The anticipated mother of all traffic jams was more like the predicted blizzard that turns out to be a bunch of flurries.
Transportation officials had warned the public that this weekend's work on the construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge could take 57 hours and cause 15-mile backups and 90-minute delays. Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway would be parking lots.
But traffic was extremely light for a Saturday, officials said, and the flow was unbelievably fine.
Drivers who said they were bombarded with warnings about bumper-to-bumper congestion found alternative routes or just stayed put. The actual work -- paving a segment of the Beltway on the Alexandria side of the new bridge -- was several hours ahead of schedule, said John Undeland, a spokesman for the Wilson Bridge project.
"Everybody has done an outstanding job," he said. "Everyone has worked like clockwork at the construction site. Everybody gets an A for the day. All the police agencies that helped out with the lane closures. Most importantly, the traveling public gets an A for the day for heeding the warnings."
In the late afternoon, it took a driver 17 minutes to go from the I-95 north interchange in Springfield across the bridge to just past Indian Head Highway. The driver did not have to touch the breaks until the roadwork narrowed traffic on the outer loop to one lane, and traveled through the zone at about 20 mph.
Yesterday's job was to lay up to 24 inches of asphalt on a segment of the Beltway on the Alexandria side of the bridge. Project officials predicted that it would be the most disruptive phase in the 11-year construction of the replacement bridge, the first part of which is scheduled to open next year.
Workers had to spread the asphalt two to three inches at a time and allow 30 to 60 minutes for cooling, Undeland said. Once engineers surveyed the road, they realized a depth of no more than nine inches was needed, significantly reducing the work schedule.
Detours and lane closures were supposed to be in place from 8 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. tomorrow. But because the work was progressing so well, all ramps closed at the Route 1 interchange were reopened last night, and all three lanes of the Beltway near the work zone could reopen today, Undeland said.
Although the traffic jam was not the maelstrom it was expected to be, drivers were prepared or at least aware that travel would be restricted near the Wilson Bridge.
At the Mobil gas station on Braddock Road in North Springfield near the outer loop, cashier Esmail Yazlani shared as much as he knew about detours and best routes as customers asked for directions.
Yazlani, 64, an amateur cartographer by virtue of his nine-year career at the gas station, drew a map of his suggestion for the best way to get from Virginia to Maryland.
He placed the makeshift map -- a big circle for the Beltway and two squiggly lines colored in light blue marker for the Wilson Bridge -- prominently on the counter. "Everyone is asking. It made it easier to make this up," he said.
Plenty of folks had done their own mapmaking yesterday. Tom Bottolfson, a tank driver for Sunoco, said he had it all in his head. From 5 to 10:30 a.m., he drove from Manassas to Alexandria to Newington to Arlington, back to Newington and then to North Springfield while touching nary a tire on any roadway with the number 95 in it.
Instead, he took such secondary roads as the Fairfax County Parkway.
"I stayed away from it," said Bottolfson, 56.
Some people felt they had no choice. The Beltway and the Wilson Bridge have become a way of life, and one weekend of construction wouldn't change the routine.
Quincy House, a 30-year-old driver for Canada Dry, said he was eager to get home to Lanham and was going to brave I-95 to get there. "It takes two to three hours sometimes. With this one lane, I don't know," he said.
"I'm definitely hoping this new bridge will help," he said.
Dolores Avery, a 67-year-old minister from North Springfield, said she had to attend a wedding and needed to make it there by 3 p.m. She was planning to take I-395 to get to the event in Northeast Washington. "If you don't have to go, don't go, but I have to go," she said.
For others, there was no plan for alternate routes and no holding of breath to jump into traffic. They just stayed home.
Charles Martin and his wife had planned to drive from Alexandria to visit the newborn of a friend in Maryland. But the visit would not take place this weekend, said Martin, 51, a telecommunications engineer who was at the Mr. Wash car wash near I-395 in Alexandria. "I planned my day around not driving on the bridge. I heard all the reports that it was going to be bad so I made plans to steer clear of it," he said.
Too many people heeded the traffic warnings in the eyes of retailers. Business was slow at some places near the Wilson Bridge. Lunchtime sales dropped by 60 percent at the Great American Steak & Buffet Co. on Richmond Highway in Alexandria. "I think everybody has just been told, 'Don't come here,' and they haven't come here," said Lisa Delgado, general manager of the restaurant.
Businesses suffered, but the light traffic was welcomed by the Wilson Bridge project officials.
With almost two days of the three-day job behind him, Undeland was not resting. "We're going to do a mirror image of this in two to four weeks," he said.
The driving public must brace for similar restrictions on the Maryland side of the bridge when crews move the inner loop, Undeland said.
Staff writers Jenalia Moreno and Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report.