Washington’s Capital Beltway has seen many mileposts in its 50 plus years, and tomorrow will mark another with the opening of the “Express Lanes” (High Occupancy Toll). Two lanes each direction, they will run from the Springfield Interchange (I-495/I-395, old Springfield “Mixing Bowl”) to past the Dulles Toll Road, a fourteen-mile stretch notoriously backed up during rush hour and clogged at other times.
If you’re interested in reading about the building of the Beltway, see “Political Parameters” by Jeremy Korr, published in “Washington History, Volume 19 and 20, 2007-2008,” by the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. The construction of the “Outer Circumferential Freeway,” as it was first called, benefited from good timing. The defense and security community wanted ways to evacuate and area residents wanted better ways to get around. The engineers were able to find creek beds and such to build on. Korr also notes, “planning officials had resorted to what was in effect blackmail.” Builders avoided areas along the projected path.
In the 60’s, my family and I used to drive up to Washington to visit our aunt and uncle, who lived in Annandale. I remember passing by the construction zone for the Beltway and being amazed at the depth and width of the project.
And now the much-maligned Beltway widens to a half-dozen each way. The marvel this time is the relatively quick amount of time the workers put it up, the total amount of work, and the literal re-shaping of the landscape. (In the second photo, the ridge of land to the left was where the old I-66 ramp was located, which exited from the left lane to I-66 westbound)
I align myself with progressive thinking, which means I support smart growth. Pouring more and more asphalt is not always the answer. But I have to admit, for now, I will cheer the opening of these new express lanes. We won’t use them, but if they thin out traffic those bottlenecks on the non-paying side, that will be a good thing.