Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Can you please give us an update on the inner loop’s express lanes extension? It’s been over a year since the construction began. It looks like there is an end in sight, but I’ve not heard anything definitive.
Also, what’s the chance that, by having the new merge right before the American Legion Bridge, the fees and traffic on the inner loop express lanes will increase? Won’t having a left-lane merge from the express lanes at the same place as a right-lane merge from the George Washington Parkway create a larger bottleneck, as well as a greater chance for accidents just before the bridge?
I’m sorry to sound so cynical, but I believe that the only way to alleviate rush-hour traffic in that area of the Capital Beltway is to widen the bridge. Perhaps if the additional express lanes continued to the Interstate 270 split, traffic could significantly improve.
That, as well as connecting Route 28 in Northern Virginia to Interstate 370 in Montgomery County, really need to be done as long-term solutions to ease congestion. (Although I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future.)
— Yale Lewis, Vienna
DG: It’s a pity for commuters that the only improvement project we’re talking about today on the northwest side of the Beltway is a $20 million widening that could ease traffic for about 1
That’s a fine project, one of several undertaken in recent years on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. I’m talking about you, Maryland. It’s about time for the state to look seriously at a big program to ease one of the biggest bottlenecks — if not the biggest — in the Washington region.
Let’s first review that project on the Virginia side: If your commute includes the Capital Beltway between Tysons and the Maryland line, it seems like forever since the Virginia Department of Transportation began its widening project. Work on opening up the inner loop’s left shoulder began last June. It should be complete by the end of this month.
Although it looks like it could be an extension of the 495 Express Lanes, it isn’t. Those overhead signs that drivers see being put in place are not connected with the express lanes’ toll-gantry system. They will display red Xs or green arrows to indicate whether it’s permissible to use the shoulder lane, once it opens.
The signs will be green at rush hours and open to all drivers, toll-free.
The widening had to end somewhere, if only because the Virginia highway department would run out of Virginia highway at the bridge.
As Lewis suggests, merging traffic from both right and left in that zone could be challenging for drivers. But their biggest challenge comes when they reach the Maryland side. That’s the Legion Bridge and beyond, on the Beltway and Interstate 270.
In recent years, the state government said it wanted to focus its transportation programs on preserving what we already have and on finding multimodal solutions to mobility problems. “Multimodal” means giving people more choices about how to get around, so they aren’t always stuck in their cars.
This is an acknowledgment of the realities of financing transportation improvements in this era and also a more sophisticated way of thinking about how to move people.
But Maryland has no serious program to accomplish those things on the west side of the Beltway.
For years, the Maryland government has shown no interest in building a new Potomac River crossing to the west of the Beltway, because it would only worsen problems with suburban sprawl. At this point, the state’s stand is no more than an excuse for inaction.
If there won’t be a new Potomac crossing for the foreseeable future, then something has to be done to upgrade the existing crossing, at the Legion Bridge and its connecting interstates through Bethesda.
Blow the dust off the studies, Maryland, and look at the possibilities for express toll lanes, such as the ones now open on Interstate 95 in Baltimore. Look at the possibility of using the toll revenue to finance the preservation or expansion of the bridge. Also look at using toll revenue to support a system of carpooling and commuter buses for the Tysons-Bethesda-Rockville corridor.
Since Gov. Larry Hogan (R) took office in January, Maryland’s roadside welcome signs have declared the state is “open for business.” Any businessperson entering the state via the Legion Bridge’s congested lanes would wonder what exactly is “open” about its highway system.