- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

Motorists were stranded for more than five hours in sweltering heat yesterday as part of the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway shut down after an aggressive driver cut off a truck, which overturned and spilled hot tar just west of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
For the commuters accustomed to the inconveniences and delays of the Beltway, yesterday was an especially trying day.
Betty Keller, 25, of Maryland said the delays made her late for an 11 a.m. job interview in Old Town Alexandria.
"I know it's not the best first impression, but at least I have a good excuse," said Ms. Keller, who was trapped on the Wilson Bridge for more than two hours..
From 7:33 a.m., when police say the accident happened, to 12:45 p.m. when the bridge and the Inner Loop were reopened, thousands of other motorists in Maryland and Virginia were mired in a sea of traffic as work crews cleaned up the tar, which had solidified on the road.
"You are talking about 200,000 vehicles a day that cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge," Maryland State Highway Department spokesman David Buck said. "We are trying to make the best out of a horrible situation."
The accident happened early in the morning rush hour when the driver of a red Mazda pickup traveling from Maryland toward Virginia on the Inner Loop crossed the Wilson Bridge and cut off a heavy-duty asphalt truck carrying hundreds of gallons of hot tar, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said.
According to several witnesses, the Mazda "forced the asphalt truck to hit the jersey guard rail and overturn" and then sped off, Mrs. Caldwell said. Police are still investigating the incident, but it doesn't appear that drugs or alcohol were a factor, Mrs. Caldwell said.
The driver of the overturned truck, Apollo Fame, has not been charged, Mrs. Caldwell said. Mr. Fame, 34, of College Park, works for roofing contractor Orndorff Staid Co. of Beltsville and was driving from Beltsville to Woodbridge when the accident occurred.
The accident scene stretched across four lanes of traffic at the Route 1 exit into Alexandria, and two lanes of the Outer Loop were at first blocked by equipment.
Alexandria Fire Department Battalion Chief Russell Middleton said the overturned truck also leaked a small amount of gas before it was hoisted by a crane and removed around noon. The D.C. Fire Department's fire boat patrolled underneath the bridge, but no environmental damage was found, police said.
Traffic on the Inner Loop ground to a halt after the accident, with a few vehicles driving through the tar, spreading it along their paths. Traffic was initially backed up six miles from the scene to St. Barnabas Road in Prince George's County, Mr. Buck said.
The traffic spilled into the surrounding areas and extended into a three- or four-mile backup as motorists stuck on the Wilson Bridge were diverted onto Interstate 295 heading to the District, which had already been closed so those on the bridge could turn around. Vehicles also crawled along exits to side streets in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
To prevent further gridlock, Maryland flashed messages to drivers as far north as Baltimore advising them to take alternate routes if coming to the area, Mr. Buck said.
On both sides of the river, crews made water available to motorists stuck in the heat and humidity. Earlier in the day, the Alexandria chapter of the American Red Cross also set up a center at St. Mary's Elementary School for those needing relief.
Motorists on the Outer Loop were not spared the wait in standstill traffic. As far back as Van Dorn Street, cars were stopped and engines were overheating as drivers sat an average of 21/2 hours to get to the Wilson Bridge.
"It's been inching along," said Mrs. Caldwell, who herself was stuck waiting in traffic. "It impacts the entire region when you close the Beltway for this long."
Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said work crews began sanding the top layer of tar, then scooping it up as soon as the Alexandria Fire Department cleaned up the gas spill.
VDOT workers laid down sand on the tar, and officials said they would pave over the 1- to 3-inch-thick tar covering about 130 feet of roadway late last night ** in time for this morning's rush hour.
During yesterday's evening rush hour, traffic was lighter than usual and flowed smoothly past the scene, with the only remnants from the accident the sand along the shoulders of the road.
Yesterday's accident was similar to an incident two years ago in which a tractor-trailer loaded with 20 tons of gunpowder overturned on the Mixing Bowl, which links interstates 395, 95 and 495. The accident brought traffic to a standstill for more than 16 hours along one of the busiest interchanges on the Eastern seaboard.
WTOP traffic reporter Lisa Baden said yesterday that even a minor accident on the Beltway clogs up the entire roadway.
"The congestion is just so bad to begin with," Ms. Baden said, adding that yesterday's heat and poor air quality compounded the problem. "We are talking about people's lives here."
* Brian DeBose and Robert Treadway contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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