- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

Workers laid the last of 5,000 tons of asphalt and painted traffic lane stripes over approaches to the new Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge road surface at sundown yesterday — far enough ahead of schedule that project officials are predicting no more delays than usual for this morning’s commuters.

That will come as a relief to regular Beltway drivers, especially those caught in Saturday’s construction backup, when cars, trucks and buses slowed, stopped and started up again for three hours and six miles on the Inner Loop, from Oxon Hill to the Potomac River, so that crews could construct three of the four lanes approaching the bridge over the Potomac.

Delays were about half as bad yesterday.

“We’re having a little bit of a traffic problem, but it’s not as bad as yesterday,” Maryland State Police Cpl. Jeffrey Stevenson said at midafternoon.

“Today, there are three miles less of closure, and it’s taking 30 to 40 minutes to get through,” said project spokesman John Undeland.

As usual, there were some unforeseen problems. Some vehicles overheated and had to be towed off the roadways. Mr. Undeland could not recall whether anyone had run out of gas.

With a Code Red heat advisory for a day of temperatures in the mid-90s, road workers directed most of their cool-down efforts to the 3-inch layers of asphalt laid down at 300 degrees. The material had to cool to 150 degrees before another layer could be applied.

Trucks of water were sent to the new roadways to “accelerate the cooling process,” said Mr. Undeland, adding that the crews were working well.

“There have been no unexpected problems,” said Cpl. Stevenson, reporting for the patrolmen working four-hour shifts throughout the 57-hour project.

The job began at 8 p.m. Friday when the three Inner Loop lanes were closed. Completion had been set for 5 a.m. today, but work was running ahead of schedule, and officials announced that all lanes were open last night at about 10.

Officials blamed the huge traffic jams on Saturday mostly on out-of-state travelers who did not know about the bridge project. Or, Mr. Undeland said, those travelers did not remember warning signs posted as far north as Connecticut.

“People unknowingly drove that way,” Cpl. Stevenson said.

Josh Thompson began his sign-monitoring chores Thursday, sleeping whenever possible in his Midasco Inc. truck. His job was to ensure that detour, speed-limit and construction signs were in place.

“I know it’s a headache for all the drivers, but I think it will be worth it when it’s done,” Mr. Thompson said.

In July, announcements about the weekend lane closures were circulated throughout the D.C. area and as far south as Richmond. Northbound traffic and motorists going to the District were advised to take other routes.

This weekend, area motorists reportedly avoided the southbound route over the Wilson Bridge, but other southbound Interstate 95 motorists naturally proceeded on the southern route rather than turn right onto the Beltway, or Interstate 495, and go west to the American Legion Memorial Bridge.

Rebuilding the 12-lane Wilson Bridge, including a draw span to let big ships float through, and approaching highways is an 11-year job projected to cost $2.44 billion. The first six-lane span is expected to be completed in the spring. The other six lanes are scheduled for completion in summer 2008.

The bridge, approaches and interchanges are to be complete in 2011. The project is expected to double the traffic capacity over the Wilson Bridge.

Bob Brubaker, an electronics engineer who lives nearby, watched yesterday from an overpass and said: “This looks like it’s going to be so big that I don’t think it will ever be obsolete in any of our lifetimes.”

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