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VDOT to restore I-66/Beltway merge

New Merge.jpg
Traffic from eastbound I-66 heads into new merge for Beltway last September. (Thomson)

Some things do change: Drivers have been complaining for months about the slowdown that occurred when the exit from eastbound Interstate 66 to the Beltway's inner loop was reconfigured. The Virginia Department of Transportation agreed it was a problem and has decided to restore the old setup in hope of easing the backups.

This readjustment, scheduled for next week, will allow the HOV lane and the regular lane to merge onto the inner loop at separate points rather than combining before the merge. This was a difficult spot to begin with, but when VDOT reconfigured the merge to accommodate construction of the HOT lanes, drivers said things got even worse.

A commuter who, let's say, lives in western Fairfax and works in Bethesda knows exactly what I'm talking about, but for other travelers, this setup is hard to picture. There's an unusual ramp system in which carpoolers leave I-66 from the left lane and other travelers leave it from the right lane. The right-hand exit handles many more vehicles. Almost immediately, those drivers must combine two lanes into one as they swing down toward the inner loop.

Before the change was made to accommodate HOT lane construction, those regular-lane drivers faced another difficulty as they merged into the far left lane of the inner loop. Up ahead of them, the HOV drivers faced their own left-hand merge.

When the change was made for the construction, the extra difficulty was added: The regular drivers and the HOV drivers found they had to combine with each other and then jointly merge into the inner loop's left lane.

VDOT saw the problem very quickly and made an adjustment that favored the heavier traffic in the regular merge lane, but it wasn't enough. Drivers still complained about the backups.

Hence, the new decision to restore the old pattern. That won't be ideal, because the heavy-volume, high-speed merge never was, but it should be a lot better than what drivers have experienced in recent months.

VDOT says there still is considerable construction to be done in the area, but along with its construction partner, Fluor-Transurban, it will adjust procedures and schedules to accommodate traffic flow.

The change back
Here's what's needed to accomplish the conversion. From Tuesday night through next Friday morning -- if the weather is good enough -- both the I-66 east left HOV exit ramp and the right general-purpose exit ramp to I-495 north will be closed each night from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. to adjust signs and pavement markings.

Expect to find three lanes closed on I-495 north at the I-66 interchange during those overnight hours as workers shift concrete barriers. Detours will be in place.

If the weather turns out to be a problem, the job will be postponed one week.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  January 22, 2010; 12:57 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Congestion , Construction , Driving  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, HOT lanes, I-66, VDOT, Virginia Department of Transportation  
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The merge lane onto the left lane of the inner loop was also shortened. It's scary to build up speed and look for an opening with so little room.

Posted by: jgluke | January 22, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

For that matter, have you seen the Rt. 50 merge northbound on to 495? It's a mess of epic proportions, especially someone coming from Rt. 29 on Fairview Park. You merge with Rt. 50 west traffic to NB495, Rt. 50 east traffic to NB495 and all into I 66 east lane. It's often taken me longer to get onto 495 than it's taken me to get from the 495/66 interchange to the Roosevelt Bridge.

If they simply split the east/west Rt.50 merge into two separate exits onto NB495 (for which, clearly, there is space), you'd end up taking a third the time to get onto 495. And its not like there's no alternative for people taking 50A to west rt. 50 - just make them take the east rt. 50 exit, and do a loop at the light at Fairview Park Dr and done. Insane.

Posted by: vnangia | January 24, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

@vnangia: Completely agree with the mess that VDOT has made at US 50 to I-495 north. All lanes from US50 East, West, and Gallows Rd. North and South have to merge into one lane before getting on to the Beltway. Traffic backs up onto US 50 east.

Like the I-66 merge described in the blog entry above, there used to be two entry point on to the Beltway north, but now there is only one, with a massive merge beforehand. What a mess!

Posted by: member5 | January 25, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

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