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Checking Out I-66 Chokepoint at Capital Beltway

New Merge.jpg
Traffic from eastbound Interstate 66 heads into new merge for Beltway. (Thomson)

Consider me your traffic-checking version of a hurricane hunter. I head right into the eye of the storm. At 8:35 a.m., I emerged from the new merge from Interstate 66 onto the inner loop of the Beltway.

I wanted to see the effect of the restriping work the Virginia Department of Transportation did over the weekend to ease the traffic congestion that resulted last week when the HOV and regular-traffic merge into the Beltway were combined.

Now, this zone of I-66 is never easy. The highway is narrowing, drivers are exiting to reach Tysons or to head north toward the Legion Bridge, or they're bailing out because they don't meet the HOV rules to continue on I-66 inside the Beltway. So there's almost always congestion here.

The HOV drivers have a left-hand exit from I-66 while the regular traffic takes a right-hand exit. It used to be that they merged into the Beltway at two different places. I always thought that created enough of a difficulty factor for the merging traffic and the Beltway traffic.

But last week, because of the HOT lanes project on the Beltway, the merge ramps were combined. VDOT acknowledged that this backed up the ramp traffic even more. So over the weekend, VDOT added some signs and restriped the ramps. That was the key thing. It gave priority to the more heavily used regular lane of traffic.

My experience: Eastbound traffic on I-66 crawled from Nutley Street. Not unusual. I took the right exit for the Beltway. The heaviest traffic was for the first merge on the ramp, the merge in which the right lane ends so traffic must blend in to the left. The picture above is just after that point. It's where regular traffic heads toward the new point of concern, the spot where the HOV ramp traffic is going to come in from the left.

That merge went well. There wasn't much HOV traffic coming to blend in with our regular traffic lane. Does that mean the fix worked? You regular users of this exit can tell me, but my experience was good. As a traffic storm, I rate it no higher than a Category 1.

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By Robert Thomson  |  September 21, 2009; 9:56 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Congestion , Construction , Driving  | Tags: Beltway, Dr. Gridlock, Interstate 66  
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