Lane closure kicks off major work on Beltway widening in Virginia

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A rush-hour traffic lane will permanently close this week along a busy stretch of Interstate 495 in Virginia as major construction begins on expanding express lanes closer to Maryland.

The northbound left shoulder lane, which opens to all traffic during morning and evening trips, will close as early as Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Transportation said. This is the first major traffic change in the corridor under the $600 million highway project, just south of the American Legion Bridge.

Commuters and residents along the busy section of the Capital Beltway should prepare for an expanded construction zone after Memorial Day. The closure will likely worsen traffic delays during peak hours. An average of 240,000 motorists travel daily on this section of the highway near the Virginia-Maryland line, one of the region’s biggest choke points.

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The road widening project will add nearly three miles to Virginia’s high occupancy toll lane system. It will provide the final leg of a toll system on Virginia’s northern portion of the Beltway and eventually connect to Maryland’s proposed toll lanes on the Beltway and Interstate 270.

The work will widen the ring road from the terminus of the 495 expressways near the Dulles Toll Road interchange to the George Washington Memorial Parkway interchange near the American Legion Bridge. The 2½ mile stretch is expected to remain a work zone for over three years.

When completed, four general purpose lanes and two new express lanes will run in each direction of the ring road along this section. Australian toll operator Transurban is funding the project and will manage the lanes under an agreement with the state.

VDOT spokeswoman Michelle Holland said the shoulder space is needed to safely widen the ring road and to rebuild some bridges. She said drivers traveling in the work zone should exercise extreme caution and be prepared for additional delays.

“Add extra travel time,” she said.

Early construction, including drilling and ground surveying activities, began in the fall, but construction officially began in March. With the new traffic lane change, the project contractor will create a safe construction zone, increasing the number of workers and equipment in the hallway after Memorial Day. The toll road extension is expected to open in late 2025.

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The 1½-mile left shoulder lane, which opened in 2015, carries traffic from where the current 495 expressways end to the George Washington Parkway. The shoulder lane was open to all traffic from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. It has also been used to increase road capacity during other times of heavy congestion, such as after an accident.

Project officials said closing the shoulder lane will allow the contractor to create a safe working area in the center of the highway. The central southbound shoulder will also be closed and crews will begin installing a temporary barrier to create the central workspace. In the coming weeks, they will reorganize and realign general-purpose lanes to create additional space in the center of I-495, officials said.

This work will require lane closures, but will take place during off-peak hours to reduce traffic impacts, project officials said.

“We ask travelers to anticipate delays,” Transurban spokeswoman Tanya Sheres said. “Especially in the early days as traffic patterns adjust to the new realignment.”

Drivers will see more traffic alerts on message boards as roadwork escalates.

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Northern Virginia has over 60 miles of toll lanes and is building an additional 35 miles. Transurban already operates the 14 miles of Beltway express lanes from McLean to Springfield, Virginia, as well as express lanes on Interstates 95 and 395, an additional 39 miles. The Australia-based company is also building a 10-mile extension of the 95 expressways to Fredericksburg.

Last year, Maryland chose Transurban to develop high-occupancy toll lanes for the Capital Beltway and I-270. This project, along with a new American Legion Bridge that Maryland and Virginia have agreed to build, will connect to all 495 expressways.

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