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More Challenges on Virginia Beltway

Lanes Divide Web.jpg
There's a lot of information for drivers to absorb on the Beltway's outer loop. (Thomson)

The Wilson Bridge project plans to add some overhead signs on the Beltway's outer loop to provide additional guidance for drivers facing the lane shrinks and splits in the work zone. But midday drivers also will face some new construction issues there from today through Thursday.

The outer loop near the Eisenhower Avenue Connector will be reduced to two lanes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily through Thursday for work on the Beltway widening in that area.

Through September, the new normal in that area is this: The outer loop approaching the temporarily-closed connector consists of three travel lanes. The two on the left go straight through. The one on the right is a little weird. It's formed by using the connector's ramps. Nothing bad will happen to Beltway drivers by using that right-hand lane, but they should follow the recommended speed limit of 35 mph, because they'll be going down a ramp then up a ramp to return to the Beltway.

The only real problem with this movement is that some drivers aren't picking up on the fact that they don't have to veer left at the last moment to stay on the Beltway.

But project spokeswoman Jenny Rios says that four additional sets of signs are to be installed overhead to guide drivers through the work area. "The purpose of the signage is to reassure motorists that the lanes divide, and the right lane is not an exit and continues through to 95/495," she said in an e-mail.

About 63,500 vehicles per day use the outer loop, and even before this new traffic split at the connector, they were dealing with a squeeze down from four to three lanes in that area. But the project figures that with the new signs and with drivers getting familiar with the set up, this month's traffic congestion there should ease. My concern has been with long-distance travelers, who pass through the area either once or occasionally, and are more likely than the regulars to be confused at the split.

Some drivers have asked why the traffic pattern for the Beltway widening, which includes widening the Beltway bridge over the connector, was set up this way.

"We completed a very thorough and exhaustive review of options considering safety, driver inconvenience, and the work requirements," Rios said. "We chose this option and the summer timing in order to have maximum daylight hours, take advantage of schools being in recess, and benefit from lighter travel volumes since a large portion of daily commuters would at some point be on vacations during this period."

This outer loop configuration is scheduled to stay in place through September, when the connector would re-open. The off-ramp from the inner loop to the connector is scheduled to re-open in October.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  July 27, 2009; 9:01 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Congestion , Construction , Driving , Wilson Bridge  | Tags: Capital Beltway, Dr. Gridlock, Eisenhower Connector  
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Maybe the use of diagrammatical arrows on overhead signs showing that the lanes split BUT rejoin ahead. Or even a jersey wall barrier to keep confused motorists from cutting through the gore area after they have already commited to the right lane.

At least this set up is temporary, only through September. The lane divide mess that Maryland SHA has created on BOTH loops of the Beltway by Arena Drive and FedEX Field in Landover is permanent. Why sign the right lane as "Exit Only" when its really another through lane?????

Posted by: eyendis | July 27, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

"Maybe the use of diagrammatical arrows on overhead signs showing that the lanes split BUT rejoin ahead. Or even a jersey wall barrier to keep confused motorists from cutting through the gore area after they have already commited to the right lane."

The diagrammatical arrows are a nice idea. New Jersey uses that sort of signage at toll plazas equipped with open-road tolling (such as the new Exit 1 toll plaza on the Turnpike) and you'd have to be an absolute dunce not to know what it means. A similar sign (in concept, anyway) can be found on southbound I-95 as you approach the Richmond area to clarify where I-295 goes as a bypass.

I can see why a jersey wall is disfavored, though. If there is a wreck on the ramp lane, a jersey wall makes it that much harder for the traffic to be cleared into the regular lanes (or vice versa).

I have to say that after going through there a few times, I kind of like using the ramp lane for the simple reason that it doesn't have the rutted aspect that the other lanes do in the places where old lines were removed as the lanes were shifted.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 27, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

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