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Traveler offers tip for Tysons holiday shopping trips

Drivers approaching from the south in the 495 Express Lanes will see this view of the new exit into Tysons. (Robert Thomson – The Washington Post)

For the past few years, Tysons has been in the focal point for two of the nation’s biggest transportation projects, the 495 Express Lanes and the Metro Silver Line. This month, the express lanes project is wrapping up. It gives us a chance to talk about something other than avoiding a messy construction zone to get in and out of the big holiday shopping area.

During Monday’s online chat, a traveler submitted this interesting tip for using the new lanes.

Beltway Express Lanes: I was driving on the Beltway near Tysons last weekend, and I tried to get a bit of a look at the new express lanes ramps. What really struck me is that people coming from either Maryland or the Dulles Toll Road have a great new shortcut for getting to the two malls at Tysons via the Westpark Drive exit, and the toll ought to be pretty minimal for that short a trip.

I think it’s less than a mile from the toll road to the Westpark exit. Having the lanes open in time for the Christmas crunch (and the Day After Thanksgiving traffic disaster!) might prove really interesting.

What I don’t really get is that the project’s Web site ( is never updated! They ought to be putting up nice detailed maps to help people figure out exactly where the new connections are before getting on the road.

DG: The lanes won’t open till Saturday, Nov. 17, so we really don’t know what the traffic patterns will be like, but there is reason to hope the commenter is right about the access point that project managers have been calling “a new drain in the bathtub.”

The new Westpark Drive bridge connection creates a new way for vehicles to flow in and out of Tysons. And the location is convenient to the big shopping areas just north and south of Route 123 near the Beltway.

It sure looks more attractive than using the Beltway’s Route 123 or Route 7 ramps to get into the shopping areas. Of course, my one experience so far in riding on the Westpark ramp came when no other vehicles were present, so it’s difficult to know what some real traffic will do to this easy-in, easy-out vision. (I took the photo above during that ride last Friday afternoon, so you see heavy traffic on the Beltway’s regular lanes, and nothing on the ramps in the middle that lead to and from Westpark Drive.)

Here’s a map of the area showing the Westpark Drive bridge.

View Larger Map

 As for the 495 Express Lanes Web site, my experience has been quite different from the commenter’s. I’ve found lots of information there that will be very relevant to commuters considering whether they want to use the lanes and when they might use them. I particularly like a page called Using the Lanes, which has maps and video to help get drivers oriented.

When the lanes open, there will be more information there offering updates on traffic conditions and toll rates.

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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