Fifth lane to ease congestion on Capital Beltway

WASHINGTON – A new lane will be added to Interstate 495 in Virginia along one of the region’s most congested stretches of highway.

Virginia is going to spend $20 million right away to add 1.5 miles of a fifth lane northbound on the Beltway in Fairfax County. The project will rebuild the existing shoulder between Old Dominion Drive and the George Washington Parkway interchange. The roadwork is supposed to help relieve congestion in an area where the regular lanes and the new express lanes merge.

The project will convert the shoulder into a fifth lane but the the lane will be open to traffic only during peak afternoon travel times. It will be controlled by overhead signals and function similarly to the shoulder lane now available on sections of Interstate 66.

Appearing on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor Program,” Bob McDonnell indicated the project will take less than a year to complete and is designed to ease congestion.

The improvements do not address the growing congestion on the American Legion Bridge, which crosses the Potomac River into Maryland. McDonnell says there’s been no real progress on discussions with Maryland about how to fix that bottleneck.

Construction is expected to start next year and the lane should be available to commuters in late 2014, according to the governor’s office.

WTOP Traffic Center’s Bob Marbourg says using the shoulder as a travel lane would eliminate a safe refuge for vehicle break-downs, fender benders and emergency access for first responders.

Expanding the available lanes headed toward the American Legion Bridge will cause a bottle neck as the road narrows to just four northbound lanes at the Maryland line, Marbourg says.

“Given that you still have shoulders on the righthand side, the safety implications are not so severe,” says Lon Anderson with AAA Mid-Atlantic.

But he’d like to see the fifth lane extended all the way to the bridge.

“And put up a big billboard: ‘Maryland are you looking?’ ” he says.

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