The Washington Post

Beltway HOT lanes work in Va. to affect Leesburg Pike

The high-occupancy toll lanes project in Virginia is such a huge effort that it routinely generates every form of news from traffic advisories to discussions about regional and national transportation policy.

So here’s a bit of both, starting with an advisory.

At 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, weather permitting, workers are scheduled to close one lane at the top of the exit ramp on eastbound Leesburg Pike (Route 7) to the Capital Beltway’s outer loop (Interstate 495 South). It will stay closed for eight weeks while crews rebuild the ramp.

If you’re heading east on Route 7 — whether you’re taking the ramp or continuing — use caution as drivers adjust to the new traffic pattern.

This is a significant change for Route 7 drivers but relatively small in comparison to some other recent changes along the 14 miles of Beltway that are under reconstruction.

At the Interstate 66 interchange, the inner loop’s left exit to westbound I-66 was permanently closed this fall. Drivers have been asking where work is done on westbound I-66. No, there’s still construction to do there before the final traffic pattern can be put in place.

A very big change occurred recently at Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) in Tysons Corner, where inner loop traffic shifted to a new alignment, and the right-side ramp from northbound Route 123 reopened. That allowed the project to eliminate the left turn drivers had been using during construction.

In my Dr. Gridlock column Sunday, a traveler took a longer view of the project and asked an important question about traffic conditions after the opening of the HOT lanes in late 2012.

The letter writer asked how Maryland is preparing for more traffic on its side of the Beltway. I said I’m not as worried as I once was that the HOT lanes traffic from Virginia is going to smother the American Legion Bridge and Beltway in Maryland. But Maryland still needs to act soon to ease the congestion that already exists.

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, wrote in to say that it’s job creation on the Virginia side of the Potomac River that is driving a lot of the traffic on the American Legion Bridge and the western side of the Beltway.

He suggested that the HOT lanes might help some Maryland commuters in the morning by providing the option for some southbound traffic to bypass Tysons.

In the afternoon, he said, the inner loop in Maryland will still be slammed with traffic — just as it is today. Then he raised one of his favorite topics:

“Some crazy people have actually suggested building a new bridge to provide a choice . . . and divert traffic from the American Legion Bridge. So what’s that all about?”

I know he includes himself among those “crazy people” on this cross-Potomac question.

See some more discussion of the HOT lanes issue in Dr. Gridlock’s Monday chat.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.


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