One of the largest and last bridges in the massive Springfield Interchange project is under construction, as anyone who's driven on the Outer Loop of the Beltway can see.
Six sets of 120-ton steel beams have been secured in place over I-495 East, each measuring about 140 feet long. Those beams will become the support structure for the long-anticipated bridge from I-395 to the Outer Loop heading towards Tysons Corners will help further separate the thousands of cars that traverse the Springfield Interchange daily.
"Once we finish this bridge, hopefully by this fall, we'll be about 80 to 90 percent finished," said Steve Titunik, information officer for the project with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Drivers who currently take a ramp from I-395 North to the Beltway will be separated out from those continuing on to the Pentagon or Washington, thereby freeing up more space for all drivers, Titunik said.
"We used to have one road with three different kinds of traffic, but now with all the different splits, everyone will have their own road," he said. "It should really increase the speed at which people will be able to ride through the project."
The big picture, Titunik said, is that "within 15 months, we'll be done" with the highway renovation lovingly nicknamed the Mixing Bowl.
PLENTY OF OTHER road construction remains after the last ribbon is cut at the Mixing Bowl, said Harinderbir S. "Charlie" Warraich, construction manager for the project.
"The I-395 HOT lane project will start after this is completed and then there's some work on the Beltway, plus there's the second half of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge," Warraich said. "We don't get to take a break."
When the I-395 bridge to Tysons opens, another, smaller bridge connecting the Inner Loop of I-495 to Southbound I-95 will also open, allowing local drivers to get to Springfield without having to merge across Southbound I-95 and I-395 drivers, Warraich said.
"Hopefully, those bridges will open at about the same time," he said.
The biggest challenge to building the bridge to Tysons was in the hanging of the steel beams, which are among the heaviest and longest in the project, Titunik said.
"The last few weekends, we've been able to finish hanging the steel so we can close that gap," he said. "Then we'll be in a position to start putting down the pads and rebar and pave that section. We're moving along nicely for a fall opening."
A series of lane closures have been in place for most nights between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., during which workers are playing a game of "beat the clock" before the morning rush hour begins, Titunik said.
"As we put up the next section, we won't have to entirely close parts of the Outer Loop, just a few lanes," he said. "We'll have a lane closure but not a detour which will make things easier."
DURING A TYPICAL closure, traffic is still backed up between a mile and a mile and a half, Warraich said. To prevent further traffic delays, VDOT posts notification of the road work on electronic message boards as far away as Richmond and Baltimore to alert drivers to the construction during larger closures.
"We also put notice out from Florida to Maine with AAA to help out their customers," Titunik added.
Once the bridge to Tysons is completed, most of the remaining work is "little projects" that may be needed in the future, such as extra posts for the expected addition of HOT lanes and paving some of the former ramps to be used with the completion of the Fairfax County Parkway, he said.
"The whole focus of this project was to make this area safer and easier to navigate," Titunik said. "Without question, it will accomplish both. It already is."
The flurry of activity on the roadways around Springfield should make for "an exciting summer," said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
"The new bridge to Tysons will keep local people from having to go on the freeway to get on their local roads," Manney said.
Drivers will have one less place to fight other drivers to merge into, Manney said, which is "great news for through travelers who are heading toward Richmond. It's one more step toward completion and we're all very happy about that."