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“There will be some improvements” for motorists once the new span opens, and again when the spans increase from six lanes to 10, said Ronaldo “Nick” Nicholson, project manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation. “But until 2012, 2013, you will still have backups.”

Still, Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said, “This is a major step in the ending of one of the worst bottlenecks in the nation. I know today’s congestion was bad, but it doesn’t compare to the traffic we would see before the construction.”

The old Wilson bridge, which opened in 1961, was designed to carry 75,000 vehicles a day. Today, an estimated 200,000 cars, trucks and buses cross the bridge daily.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.