With less than six months until the expected opening date for the Interstate 66 Outside the Beltway toll lanes, work crews are cranking through over $30 million worth of work per month as they race to the megaproject’s finish line.
The 22.5-mile, $3.7 billion public-private Transform 66 project remains on schedule for a December opening of the new toll lanes, but plenty of work remains, project officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation and I-66 Mobility Partners told InsideNoVa.
Most of the major interchange bridge projects are nearly completed, but as motorists in the area have seen, major work on the Route 28 interchange bridge remains ongoing. Recently, one of the biggest pieces of the whole project — a massive box girder on the bridge — was installed, a project that required significant planning.
“It’s very difficult; you have to make sure that … every bridge that you are bringing this beam across can handle the load of the beam just coming across,” Susan Shaw, VDOT’s regional transportation program director for Northern Virginia, told InsideNoVa before the move. “It took them quite a while to identify a route that could be permitted to get this beam on site.”
The installation required the complete shutdown of I-66’s westbound lanes just east of Route 28 for two nights and about 16 hours.
“These are massive, massive girders,” said Nancy Smith, spokesperson for the design-build contractor FAM. “Those allow us to span the highway with those, and then we’ll have what you think of as traditional bridge beams that will set and tie into that.”
More work elsewhere
Meanwhile, ramp reconfiguration is still underway at Stringfellow Road in Fairfax, closing down the access ramps until early September, and lane shifting will continue near Vienna until about the same time.
Outside of the bridge work, one of the other main tasks still left before completion is paving, which drivers along the corridor can see going on regularly. Shaw said one of the biggest changes drivers are seeing is that, in many instances, hard barriers between work crews and drivers are gone, meaning motorists need to remain attentive and proceed carefully through the work zones.
“They have removed a lot of the concrete barrier that separated the workers from the traveling public. … It’s necessary as part of the work, but I think we definitely want the public to be very aware because there’s very little protection for the workers,” Shaw said.
“It’s just very tight in there, so people just need to stay very alert because this corridor will continue to change. It’s just not going to look like what it looked like yesterday or the week before in certain areas, depending on where you are. So just stay alert.”
Officials haven’t announced a firm date for the opening of the lanes to the public, but they have said things are on track for a December “toll day zero.” But even then, not all the work will be finished.
Shaw said the parallel bicycle trail, mostly in Fairfax County, will probably not be fully completed by December, making cyclists wait until after whatever celebrations are lined up for the toll lanes.
Shaw didn’t say when the bike trail would be fully open, instead she just said that segments would be open by December and that the whole project would have some construction activity continuing through July.
63 Bridges Constructed
Before the toll lanes are complete, Smith said, there may also be an event to celebrate the last of 900 beams being lifted at the Route 28 interchange. When all is said and done, 63 bridges will have been constructed, including 13 at Route 28 and 11 at Interstate 495. Over 30 bridges will have been demolished, with 80,000 tons of rebar used.
The four new express lanes will run for 22.5 miles from Route 29 in Gainesville to I-495, where they connect with the existing I-66 toll lanes inside the Beltway.
When the lanes open, they’ll run the same way similar lanes do elsewhere in Northern Virginia, using dynamic pricing with a goal of keeping traffic moving at 55 mph on the express lanes.
Single-occupancy vehicles with three people or more in the car and an E-ZPass Flex turned on will be able to use the lanes for free, as will buses, leading OmniRide to plan several service improvements along the corridor that will take advantage of the faster lanes.
Two new park-and-ride lots, at Balls Ford Road in Manassas and University Boulevard in Gainesville, are also part of the project.
Shaw said the work is over 90% complete, and the finish line is in sight, but some big puzzle pieces still need to be put into place.
“There’s less going on as we wrap up, but still that’s a significant amount of work,” she added.