly 200,000 vehicles a day. It will be replaced by two six-lane spans. The first of those is scheduled to open in the spring.
Bridge officials advised drivers to take the western half of the Beltway, Route 301 through Maryland or I-395 through the District to avoid bridge traffic.
David Bonilla said that's exactly what he'll do. He's all set to go to Paramount's Kings Dominion this weekend and figures it'll be easier to take Route 301 from his Oxon Hill home.
"At least I can move at the speed limit," he said.
No such luck for his sister and mother, though, who also live in Oxon Hill and must cross the bridge to get to their jobs in Alexandria.
They normally get up at 5 a.m. to get to work by 7 a.m., but Bonilla said their alarms will go off at 4 a.m. this weekend.
"They'll need an extra hour just to be there on time," he said.
Sandra Bernal of Arlington was one of the few people interviewed in Virginia and Maryland who wasn't aware of the bridge work.
"Oh, my God!" she said. "I think that will be awful for a lot of people."
And then Bernal realized she would be one of those people.
"So that means I have to leave an hour or more" early, she said, suddenly recalibrating her weekend plans.
Still, she said she was okay with the delay. "I know it'll be painful, but they're trying to do better roads."
Denise Ross is predicting mayhem -- and that's why she'll be steering clear of the area. "There's going to be backups on local roads, there's going to be backups all the way on the Beltway," the Clinton resident said. "It's going to be mass craziness over the weekend."
Unless, of course, everyone stays away.