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No More Mixing Bowl?

Two more major bridges will open by year's end as part of the Springfield Interchange Project.

The summer of 2005 will be one of progress as the Springfield Interchange Project pushes toward two major milestones.

For commuters, however, that progress will mean several weekend lane closures and detours.

"Summertime is the only time when we can get the steel up. We do our high steel work in the spring, summer and fall, when we can pile it on," said Steve Titunik, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation about the high number of closures ahead.

Larry Cloyed, who is managing the eight-year, $676 million project for VDOT, gave a progress report on the Interchange to members of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, April 12, emphasizing the remaining two years on the project, rather than the past five.

"Rather than focus on where we've been, let's talk about where we're going," said Cloyed.

Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Chamber, said she hosted the first "Interchange luncheon" in 1999, and has hosted them intermittently to allow members of the Springfield business community to hear updates on the project and offer feedback and ask questions of VDOT officials. The Chamber did not host an event last year.

"We're stepping into some new territory as far as openings, and we thought 'Let's do another luncheon, and see where we're going.' There's still questions and people who want to know what's happening," she said.

TWO PHASES, Phase VI and Phase VII, remain in the project, and both will be run simultaneously until the project's completion date of July 18, 2007.

The remaining two projects will build more bridges with the ultimate goal of taking more traffic out of the so-called "Mixing Bowl" where traffic from I-95 merges with traffic heading to destinations in both directions on the Capital Beltway and I-395.

"The primary goal behind this was to deal with the safety issues associated with the weaving and merging," said Cloyed.

With that in mind, VDOT is scheduled to open Bridge No. 627 in July, which will connect I-395 South to the Outer Loop of I-495 toward the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. That project has already meant one weekend of weekend lane closures, as crews hoisted steel beams across the Outer Loop. Another closure was scheduled for this weekend, but with the death of a foreman for Williams Steel on Saturday, April 9, no beam work will take place this weekend.

"Almost every accident is preventable, and you never get used to these things," said Cloyed.

The second major milestone will take place on Oct. 31, when VDOT is scheduled to open a bridge, No. 609, that will take traffic from I-95 North to I-495 East.

"This will signal the end to 95 through traffic mixing with local traffic," said Cloyed.

IN ORDER to make that bridge happen, said Titunik, VDOT will need to close several lanes in the coming months to hoist the steel beams over lanes of traffic.

"We could have three out of four weekends a month where we'll be working," said Titunik, who cautioned that planning lane closures too far in advance is tricky, since factors like weather can cause postponements, as happened the weekend of April 2, when severe rain and wind stopped high beam work. He estimated five to eight weekends of work through early fall.

Other milestones down the road include a "flyover" bridge in May 2006, which will send traffic from I-95 North to the Inner Loop of I-495 toward Tysons Corner, and a milestone in April 2007, which will bring dedicated lanes for I-495 South from Tysons Corner to I-95 South.

Cloyed said while the project is continuing essentially on budget, VDOT is concerned about the abilities of the project's general contractor, Archer Western, to meet the July deadline, which could affect the opening by up to two months, and drive costs up.

"If the contractors slip, their costs go up, and so do mine," Cloyed said.

In all, 15 new bridges will be built through the Interchange Project, bringing the total number in the Interchange to 50.