As the D.C. region’s leaders struggle over financing the Dulles Metrorail extension, they might find some comfort in reviewing a nine-year-old headline about threats to another important transportation project: “Rising Cost Jeopardizing New Bridge.”
That’s the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the one that now carries several hundred thousand vehicles a day over the Potomac River. In 2002, an unacceptably high construction bid was just the latest in a string of political and financial threats to one of the region’s top transportation priorities.
Today, long after the money issues were resolved, travelers no longer ask whether the $2.5 billion project, with its two bridge spans and four interchanges, will get done. They just want to know when it will be all over.
Jonathan A. Jacobsen, the executive project manager, says the remaining work will be substantially completed in fall 2012. That work is focused on the west end of the project zone, the Telegraph Road interchange and nearby portions of the Capital Beltway. The finishing work, such as paving and lane marking, will be very dependent on the weather, so rain and cold in late 2012 could push some of that into spring 2013. The official goal for completion of the project contract is June 2013.
The remaining work has three key elements.
l Constructing new interchange ramps for the Beltway’s outer loop, Telegraph Road, Huntington Avenue and North Kings Highway.
l Widening Telegraph Road from East Drive to the Duke Street ramps.
l Rebuilding and widening about 21 / 2 miles of the Beltway from the Eisenhower Connector exit east to the Route 1 interchange, and continuing the new THRU and LOCAL lanes west from Route 1.
The construction zone is very active. Drivers continue adjusting to new traffic patterns. Some of them are permanent improvements, while others clear a work zone for further construction. Project officials have advised drivers to avoid the lane closings in the area around the Telegraph Road interchange this weekend and next. This weekend’s work plan also affects riders on Metro’s Blue Line. Metro plans to close the Franconia-Springfield and Van Dorn Street stations Sunday so trains won’t run under the work zone on the Telegraph Road Bridge.
Next weekend, the outer loop THRU/LOCAL lane split is scheduled to shift east of its current location to make room for work on a new portion of the THRU lanes. About 9 p.m. Friday, one THRU lane will be closed, leaving two LOCAL lanes open. Then starting at 9 p.m. Saturday, one THRU lane and one LOCAL lane will be closed, leaving only one LOCAL lane open to traffic. At 9 a.m. next Sunday, all lanes will reopen.
These are some of the project’s big goals during its final phase.
Telegraph Road to North Kings Highway: A new ramp opened this spring, eliminating the left turn from Telegraph Road South onto North Kings Highway and thereby lengthening green-light time for Telegraph Road drivers. Use caution here, because the new pattern will require some mental adjustments. The turn to North Kings Highway is the first right after crossing the Cameron Run Bridge. The turn to Huntington Avenue is the second right.
Beltway ramps: The last of the new ramps linking the Beltway and Telegraph Road is scheduled to be fully open in its new configuration by the end of June. That’s the ramp from the inner loop to Telegraph Road South.
THRU lanes: The project is widening the Beltway in the work zone and dividing it into lanes marked either THRU (express) or LOCAL (access to all exits). The work includes rebuilding the Beltway bridges over Cameron Run and Telegraph Road. The project hopes to get the work done by this fall and open the new lanes to traffic. But if the paving and lane stripping can’t be done before cold weather sets in, the lanes may not be open till spring or summer 2012.
LOCAL lanes: New asphalt and lane markings for the Beltway’s LOCAL lanes will be completed after the THRU lanes are done. Once the LOCAL lanes work is completed in summer 2012, the project will be through with its major work on the Beltway.
Telegraph Road at Cameron Run: The bridge to the south of the Beltway is being demolished and rebuilt in phases. Traffic will be shifted around the work zone in various patterns through 2012.
Telegraph Road over railroads: The bridge to the north of the Beltway also is being rebuilt in phases. This work is particularly time-consuming; for safety reasons, it must be coordinated with train services, including Metro, which has the Blue Line below the bridge and a rail yard nearby. The reconstruction is scheduled for completion in late 2012.
This $236.8 million phase of construction at the Telegraph Road interchange, begun in 2008, was the largest single contract ever awarded by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Yet it’s just the tail end of one of the biggest transportation projects in the nation.
Maryland and Virginia built the project in phases to control costs and disruption in the Interstate 95 corridor, a vital commuter route for the Washington area and also the Main Street for East Coast travelers.
The centerpiece of the project was the replacement of the two Potomac River spans opened in 1961 with two wider spans in 2006 and 2008. During those years, workers also were rebuilding the two nearest Beltway interchanges in Maryland at Interstate 295 and Route 210 and the nearest one in Virginia, at Route 1.
Remaining task: Figuring out how to use the two bridge lanes that planners set aside for transit.