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Springfield Interchange Project Passes the Midway Point

For the past few months, the Springfield Interchange project seemed to be at a standstill, with no new bridges opening, no additional lanes, and a lot of construction activity around the 450,000 cars going through there on a daily basis.

Nonetheless, progress on Phases IV and V continues, and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) celebrated the project's halfway point on Tuesday, April 29. It was the minimum impact on the 450,000 cars that they looked at.

"We're at a major milestone," said VDOT District Administrator Tom Farley. "We're at the halfway point. The key to success is how to minimize the impact on traffic."

The traffic flow was mentioned more than once at the Springfield Hilton, where local officials gathered with all the major transportation officials in Springfield. The roster included Supervisors Dana Kauffman, (D-Lee), Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) and Penny Gross (D-Mason); Dels. Vivian Watts (D-39th), Tom Bolvin (R-43rd) and Dave Albo (R-42nd); VDOT commissioner Philip Shucet; VDOT engineer Larry Cloyed; and others involved with the $676 million project. Shucet used a nationwide comparison.

"It's one of the largest, most complex projects under way anywhere in the United States right now," he said.

Although the price tag did jump from $570 million to $676 million last year, Shucet put the lid on future price increases.

"We are on track to finish this project at no more than $700 million," he said.

VDOT engineer Larry Cloyed went through a brief explanation of the previous phases, stopping at Phase IV for a brief explanation of why the I-95 south traffic backs up on I-495 west to Tysons Corner.

"We can't get enough real estate to squeeze a second lane off this ramp," he said.

Once the 120-foot overpass from I-495 north to Baltimore is completed, which Cloyed said would be late fall 2004, that will free up the current merge lane. VDOT will be able to open another lane from Tysons to I-95 south. Farley has been stuck in that traffic jam before.

"I was particularly glad to hear about that ramp from Tysons Corner," he said.

The tallest tower now stands in the middle of everything, with a roadway stopping at the highest point and picking up on the other side of the northbound I-95 lanes. It's been that way for months, but interchange information specialist Steve Titunik said the final span will be built soon. That will require a traffic stoppage, so it will be in the middle of the night.

"That should be within a month," he said.

Phase V will be completed by the end of 2003, and the final phases, VI and VII, are going up for bids in the fall of 2003, according to Cloyed.

FOUR YEARS AGO, the project started as an eight-phase project that included high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on I-495 as well. That phase was trimmed from the drawings, but the price tag did not go down. In the question-and-answer session, Springfield resident Tom Sacks brought this up. He wanted to know when it would be added back onto the project.

"It hasn't been cut, but the key thing is money," said Shucet.

Kenneth Klinge represents the Northern Virginia region on the Commonwealth Board of Transportation. He addressed the Phase VIII question, pointing to an environmental impact study on I-495.

"Until we know the situation on the Beltway, it cannot be built," he said.

Barry Brady, the Hilton general manager, watches the progress from his vantage point in the middle of the interchange, where the hotel is located. Although he couldn't say that business wasn't affected over the four years, the hotel's been full lately.

"VDOT has traffic-managed this beautifully. If it was bad, you wouldn't have three hotels that are opening up," he said, referring to the Courtyard Marriott, the Town Place Suites Marriott on Brandon Avenue and one presently under construction.

"Springfield's becoming a recognizable name," Brady said.

Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, eases the impact on her members, as well.

"There's not a lot of people that are expressing concern at this point. It was a bigger concern earlier," she said.

Del. Dave Albo hears concerns down in Richmond.

"People complain that it's too costly, taking money from other projects," Albo said.

Another costly project in the area is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement with 7.5 miles of highway included with that project, according to John Undeland, at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge center. The total price tag of that project is $2.56 billion, which is split among Virginia, Maryland and the federal government.