- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2000

A terrible accident on I-95 near the "mixing bowl" interchange close to Springfield Mall over the weekend is a clarion call for long-overdue highway improvements to decrease the odds of accidents such as this one occurring again.

According to Virginia State Police, an SUV made an improper lane change, causing the driver of a dump truck to swerve and lose control of his vehicle. The dump truck went airborne and landed on and crushed two cars, killing 5 adults and severely injuring two teen-agers. Drivers familiar with the Springfield interchange probably marvel that similar accidents aren't more frequent. The "mixing bowl" is notorious as one of the most dangerous parts of I-95 mainly because of the sheer confusion of exits, on-ramps, off-ramps and vehicles weaving and swerving to find them. As traffic approaches the 495/395 interchange from I-95 North, drivers must orient their cars so as to be in position for the proper exit a not too easy task with the high volume of vehicles and the often incoherent signs. It is common to witness cars veering off suddenly as their drivers realize they're in the wrong lane. Other motorists must be constantly vigilant for unexpected, even erratic lane changes.

Such an erratic, unsafe lane change appears to have set Saturday's chain-reaction crash in motion. Accident investigators believe the event began when an SUV driven by James Richardson, 47, swerved in front of the dump truck. Mr. Richardson was charged by Virginia State Police on Monday with making an improper lane change.

As state lawmakers wrangle over what to do about the increasingly tense and dangerous traffic situation in the region, this accident which is being called one of the worst on a Virginia highway in two decades ought to serve as a wake-up call. It's only within the past year that VDOT has begun improvements to the mixing bowl notwithstanding the fact that highway engineers have known that something should have been done years ago. But lawmakers dithered as the interchange drowned in traffic volumes far beyond the original design intent. It's the same thing with the Wilson Bridge delay after delay has resulted in a similarly atrocious, dangerous bottleneck, where fast-moving traffic must winnow itself down from four lanes to three, deal with merging traffic coming onto I-95, then find the right exit and leave safely. And so on, at countless other potential "intersections of mayhem" around the region. The time to act is now before the death toll climbs any higher. Let's hope area lawmakers get the message.

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