Busy Capital Beltway ramps to close for years

A state road construction sign appears along Interstate 55 in preparation for road work to begin, near Springfield, Ill., Monday, May 16, 2011. As the temperatures warm, road construction will begin to pick up across the D.C. area. And this Work Zone Awareness Week, a local traffic safety expert has tips to help drivers safely navigate by all those orange barrels. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

WASHINGTON — Major Capital Beltway ramp closures start next month in Largo, and are expected to last about three years.

As part of a bridge replacement for the Capital Beltway over Md. 214/Central Avenue, the Maryland State Highway Administration expects to close the Beltway ramp from the Inner Loop to eastbound Central Avenue in early January. In mid-January, the SHA expects to close the ramp from eastbound Central Avenue to the Outer Loop of the Beltway.

The ramps each carry about 10,000 vehicles each day. The project to build new, wider bridges while maintaining all lanes of traffic on the Beltway at rush hour is expected to be finished by the end of 2021.

The ramps could reopen around summer 2021, the SHA’s Charlie Gischlar said. “Some preliminary work already started here where we did some line striping to shift traffic between Arena Drive and that area,” Gischlar said.

The new Beltway bridges over Md. 214 will allow for future widening of the Capital Beltway, including through planned toll lanes, allow for an extension of the left turn lane from westbound 214 to the Capital Beltway, allow for the possibility of sidewalks being added to Central Avenue in the future, and provide a new, five-foot shoulder on Central Avenue.

Construction of the bridges is expected to cost $26 million. The existing bridges were built in 1963 then widened in 1971. About 225,000 vehicles cross the bridges on the Beltway each day, and 72,000 use Md. 214/Central Ave.

Detours could mean jams

During the ramp closures, the detour for drivers who normally take the Inner Loop south to westbound Md. 214 will involve getting off earlier at southbound Md. 202 to reach Route 214 — a detour could nearly double traffic on Route 202 at times.

The detour for drivers who normally take eastbound Md. 214 to the Outer Loop of the Beltway will be to continue on Central Ave. to Md. 202, take the northbound Route 202 ramp, then immediately exit back onto westbound Route 214 to get back to the Beltway.

That detour could create delays on Route 202, and add additional traffic to the road if some drivers decide to simply use Route 202 to reach the Beltway.

To address some of the expected issues, the SHA is planning to extend green lights for traffic on Route 202 and Md. 214/Central Ave during the closures.

Map of the planned construction on the Beltway ramps to and from Md. Route 214. (Courtesy SHA)

“Once people get used to it, we’re hoping, along with timing the traffic signals on Largo Road and Central Avenue, that we can minimize delays associated with this construction,” Gischlar said.

The traffic light changes mean people coming out to Md. 214/Central Ave. or to Route 202 in the area around Largo Town Center may have to wait longer to get across or to make a left turn.

“You know the neighborhood there so you probably have a favorite detour route or alternate route you can use, we encourage you to try to do that and also provide yourself with some extra time while you’re traveling,” Gischlar said.

Drivers could also attempt to avoid the area entirely by using Md. 704/Martin Luther King Jr. Highway or smaller Md. 193/Watkins Park Dr., the SHA said, but those options may not work.

Additional lane closures are allowed between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays plus overnights Sunday night through Friday morning 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. throughout the three years of construction.

While the work is scheduled to begin after this season’s Redskins home schedule ends, the state does plan to have extra signboards and other methods of directing traffic for events at FedEx Field through 2021 in the hope of limiting additional backups.

“We’ve done that before during large events and that should help here as well,” Gischlar said.

This is one of several bridge replacement or renovation projects along the Capital Beltway in that area of Prince George’s County that have led to recent or ongoing lane shifts or closures.

Here’s a map of where the construction will take place.

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