WASHINGTON — Drivers in the D.C. area saw major delays Wednesday morning after a mulitvehicle crash on the Capital Beltway/I-495 early Wednesday spewed chunks of concrete across the roadway, halting traffic and briefly shutting down the Inner Loop at the American Legion Bridge.
All travel lanes on the Inner and Outer Loop were reopened just before 8 a.m., but delays persisted for several hours afterward. The hourslong gridlock — which some said was the worst they could remember — infuriated drivers, who raised questions about the efficacy of express lanes and too-high toll costs during extreme traffic events.
The delays began about 6:30 a.m. after a crash involving several vehicles, including at least one tractor-trailer, closed lanes on the Inner Loop. One person involved in that crash was sent to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda with injuries that were not life-threatening, authorities said.
The crash sent chunks of concrete flying across the roadway, which punctured several other cars’ tires, leading to a sudden, grueling traffic jam.
At its worst, traffic on the Inner Loop remained snarled as far south as Springfield, Virginia, all the way back up to the bridge itself. And secondary roads around the region were also slammed as travelers bailed on the Beltway in search of an easier way to get around.
“It was probably one of the worst rush hours I can remember without inclement weather,” said WTOP Traffic reporter Mary DePompa. “The delays on the Beltway almost connected in a full circle. Once it was, the Beltway was jammed.”
Tony Castrilli, director of public affairs for Fairfax County, called Wednesday’s mess “one of the worst 495 Inner Loop backups I have experienced.”
During WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was asked about gridlock and why much-touted I-495 Express Lanes didn’t seem to make much of a difference in clearing the traffic snarls.
One WTOP listener said tolls remained “prohibitively high” and asked why VDOT couldn’t waive tolls during an “extreme traffic situations” to help keep traffic flowing, the listener asked.
McAuliffe said the idea has merit and said he would ask Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to raise the issue with Transurban, the company that operates the toll lanes.
But McAuliffe ultimately blamed a lack of capacity on the American Legion Bridge, which is owned by the state of Maryland.
“I have for years advocated that we need to add more capacity on the American Legion Bridge,” McAuliffe said. “I’ve said that from day one. But Maryland own the American Legion Bridge. It’s on their property; it’s not on Virginia property. So we have all these beautiful express lanes and guess what happens: You get up to the border of Maryland and you have gridlock. Maryland needs to get in the game on these things and do what we’ve done in Virginia.”