- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

Motorists will likely need plenty of gas and patience when crossing the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge this weekend, when road work is expected to cause lengthy, hours-long traffic jams.

Beginning at 8 tonight, the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway will be reduced to a single lane for a roughly four-mile stretch and redirected onto the new span of the bridge. Ramps on both sides of the Potomac River will be closed and detoured.

The closures could last until 5 a.m. Monday.

“We’re urging people to stay away if possible, check out our Web site to plan ahead” and find alternative routes, said John Undeland, spokesman for the new Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge project. “Even if we get 50 percent [of traffic] to divert, we’re probably looking at 14-mile, three-hour-long backups.”

Though the weather is expected to be less humid this weekend, temperatures are forecasted to be in the low 90s, with possible rain tonight.

The scheduled work may be delayed until next weekend if the weather is severe, although Mr. Undeland said that isn’t likely.

He warns motorists not to be lulled by the lack of delays during construction work in June, when Outer Loop traffic was switched to the new bridge.

Last month, traffic was backed up for only about one mile at the worst point, far short of the 14-mile-long backups predicted if many drivers did not find an alternate route.

Mr. Undeland said delays and backups are expected to be much worse this time, because officials will not be able to divert Interstate 95 traffic from the north. Additionally, traffic on the Inner Loop is heavier than on the Outer Loop during summer weekends, he said.

“For whatever reason, there is 13 percent more traffic on the Inner Loop in the summer than northbound side,” Mr. Undeland said. “I’m not really sure why, but the numbers are the numbers.”

Rubberneckers have added to the traffic woes in the past, including last August when the placement of a 466-ton steel beam caused some drivers to slow down for a better look.

Mr. Undeland said this weekend’s work won’t be as interesting, nor will it be close enough for motorists to have a clear vantage point.

“We’re hoping that people just keep moving through the area,” he said. “A tap on brakes could have a massive ripple effect.”

The new bridge is part of a 71/2-mile road-and-bridge project that includes approaching highways of Route 1 and Telegraph Road in Northern Virginia and Interstate 295 and Indian Head Highway in Maryland.

The entire project is estimated to cost $2.4 billion and is scheduled to be completed by 2011.

The old Wilson Bridge, which opened in 1961, was designed to carry 75,000 vehicles each day. Now, officials estimate nearly 200,000 vehicles cross daily.

The new bridge is designed to carry 300,000 vehicles daily by 2020. Its twin drawbridges are being built 20 feet higher than the old bridge, which will make openings 75 percent less frequent.

“We are putting the old Wilson Bridge to rest — a bridge that’s carried 73 billion vehicles since 1961,” Mr. Undeland said. “This is the last time it will carry traffic. It’s a historical milestone.”

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