VIDEO: First Exit Ramp From Capital Beltway to I-66 to Open Ahead of HOT Lanes' Finish
Mon August 22, 2022 - Northeast Edition Washington Post & VDOT
Construction is finally winding down on Interstate 66 in northern Virginia where a multibillion-dollar widening of the freeway, along with new express lanes, are slated to debut in December.
Ahead of that, a new exit ramp carrying the Capital Beltway's northbound traffic onto westbound I-66 is planned to open around Aug. 25, the Washington Post reported Aug. 18. It marks the first ramp and bridge in that area to carry traffic as part of the overall project.
Road crews have been busy to complete I-66's high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, stretching from University Boulevard in Gainesville to the Beltway, by the end of the year, exactly five years after construction first began, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) noted on its website.
The state agency told the Post that paving and striping will wrap up in the coming months while crews continue working on opening new ramps and bridges, installing signage and toll gantries, and testing tolling technology.
Unlike other major transportation projects in the Washington, D.C., region — such as the nearby Silver Line Metro extension and Maryland's Purple Line rail project — the I-66 lanes are on schedule and on budget, despite pandemic and supply chain challenges, VDOT officials said. When the interstate's HOT lanes are opened, they will bring a transformational shift to the busy 22.5 mi. of highway outside the nation's capital.
"We have billions of dollars' worth of work, and we're delivering it on time, with everybody working hard together in some very unusual times," explained Susan Shaw, VDOT's director of megaprojects.
I-66's Expansion to Be Region's Latest Express Lanes
The Post reported that the expansion of I-66 outside the Beltway is among Virginia's largest and most expensive transportation projects in history, sporting a price tag of about $3.7 billion. The project has been built through a public-private partnership between the state and I-66 Express Mobility Partners, a consortium of investors that will support and operate the toll lanes under a 50-year concession.
The interstate's enlargement will keep three general-purpose lanes eastbound and westbound, adding two HOT lanes in each direction, and 10 through-travel lanes, the latter of which will connect with 10 mi. of rush-hour, peak-direction toll lanes that opened in December 2017 between the Beltway and the District.
They also are the latest addition to the region's growing network of express lanes, of which more than 60 mi. are in northern Virginia. VDOT officials told the Washington Post that they expect the improvements to interchanges, ramps and transit connections will provide much-needed relief along the traffic-choked corridor.
Drivers are starting to see some of those upgrades, as new bridges and ramps are nearing completion. In addition, traffic patterns along the corridor are changing, with lane closures and split traffic in several stretches. Ramps that recently have opened include those at I-66's interchanges with Virginia Route 123 and Va. 234.
Elsewhere, a final installation of bridge beams will begin soon on the I-66/Va. 28 interchange — the corridor's busiest junction after the Beltway — where work also includes the removal of four traffic signals between Westfields Boulevard and U.S. Highway 29 in Centreville to help reduce traffic backups.
Another Big, Expensive D.C.-Area Project
Construction crews have worked at 12 interchanges, on 63 bridges and overpasses, and along more than 11 mi. of new bike trails in the corridor, according to VDOT. Workers have collectively put in more than 11 million hours, the agency noted, working with more than three million tons of asphalt and 57 million pounds of steel.
At the project's peak, as many as 2,000 workers were on-site completing about $70 million worth of work each month. As the project ramps down during its fifth year, crews are still working at several different points along the corridor, the Post noted.
Nancy H. Smith, a spokesperson of FAM Construction, a joint venture of Ferrovial Construction and Allan Myers, said as many as 1,000 workers currently are on-site.
"We're kind of sliding back down that hill but still at over $30 million of construction activity a month, which is just massive," she told the newspaper. "We are looking forward to opening the express lanes by the end of the year and being able to bring more reliable travel options to the corridor."
When that happens, motorists will be able to choose between the general lanes, which will remain free, or the new toll lanes, which buses, carpoolers and motorcyclists can use toll-free. Solo drivers will pay to use the lanes, while carpoolers will need an E-ZPass Flex transponder to access the lanes without paying. The lanes will utilize a dynamic pricing system, with tolls that rise and fall based on traffic conditions.
Project Opening Just a Few Months Later Than Planned
An opening this year would be a significant accomplishment for a Washington-area project of this size. The I-66 express lanes originally were expected to open in July, but VDOT officials explained that early in the process, the timeline was adjusted to a late 2022 opening due to delays in financing.
Other major projects in the region also have been plagued by lengthy delays, including an extension of the I-95 express lanes to Fredericksburg, Va., which originally were to open this year but are now projected to be finished in late 2023 at $100 million over budget.
Additionally, the Silver Line extension in Virginia and the Purple Line light-rail project in Maryland are years behind schedule and millions over budget, the Post noted.
Along I-66, drivers will continue to see more traffic splits in different stretches of the freeway as paving operations move forward. Most of the remaining work is in the eastern end of the corridor, as well as at the Beltway and Va. 28 interchanges. The western section has toll gantries up and is ready for testing, VDOT officials said.
"There will continue to be some traffic shifts," Shaw explained. "Driving through those major interchanges, people need to stay alert and look for new traffic patterns as we finish up."
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