It may look like a Lego project, snapping the remaining beams in place to close the 286-foot gap above I-95, but the project this Saturday night will prove monumental for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Northbound lanes on I-95 will be closed from 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16, to 10 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 17, as beams are spliced on the ground, lifted into place and spliced again on the piers in one of VDOT's biggest feats so far in the interstate interchange project. This is the first of two consecutive weekends where that part of the highway will be closed.
"This is the first time we've ever shut something down for the overnight period. The best way is to do it and get it over with," said VDOT interstate interchange spokesperson Steve Titunik.
Tom Farley, VDOT district administrator, said all the options were examined beforehand, and their plan is the safest way.
"We are doing this in the interest of safety. We believe this is a minor inconvenience for the safety of the public," he said.
Starting at 6 p.m., one lane will close at a time just south of the I-495/I-95 overpass. By 8, all the lanes, including the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, will be closed, and traffic will be diverted around the highway. Northbound traffic will be directed to take the ramp to I-95/I-495 to Baltimore, get off on the Van Dorn Street exit and head back the other way and pick up I-395 north or continue on I-495 west. Alternate routes include taking Backlick Road north to Braddock Road, or the Springfield-Franconia Parkway exit to Van Dorn Street, to I-495 east to Maryland. Consulting local maps may be necessary.
Motorists are being warned of a 45-minute wait. No matter how prepared everyone is, VDOT project engineer Larry Cloyed knows there will be delays.
"There's no question in our mind there will be backups. We could potentially deal with 60,000 vehicles, backups could extend two to five miles," Cloyed said.
Although VDOT started a program to contact Richmond and points as far south as Georgia about the highway closing, they are estimating a potential of 60,000 cars coming through at that time. Titunik noted four groups of motorists they have to get the word to. These include greater D.C. traffic, northbound traffic, truck routes and Redskin fans heading to the stadium in Maryland for the preseason game against the Patriots. They are hoping trucks will use the Route 301 bridge and avoid the whole area.
"Fortunately in this area there are great alternate routes," he said.
ALTHOUGH THERE is a football game, East Coast beach traffic, weekend traffic and overnight trucks to contend with, Saturday night into Sunday morning was their best option. They did not want to deal with weekday rush-hour traffic at any point.
"Saturday evening is our least volume evening," Cloyed said.
If all goes well and the three beams are put up that night, motorists are still not in the clear. They will have to do it all again the next weekend to put up the remaining three beams. And weather is another factor. At one point Saturday afternoon, they will watch the weather, and when they decide to go, there's no turning back. A sudden rainstorm in the middle of it is a factor they will deal with, but winds above 15-20 miles per hour will stop the project.
"Once we're committed to this project, we're committed," Cloyed said.
On Monday, Aug. 11, VDOT officials laid out their plan for the media so they could get the word out. They made an animated video, the "B610 Lifting Plan," to illustrate what needed to be done. Their plan would have the cranes complete the lifting by 4 a.m., Sunday, clear the road and open to traffic at 10 a.m. The same thing is scheduled for the next weekend as well, Saturday, Aug. 23.
In September, the other gap between two piers on the same bridge will be completed, but it is alongside the ramp to I-495 east and not over the highway. They will be able to do that with 15-minute traffic stoppages, as they did on other parts of the project.