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Beltway Traffic Shift Underway in Virginia

updated Thursday, 5:35 a.m.
The Wilson Bridge Project has scheduled a major traffic shift for Thursday, by 5 a.m.

The right lane of the Beltway's outer loop will be diverted to the right, and traffic will begin to use the Eisenhower Avenue Connector ramps as a third outer loop travel lane.

This new configuration will stay remain through September. During that time, drivers won't be able to turn onto the Connector or stop on those ramps.

How It Will Happen
At 9 o'clock Wednesday, outer loop traffic went down to one lane from Van Dorn Street to Eisenhower Avenue. After midnight, traffic was to be stopped completely once in a while, for no more than 20 minutes. I advise avoiding the outer loop while this is happening.

Watch Signs
Look for signs announcing that Exit 174 is closed that the detour route from the outer loop follows Van Dorn Street or Telegraph Road to Eisenhower Avenue. Signs also announce that bicyclists and pedestrians can't use the Connector and should find alternatives, with South Van Dorn Street as one option.

Other Moves
During the closing, traffic still can get from Eisenhower Avenue to the inner loop. The earlier closing of the inner loop's exit ramp to the Connector probably will remain into October, when the new Inner Loop Local lanes are done and all inner loop traffic shifts over to the new lanes west of the Beltway bridge over Cameron Run.

Meanwhile, workers will be replacing the deck of the Beltway bridge above the Connector.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  July 16, 2009; 5:35 AM ET
Categories:  Construction , Driving , Wilson Bridge  | Tags: Capital Beltway, Dr. Gridlock, Eisenhower Connector  
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Comments

Any word on what the speed limit will be on the "ramp lane" (for lack of a better term for it)? The normal thru lanes there are part of the variable speed limit zone, but I wonder if a reduced limit might apply to the ramps. Given that traffic will be going straight across what is normally a T-intersection (which means the potential for gravel and all the usual klag that builds up in intersections), a lower limit seems rational for a while until the klag is worn away by traffic.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 15, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

What an absolute nightmare they have created for commuters.

What I'm confused about is whether the outer loop, which is currently down to 3 lanes at Eisenhower, will be using the exit ramp as a 4th lane, or whether the exit ramp is going to substitute for another lane. In other words, will the "regular" outer loop now be down to 2 lanes?

If so, I fear then what is now a nightmare will descend into utter madness. Going down the exit ramp, then up the entrance ramp of a highway is simply nonsensical, and frankly, probably quite dangerous at the reconnection point.

Posted by: mkaz | July 15, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: 1995hoo, when I saw your qood question on the speed limit, I checked with Jenny Rios, a spokeswoman for the Wilson Bridge project. She says a curve warning sign will be posted on the Connector ramps, advising a speed of 35 mph.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | July 15, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

mkaz, note the second paragraph of Dr. Gridlock's original entry: "traffic will begin to use the ... ramps as a third outer loop travel lane." That is, they will narrow the main road to two lanes, and the ramps will serve as a replacement for the lost lane.

Dr. G, thanks for the update on the speed limit. I suppose an advisory limit will be ignored by many drivers, so I think I will stick to the two main lanes through there--or, better yet, I'll just use Franconia Road instead! Thanks again for all the thorough updates you give us on this project. It's very useful since I live nearby.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 15, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Your comments about the lane divide are reminding me of the situation outer loop drivers now confront near Arena Drive, where three lanes go through to the left, but there's a big white stripe dividing those lanes from two lanes on the right.

It's confusing, because one of those lanes is exit only, but the other one is either for exiters or for through traffic. Many drivers don't seem to realize that one of those lanes goes through. There's often a slowdown just before this divide.

If the same sort of confusion occurs on the outer loop in Virginia starting tomorrow, it could be worse.

Virginia now is using the Variable Speed Limit system to control traffic flow in that area at all hours of the day, and it seems likely it would come into play in this situation.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | July 15, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

This is simply unacceptable!!! The traffic through this corridor is bad enough right now with three "normal" lanes, and now they're going to cut it down to 2 "normal" lanes and an exit ramp. This is PATHETIC, and example of poor planning. This Wilson Bridge project up to this point was very well planned and managed, and now it seems that since the work is not spanning both sides of the river, the construction managers don't seem to care about simple traffic flow through the area. The spotty weekend work that has been done over the past couple of months has been unannounced and poorly conceived, creating 10+ mile backups, and now this ridiculous lane shift.

VDOT should lose some federal funding for this debacle since this strech of I95/495 can no longer be classified as an interstate because of the use of an exit ramp as a through lane.

Can VDOT not reconstruct the Connector bridge like every other beltway overpass has been rebuilt over the past 20 years by shifting lanes back and forth? If the completion of the final stretch of the Wilson Bridge project won't be completing until 2013, what's the hurry with redecking this bridge that they need to essentially reduce the most heavily traveled interstate on the east coast to 2 LANES???

Posted by: Russtinator | July 15, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

"Virginia now is using the Variable Speed Limit system to control traffic flow in that area at all hours of the day, and it seems likely it would come into play in this situation."

The only problem is that the variable speed corridor will not be large enough to prevent backups from occurring. The outer loop already backs up to the Springfield Interchange during both morning and afternoon commutes, so unless they place variable speed limit signs down in Newington and Annandale, it won't make one bit of difference, because traffic will already be crawling through this ridiculous construction zone!

There has got to be a better way to do this work!!! Did VDOT even bother doing traffic studies through this area before deciding on this construction plan? This could very well create the biggest backups that we've seen with any construction activity in the DC area!

Posted by: Russtinator | July 15, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I don;t go through this area often, but when we do, we marvel at the engineers' ability to keep traffic moving while doing gigantic upgrades. Always, there are some folks who are outraged, outraged, at the inconvenience. They all must believe in the Fairy Godmother who magically does major roadwork over a Saturday night between 3 and 5 a.m. Get a grip, folks. Think of those Red Line riders, who ride so you can drive, putting up with four years of single-tracking starting at 8 p.mm., when thousands of them still are riding home from work. Oh, that's right -- you have no idea -- you drive!

Posted by: sbuck | July 15, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Short term pain for long term gain.

"VDOT should lose some federal funding for this debacle since this strech of I95/495 can no longer be classified as an interstate because of the use of an exit ramp as a through lane."

Clearly the author has no idea what he/she is talking about. Federal Highway Administration has been actively involved with this project from Day 1, and they obviously agreed to the Maintenance of Traffic Plan for the workzone. Use of an exit lane as a through lane is normally not permissible, but in a work zone, things that are normally not allowed are okay. It's either that or they close the exit altogether and only leave 2 lanes.

"....what's the hurry with redecking this bridge that they need to essentially reduce the most heavily traveled interstate on the east coast to 2 LANES???"

They need to finish it so they can shift traffic onto it when they build the express lanes. And that segment is not even close to the most heavily travelled segment of interstate on the east coast. The Wilson Bridge proper carries much more traffic. The west side of the Beltway carries more traffic than the east side. Certain parts of I-270, the New Jersey Turnpike, the George Washington Bridge, or I-95 in south Florida carry far more traffic than that part of the Beltway.

Besides, if you don't like the construction, no one is saying you can't go around the other side of the Beltway or through DC. This applies to weekend work as well as this temporary phase of work.

Posted by: thetan | July 15, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Besides, if you don't like the construction, no one is saying you can't go around the other side of the Beltway or through DC. This applies to weekend work as well as this temporary phase of work.

Posted by: thetan | July 15, 2009 4:14 PM


Those of us who live at Van Dorn St are hard pressed to go around the work zone. In fact, the additional backups that this lane reduction will cause will flow up into the Van Dorn St interchange. I'm not going to be able to get out of my neighborhood in the morning anymore. :(

Posted by: astronomer | July 15, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I live off Van Dorn (south of the Beltway) and have not really had any problems due to the Wilson Bridge work. But then, I've lived in the DC area since 1974 and know umpteen different ways to get everywhere. As I noted in a prior post in this thread, I'll probably just avoid the Outer Loop between Van Dorn and Telegraph until this particular phase of the project is done (and it's easy to use either Franconia or Eisenhower from Van Dorn down to Telegraph....and now you can even get directly onto the Beltway from Eisenhower if you go down to Mill Road, near the federal courthouse, and hang a right). No matter what sort of signs they put up, I'm sure we'll still see some doofuses who panic when they approach the "ramp lane" and who try to do a last-second cross-gore lane change. We still see that all the time at the "Local/Thru" split points, after all.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 15, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Let me clarify. Through traffic should take the Beltway west around the city or go through the city. Local traffic should avoid the Beltway and use local roads. And obviously, listen to traffic and weather together on the 8's on 103.5 FM.

1995hoo brings up a good point...I wonder how many people will panic and switch lanes at the last minute, un-aware that all the lanes go to the same place. At the Local/Thru lane split, many of the last minute/gore cutting people are cutting from the Local to the Thru...the locals will also take you to Baltimore! Thru to Local, I could at least somewhat understand. That is why I wish they would post a sign that says, "All Lanes Thru" like they have on I-270 at the local/express split. And maybe a second sign for the clueless people....."If you don't know which set of lanes to take, use the local lanes" :)

Posted by: thetan | July 15, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

rtthomson1 (aka Dr Gridlock): Don't forget about the inner loop near Arena Drive as well. This afternoon it was clamped down to three lanes which was causing a pretty big backup up to at least 295. Do you have any idea when Maryland will be done with this all this annoyance near Arena Drive?

Posted by: TheMatt | July 15, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

"That is why I wish they would post a sign that says, 'All Lanes Thru' like they have on I-270 at the local/express split."

I agree with this and it's one reason I dislike the "Local/Thru" naming that they've used at the Wilson Bridge. I can understand the argument that "All Lanes Thru" is arguably ambiguous or confusing if you have a set of lanes called "Thru" and another set of lanes called something else. Perhaps another idea would be for the pull-through signs to say "I-95/495 North THRU Baltimore" and "I-95/495 North LOCAL Alexandria, National Harbor, Baltimore." Anything to make it clear that the lanes still go to the same place!

On the way back from Baltimore a few weeks ago when I went over the Wilson Bridge I found myself thinking that the pull-through signs for the Thru lanes at the split on each side of the bridge could potentially say "No Exit in [state]" to help clarify--sort of like the way New Jersey and New York always post "Last Exit in [state]" or "Last US Exit" (in New York as you approach Canada). But as thetan notes, you don't see many people doing Thru-to-Local kamikaze cross-gore moves.

I know VDOT and MDOT are wary of taking any examples from New Jersey because some of New Jersey's signage is not MUTCD-compliant, but when it comes to quad-carriageway signs and the like I think New Jersey is a good place to look since they have quite a few roads using that design (Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, I-76, I-78, and I-80 all readily come to mind). It seems a bit silly to discard their years of experience with this sort of design. Toronto has a quad-carriageway on ON-401, but it's a much longer system more akin to the one on I-270 (although far more complex) with slip ramps back and forth, so it's not entirely analogous to the Wilson Bridge.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 15, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

To everybody here whining about the traffic get your fat behind out of the car and use mass transit, car pool, or heaven forbid, ride a bike or walk to work when feasible.

We lazy, fat, SUV driving Americans who are so dependent on the automobile is why we have to pave over every square inch of green space to build more roads.

I have no sympathy for anyone here. I hope you have a miserable commute every morning and you gag in car exhaust. You and I help create the traffic mess with all our stupid GD cars so now it's time to live with the consequence of our decision!

One trillion for an unnecessary war in Iraq? No problem. One trillion for mass transit? Sorry can't afford it.

It is sad to see the trees that are getting cut down on the stretch of I495 from the mixing bowl to Tyson's corner to build HOT lanes.

Just what we need. More freaking cars on the beltway!

By the way, I'm using the metro (orange line) to get to work.

Everybody driving to work today I hope you have a rotten drive to work today!

How do like them apples!

Posted by: montana123 | July 16, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

Dr GL,

A map would be useful.

Posted by: cullisongs | July 16, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

As I traveled through this area this morning it occured to me that it's really stupid of VDOT to change the pattern (which they did about 3 weeks ago to close the Eisenhower Ave exit) and THEN change the pattern again. Is there some reason why they couldn't do it all at the same time? Do they send VDOT engineers to school to learn how best to screw up the traffic flow? Apparently so because they're EXPERTS at it.

Another thing, unless VDOT is capable of maintaining the speed limit they post (in this case 40 MPH), why bother?

Posted by: CLJ11 | July 16, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I wouldn't say that using the Eisenhower Ave. connector ramps as a lane for the beltway is necssarily new. Indeed drivers have been using the off/on ramp there for years as a sort of 3rd or 4th lane when the beltway backs up. Silly Washingtonians.

Posted by: zackool | July 16, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

"To everybody here whining about the traffic get your fat behind out of the car and use mass transit, car pool, or heaven forbid, ride a bike or walk to work when feasible."

Give me a bus or Metro line that connects Springfield and Indian Head, and I will GRADLY ride transit. You NIMBYs that think everyone and their brother can ride a bus or train to work are just full of yourselves, and need to have your heads examined. If everyone could ride transit, there wouldn't be a need to build more roads. Sadly, transit for too many of us is woefully inadequite, slow, and too expensive, despite sacking a sizeable chunk of my taxes.

People who think mass transit is the answer to everyone's problems need to get their head out of their behinds and look at the big picture and realize that roads, bridges, and highways need to be built and maintained to keep up with the increasing population.

Posted by: Russtinator | July 16, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

"To everybody here whining about the traffic get your fat behind out of the car and use mass transit, car pool, or heaven forbid, ride a bike or walk to work when feasible."

I'll be the second to state that if there was a mass transit option crossing the Wilson Bridge I'd gladly take it. Currently, getting from the Van Dorn St area to the Indian Head area via mass transit requires taking the blue or yellow line to downtown DC, then the green line back out, then a bus to the final destination. Possible? Yes. But I doubt you would spend more than 2 hours on transit for what should be a 10-15 minute car trip.

And for what it's worth, I drive a hatchback.

Posted by: astronomer | July 16, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

With VDOT your expectations are lowered for any type of logical thinking. Remember this is the same agency pushing for the asinine HOT lanes proposal on 395/95, which will be a disadvantage to HOV users and to those that use public transit.

Posted by: rontaylor68 | July 16, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I drove down the Beltway through the work zone to Alexandria today around 3 PM, getting on at Van Dorn. It was quite backed up until I reached the point where the "ramp lane" splits off to the right and then it started moving again (once I was past the merge on the other side, traffic was going 65 mph....the variable speed limit was set at 35, incidentally). The overhead signs approaching the split have been swapped out to have pull-through signs that simply have the I-95/495 shields on them, the orange signs on the side of the road say "Lanes Divide" with the distance to the split, and the VMS signs were advising drivers to use all lanes.

I think the backup today was caused by (a) driver unfamiliarity with the new pattern and (b) more importantly, there were two cop cars parked in the gore area for the "ramp lane" with their lights on, I guess to try to discourage last-second cross-gore maneuvers. Since we all know that NOBODY in the DC area has EVER seen a cop car before, of course they all had to slow to a crawl to gawk.

I was pleasantly surprised to find no klag at the bottom of the ramp where the intersection usually is. It looks like they repaved that area to eliminate any left-turn markings and stop lines on the pavement that might have confused people. Good move by VDOT if so.

One point of interest is that the signs indicate that the right lane ends roughly at the start of the "ramp lane." With the way the road is striped, it seems more like the two right lanes merge together into a single one. There is absolutely no need to join the "get over early" crowd through there. Just be aware that if you are in the right-most lane after Van Dorn you will have to use the "ramp lane."

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 16, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"I wonder how many people will panic and switch lanes at the last minute, un-aware that all the lanes go to the same place."

I took the Beltway from Van Dorn Street to US-1 in Alexandria today en route to Reagan Airport (just didn't feel like going up I-395) and quite a few people were cutting over at the last second to avoid the "ramp lane," even though the overhead VMS sign clearly indicated that all lanes continued thru. I wonder if part of this might be because, even though the "ramp lane" is signed as a lane, it's pretty obvious that in its normal state it's an exit ramp, and some people want to avoid that? Whatever the reason, I'm sure we'll continue to see brake lights there due to last-second panicking types.

I also saw a Thru-to-Local cross-gore maneuver executed at high speed. Lovely.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 19, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

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