Capital Beltway turns 50

As drizzle tapered and clouds parted above Hillandale, Maryland, on Aug. 17, 1964, Gov. Millard Tawes declared a "road of opportunity" open.

The ceremony was held near the New Hampshire Avenue Interchange. A famous photo taken on that day faces west and shows the entrance ramp to the Inner Loop from northbound New Hampshire Avenue.

Since then, enhancements such as additional lanes, overhead lighting and better signage are not enough to conquer the road's chronic congestion. A truck wreck in late July 2014, pictured, snarled traffic at the very spot where drivers and politicians held high hopes for a congestion cure-all 50 years earlier.
A 1963 photo of the Beltway's Outer Loop at U.S. 50 in Landover, Maryland, shows a six-lane highway and a simple clover-leaf interchange.

The Beltway's median has since been sacrificed to add capacity and the U.S. 50 junction has been upgraded to a three-tier clover-stack interchange to improve traffic flow.
The Beltway's original design through Springfield, Virginia, was a simpler one. A photo from 1963 faces east from the Shirley Highway I-95 Interchange and shows four through lanes leading toward and away from Alexandria.

Fast-forwarding to 2014, the Springfield Interchange sports a dizzying array of ramps, flyover bridges and exchanges between carpool, E-ZPass Toll and mainline highways. At its widest approach, this section of the Beltway carries 16 lanes of traffic in and out of the large stack interchange.
For decades, the Shirley Highway-Capital Beltway Junction was known as the "Mixing Bowl" because of stressful merges that often confounded drivers. Since the completion of the massive Springfield Interchange Project in 2007, many of the "conflict points" were eliminated through a superior network of connections and elongated acceleration zones.
Pictured in its infancy, the Inner Loop of the Beltway diverges from the southern terminus of the I-270 Spur. The bridge in the background is the Outer Loop, nicknamed the "Big Curve," as it spanned the spur route before dropping down alongside the Inner Loop. Vegetation appears sparse inside the interchange after it opened in November 1963.

Today, a total of twelve lanes carry traffic through Bethesda at this busy exchange.

The railroad bridge that spans the Beltway in Silver Spring, Maryland, west of Georgia Avenue is colloquially known as the "Surrender Dorothy Bridge."

Passersby, inspired by the nearby Mormon Temple's likeness to a scene in "The Wizard of Oz," have painted the words on the side of the bridge several different times over the decades. Each occurrence of graffiti has been whitewashed since the fad began in the early 1970s.


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