- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

The first part of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge will open to traffic in less than three months, project officials said.

Motorists on the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway will be the first to use the span in early or mid-June. Five or six weeks later, the Inner Loop will switch to the new crossing.

Demolition of the old bridge will begin immediately after the traffic switches, project officials said.

The project is on time and on budget.

“The project is hitting on all cylinders,” said John Undeland, a spokesman for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. “The icy waters of the commute are finally going to be breaking up.”

The overall $2.4 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project is more than 50 percent complete. The second bridge is scheduled to open in summer 2008. Also that year, the revamped Interstate 295 and Route 210 interchanges will be completed. The new Route 1 interchange will be finished in 2009, followed by the Telegraph Road interchange in 2011.

The entire 7.5-mile project is scheduled to be finished in 2011.

When traffic is rerouted to the new bridge on two weekends, the Beltway will be reduced to one lane in the direction of the switch and certain ramps at Route 1, I-295 and Route 210 will be closed, project officials said.

The bridge will carry both Inner and Outer Loop traffic for the next two years until the second bridge is completed.

A formal dedication ceremony for the new bridge is scheduled for mid-May.

“This is a major milestone for the project, but more importantly it is a big step forward for long-suffering travelers,” said Robert D. Douglass, project manager for the Maryland State Highway Administration. “With the new bridge opening and the improvements to come, motorists, truckers and others will start experiencing reduced travel times and greater safety.”

Completed in the early 1960s, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge initially was designed to carry 75,000 vehicles a day for 20 years. Today, the bridge carries almost 200,000 vehicles a day. Improvements have been under construction since the late 1980s.

The eight-lane Beltway narrows into the six-lane bridge, creating one of the worst bottlenecks in the country.

Because both the new and old bridges have six lanes, traffic flow will not be “hugely different,” but it will be “incrementally different,” Mr. Undeland said.

One of the main improvements is the addition of wide shoulders where disabled vehicles can move out of traffic and emergency vehicles can travel.

Construction has caused frustration among motorists.

“It is like a game of musical chairs, moving traffic back and forth,” Mr. Undeland said. “Or like having a party in your living room while you try to replace the floors.”

Motorists got some relief last weekend when a ramp from southbound Route 1 to the Outer Loop opened to traffic.

Construction on the second bridge has begun. Most of the foundation has been laid and the piers are installed, Mr. Undeland said.

The project ultimately will provide 12 lanes: eight for traffic, two for merging onto the interchanges and two others for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, express buses or Metro transit rails.

A study will determine the use of these final two lanes, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

“The good news is that the bridge is being built to withstand whatever is decided,” she said.

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