Nearly 29 hours ahead of the predicted completion time, the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge south span became fully functional for both southbound and northbound Beltway traffic. At 12:01 a.m. Sunday, July 16, all three lanes of Inner Loop traffic were restored.
Bridge project officials had warned of a "worst case scenario" with full three-lane traffic not being re-instituted until 5 a.m. Monday, July 17. Completion of this second half of the traffic switch brings the transfer of all six lanes to the first of the new dual bridges replacing the 45-year-old Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Traffic on the Maryland side of the Potomac River had been reduced to one lane allowing construction crews to take the necessary measures to transfer traffic from the old to new bridge. At 2:28 p.m. July 15, Paul Chang of Mechanicsville drove into the history books by being the last driver to ever cross the old bridge.
Over its lifetime, the old bridge carried approximately 73 billion vehicles over the Potomac River. Chang and four other final crossers of the old span were presented with coins specifically minted to commemorate the opening of the first new span, according to Michelle Holland, WWB Project, public information spokesperson.
Despite anticipated severe traffic backups, which were predicted to be worse than the northbound change over last summer, resulting in seven mile/three hour delays, this past weekend's congestion did not even come close, Holland noted. Backups averaged only one to 1.5 miles with delays topping out at 90 minutes, with some no longer than 30 minutes.
That difference was attributed to the massive public information campaign mounted prior to the Friday night start of the switch. Motorists apparently heeded the warning to "Stay Away From the Woodrow Wilson Bridge," according to Holland.
In addition to the re-opening of the Beltway lanes, the closed ramp in Virginia from I-95 South/Inner Loop to Route 1 North and South has been reopened to traffic. The ramp in Maryland from I-295 South to I-95 South/Inner Loop remained closed until Sunday at 6 a.m. in order to ensure proper cooling of the new pavement. That ramp required more layers of pavement than the beltway lanes.
With the switch-over now complete demolition of the old bridge commenced on Monday morning with preliminary activities. The second span of the new bridge is scheduled for completion in 2008. The overall project got underway in October 2000.