July 31, 2007 2:45 PM, EDT

After 8 Years, Va. ‘Mixing Bowl’ Construction Finishes

By Amy McMahon, Special to Transport Topics

This story appears in the July 30 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

After eight years of construction, work on the $676 million Springfield interchange in Northern Virginia, site of one of the East Coast’s worst bottlenecks, is complete.

The new interchange, dubbed “The Mixing Bowl,” includes more than 50 ramps and bridges connecting interstates 95, 395 and 495, as well as 80 lane-miles of pavement.

More than 430,000 total vehicles and 14,000 trucks pass daily through the interchange, where I-95 merges with the Capital Beltway in the Washington, D.C., area.

A two-year study by the Virginia Department of Transportation before the project began recorded 179 accidents — one of the highest rates of any East Coast interchange.

“The Springfield Interchange Project is a stellar example of what the commonwealth and the community can achieve together,” Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said at a dedication ceremony July 18. “It is greatly improving the quality of life for nearly half-a-million motorists a day.”

Dale Bennett, executive vice president of the Virginia Trucking Association, said the completion of the “much needed project” should result in a “smoother, safer and more efficient roadway.”

Bennett noted that a “key benefit” of the project is the separation of local and interstate traffic.
“It is alarming,” he said, to have commercial truck drivers “mixed with drivers who are unfamiliar with the area.”

Kolen Jones, president of Abilene Motor Truck Express, Richmond, Va., said his drivers often began their workdays several hours earlier if they knew they were traveling north through the region.

Jones, who said he has 10 to 12 trucks moving through the interchange daily, said the project will improve safety.

“There is a system for the drivers to learn,” he said, and once his drivers learn to navigate the additional lanes, “travel should be much more smooth.”

Wally Bush, head dispatcher for Wilson Trucking, Newington, Va., said he was hopeful the project would ease congestion, but because of the consistently high volume of traffic, it would not be “the difference between night and day.”

Bush said his drivers add about 30 minutes to expected travel times when moving through the area.

“We don’t have that option [starting earlier], since we’re at the mercy of the freight deliveries,” he said.

Despite the completion of the interchange, motorists and truckers in Northern Virginia remain affected by several other large construction projects, including the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

The first new span, which connects Virginia to Maryland over the Potomac River, was completed in 2006, with the second bridge scheduled for completion in 2008.

Bush said the bridge project is currently a “snag” for carriers, but truckers expect improved traffic flows when it’s completed.

But John Undeland, spokesman for the Wilson Bridge project, cautioned that full improvements may not be seen until 2010, when the Telegraph Road interchange on the Virginia side is finished.

Undeland said current estimates forecast that 295,000 vehicles will travel over the Wilson Bridge daily in 2020, with 11% heavy vehicles.