Take out the spoons: the Mixing Bowl is one step closer to being un-mixed.
A ribbon cutting ceremony took place Tuesday morning, Jan. 10, to officially open a bridge that will allow commuters who take Interstate 95 Northbound to access the highway a half-mile sooner, eliminating yet another heavily congested area during rush hour traffic.
"This is one of the biggest improvements we've made as of yet to the Interchange," said Steven Titunik, information director for the Springfield Interchange project. "It will make many commutes, especially during the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. rush hour, tremendously better."
The I-95 Northbound bridge is a companion to an overpass that opened in May 2004, Titunik said, which opened up the southbound I-95 traffic and eliminated congestion during the afternoon rush hour for commuters heading through Springfield en route to Richmond or the southern part of Fairfax County.
"This bridge will help eliminate some of the most dangerous merge areas during the morning rush," he said, which should also help to increase the speed by which commuters get through the Mixing Bowl by between five and eight minutes.
Weather permitting, the I-95 Northbound bridge will open for commuter traffic early in the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 18, Titunik said.
WITH ALMOST a year and a half left until the scheduled completion date for the Interchange, many elected officials who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony applauded the Virginia Department of Transportation and Archer Western, the construction company charged with building the bridges, for keeping the project on time and on budget.
"This bridge cost about $25 million," Titunik said. "We're still looking to keep the entire cost of the project under $700 million, and our goal of $676 million is still a reachable target."
Opening the I-95 Northbound bridge is just one of 10 projects scheduled for completion in 2006, including a bridge that would ease traffic headed towards Tysons Corner that is expected to open this summer, he said.
The bridge will "close the loop on the I-95 flyover in Springfield," said Larry Cloyed, VDOT project manager for the Interchange.
With so many traffic problems plaguing Northern Virginia, major renovations like the Mixing Bowl continue to "provide the biggest bang for the buck," Cloyed said. "We can make significant changes at a small cost, but it comes to major improvements, it takes a substantial investment in our infrastructure to cure problems and not just band-aid them."
Completion of the bridge drew the attention of state lawmakers and marked one of the last public appearances for Gov. Mark Warner (D) before leaving office.
"This bridge will give much-needed relief to folks coming from the south," Warner said before participating in the ribbon cutting ceremony high above central Springfield.
He applauded VDOT for turning itself around during his administration, citing the Mixing Bowl project's own progress as a benchmark of success.
"The Springfield Mixing Bowl was the epitome of what was wrong with the state's transportation system a few years ago, and it didn't look like it was ever going to be finished," Warner said. "Now, it is 80 percent completed. This is a great tribute to the men and women who have made this all possible."
Although he has not taken the oath of office yet, Gov.-elect Tim Kaine also took time out to congratulate VDOT on the Mixing Bowl's progress.
"We feel confident that Archer Western and VDOT will complete this project on time and on budget," Kaine said. "Opening this bridge will make the lives of the 7,500 commuters who go to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge every morning that much easier."
THE CHORUS OF "on time and on budget" was sounded by many during the ceremony, including Pierce Homer, secretary of transportation for VDOT.
"Four years ago, this project was a symbol of mismanagement. Today it is a symbol of good management," he said. "This project is the perfect example of reform and improvement at VDOT."
Last summer, when Archer Western failed to meet several deadlines on the Mixing Bowl timeline, concerns arose that this bridge would not open on time, Homer said. "To their credit, VDOT and the contractors identified the problems early in the project and were able to correct it to keep this project on time," he said.
For local businesses, the impact of the new bridge may not be immediately detected, said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
"It's one more step forward ... it'll be a bigger deal when the traffic starts moving," she said.
People who live and work in Springfield may not notice the difference because "we see things moving around here every day," she said.
When traffic starts to flow through faster and without some of the bottle-necking that has become a daily event, Manney believes people will begin to take notice.
Every time another bridge is completed and opened, another step toward "providing the infrastructure needed to allow Springfield to become what it can be," she said.