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Capital Beltway

The Capital Beltway (in green)
The Capital Beltway is an expressway-class highway which circles the Washington, DC area. It is also commonly referred to in phrases such as Inside the Beltway when referring to issues dealing with American government and politics.

The name of this freeway while it was still in the planning stages in the 1950s was Circumferential Highway. The Interstate 495 (I-495) Capital Beltway was completed in August 1964. The first section was opened on December 28, 1961, and included the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia. I-495 is 64 miles long; with 22 miles in Virginia, and 42 miles in Maryland. When opened, the road was four lanes wide (two each way) from Interstate 95 at Springfield, Virginia to the George Washington Parkway interchange near the American Legion Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River near Cabin John, Maryland. The bridge and the rest of the Beltway (50 miles) had six lanes (three each way).

In 1972, Maryland finished widening the Beltway to eight lanes (four each way) from MD-210 Indian Head Highway to MD-97 Georgia Avenue, a distance of 29 miles. In 1977, Virginia finished widening the Beltway to eight lanes from US-1 Jefferson Davis Highway to VA-193 Georgetown Pike, a distance of 21 miles. In 1990, Maryland widened the Beltway to eight lanes from MD-97 Georgia Avenue to I-270/MD-355, a distance of 4 miles. In 1991-92, Maryland and Virginia widened the Beltway to eight lanes from I-270 Spur to VA-193, a distance of 5 miles; this included the American Legion Bridge and approaches to each interchange closest to the river, which was widened to 10 lanes. The 3 miles of Beltway between I-270/MD-355 and I-270 Spur is adequate at six lanes, as the traffic volume is about 1/2 of that of the adjoining sections of the Beltway.

The Beltway was designated I-495 throughout from 1964 to 1977. In 1977, the eastern portion became I-95, and Shirley Highway inside the Beltway was changed from I-95 to I-395. This was done because of the cancellation of proposed I-95 from New York Avenue in D.C. northward into Prince George's County to I-495. The I-95 designation was moved to the eastern half of the I-495 Beltway in 1977, and I-495 was removed from the eastern half of the Beltway, and I-395 replaced the I-95 designation on Shirley Highway from I-495 to the 14th Street Bridge, on the 14th Street Bridge itself, on the Southwest Freeway in D.C. and on the Center Leg Freeway in D.C.

Motorists never fully adjusted to having a full-circle beltway with halves with two different numbers (I-95 and I-495). In 1989, the I-495 designation was applied back to the eastern portion of the beltway, so the whole beltway is again I-495, and the eastern portion is I-95 also. The beltway has the clockwise direction (as in looking at a map of the Beltway) signed as the Inner Loop, and the counter-clockwise direction is signed as the Outer Loop.

The Capital Beltway was originally built with 38 interchanges, and today it has 40 interchanges (Eisenhower Avenue Connector and FedEx Field were added recently). High-speed directional ramps were built at the northern I-95 junction in 1986. A number of interchanges have been expanded. There are studies underway at present to widen sections of the beltway to ten or twelve lanes. The traffic volumes on the beltway range as high as 225,000 vehicles per day. Heavy traffic on the Beltway is a continuing problem for the Washington area, which according to studies has some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States.

The only remaining six-lane Beltway section (other than the adequate six-lane section between the I-270 wyes) is the 2 miles of Beltway comprised of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (WWB) and approaches from US-1 to just east of I-295.

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Capital Beltway (I-495 and I-95) " class="external">

Current Major Renovations

Springfield Interchange Project

The interchange of Interstates 95, 395, and 495 in Virginia, in addition to the large complex of junctions along Interstate 95 just south of the Beltway (all commonly referred to as the "Mixing Bowl"), has been undergoing a major reconstruction and widening since 1998, and completion is expected in 2005. When completed, parts of the beltway within the Mixing Bowl will be as many as 24 lanes wide.

Springfield Interchange Project " class="external">

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, a one-mile, six-lane drawbridge spanning the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland, connects eight-lane sections of the Beltway and I-95 corridor on both sides of the river, and causes massive daily traffic congestion during peak travel hours. Also, the bridge, built in 1961, was meant to carry 75,000 vehicles a day, but now carries over 200,000. Consequently, it is falling apart, and cannot handle heavy truck traffic beyond 2005. Construction began in 2000 to build a two-span, twelve-lane bridge to replace the existing bridge and rebuild interchanges on both sides of the river; completion is expected in 2008.

Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-495 and I-95) " class="external">

External links