- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Vacationers, Redskins fans and other motorists around the region can expect major backups over the next two weekends when road crews will shut down parts of the Mixing Bowl where Interstates 95, 495 and 395 intersect in Fairfax County.

Redskins fans from Virginia, in particular, should be prepared to face delays on the Capital Beltway or I-95 after Saturday night’s game against the New England Patriots at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County.

Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) officials said this week road crews will shut down parts of the interchange between 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday to install several steel beams above the junction to form a bridge that will connect westbound I-495 to an exit ramp onto southbound I-95.

As a result, motorists traveling north from I-95 to the Beltway will be detoured for seven miles east for the next two weekends. The construction will affect one of the busiest corridors on the East Coast.

“There is the potential for a world class gridlock,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic motor club. “If you are contemplating being in that area, don’t do it.”

The detour will add 45 minutes of traveling time for motorists going north to the District or west on the Beltway toward Tysons Corner and Montgomery County.

VDOT officials said they had no choice but to shut down the northbound highways and re-route traffic for safety reasons. During each closure, three giant cranes will lift three 100-ton, 286-foot-long steel beams nearly 100 feet above the road to build a bridge connecting westbound I-495 to an exit ramp onto southbound I-95, VDOT spokesman Steve Titunik said.

Each beam consists of two girders that are “spiked together on the ground,” Mr. Titunik said. After the beams are lifted into position, workers will install 290 bolts to hold them in place.

Builders didn’t want to take a chance that the beams or other construction material would fall on any cars, or add additional dangers for the 15 to 20 workers on the job, Mr. Titunik said.

To bypass the closure, Mr. Anderson urged motorists to take Route 123 to Interstate 66, which will lead motorists to the Beltway.

The bridge, which is expected to open in November 2004, is one of 50 being built at the Mixing Bowl. When finished in 2007, the new interchange will have 24 lanes at its widest point, 30 ramps, 41 miles of roadway and 50 bridges. The cost of the project is estimated at $676 million.

The weekend construction will have little effect on southbound traffic. About 430,000 vehicles pass through the interchange each day. As many as 60,000 cars would normally travel through the closed-off area during those hours on a typical Saturday night and early Sunday morning, VDOT officials said.

The Mixing Bowl is one of the reasons why the Washington area has the third-worst traffic congestion in the country, according to a report published by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) last year. Los Angeles and San Francisco-Oakland in California had the worst congestion.

“We haven’t completed our study this year, but it seems unlikely that the Washington area has improved,” TTI researcher David Schrank said.

The other contributor to traffic congestion in the Washington area is the reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that connects Northern Virginia to Prince George’s County via I-95 and carries about 200,000 cars each day.

To ease congestion in that area, lane changes were made on Washington Street, which now runs over I-95 and I-495, in Alexandria.

“We do anticipate that modest traffic delays will occur until drivers become acclimated,” said Michelle Holland, public affairs manager of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.

Beginning this week, Washington Street is being reduced to three lanes between Church and South Alfred streets. The middle lane will be reversed for rush hours. Two lanes will be open between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. for vehicles traveling north. Two lanes will be open between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. for those traveling south.

The lane restrictions will last until mid-2005, Ms. Holland said, while the southern portion of the bridge is built. The restrictions will begin again in mid-2006 and last until late 2007 while the northern portion of the bridge is erected.

Building a new, mile-long Wilson bridge is a joint project of Virginia and Maryland. The project’s latest cost is estimated at $2.56 billion.

When completed, the bridge will be 12 lanes wide and 20 feet higher. It will still be a drawbridge and will open only 30 percent of the time it now does for large ships. The bridge first opened in 1961 and carried about 75,000 vehicles each day.

The entire bridge project extends for 7 miles, including roads on each side of the bridge. The bridge will be completed in 2007 or 2008. Expansions to Route 1 and Telegraph Road in Virginia and Interstate 295 and Route 210 in Maryland will be completed in 2011.

In the District, there are four major road-bridge projects that could contribute to traffic delays this month.

The widening of the Anacostia Freeway to three lanes in each direction could disrupt traffic patterns for about 75,000 cars that travel the road between Chesapeake Street SW and the Prince George’s County border each day.

Commuters can also expect delays on the Roosevelt Bridge as road crews begin curb repairs this week. Three northbound lanes will be open during morning rush hour, and three southbound lanes will be open during evening rush hour for an estimated 100,000 cars that use the overpass each day.

Construction on 16th Street NW, between Alaska Avenue and the Montgomery County line, and on Bladensburg Road NE, from Mount Olivet Road to New York Avenue, will also delay traffic.

Commuters can also expect similar delays in Maryland. Road crews are resurfacing the stretch of the Beltway, between Interstate 270 and old Georgetown Road, and between Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue.

“We attempt to do most of the work on off-beat travel times, between rush hours,” said Kellie Boulware, spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. She urged commuters to check the Web site, www.marylandroads.com, for updates on state highway projects.

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