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Thursday, May 5, 2016

New pedestrian bridge crosses I-395 at Seminary Road

A new pedestrian bridge over Interstate 395 parallel to Seminary Road opened May 4. The bridge links a sidewalk in front of Southern Towers Apartments to a sidewalk along Seminary Road on the east side of I-395 in Alexandria.

The bridge, designed for bicyclists as well as pedestrians, is the final element in a $76 million Virginia Department of Transportation project aimed at relieving traffic congestion associated with the relocation of thousands of federal workers to the Mark Center.

Students use the new bridge to walk home from Francis Hammond Middle School to Southern Towers.
That project also includes an auxiliary lane on northbound I-395 between Duke Street and Seminary Road, a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) ramp from the I-395 HOV lanes to Seminary, and a rebuilt Seminary Road overpass.

Construction started in 2013 with the 0.8-mile auxiliary lane on northbound I-395 and the demolition of the Seminary Road bridge carrying motorists over I-395, and reconstructing the overpass, while
motorists traveled through a temporary lane configuration. Nearby residents who had bitterly opposed the ramp had lost a hard-fought battle to stop it.

All lanes of Seminary Road reopened in early January, followed by the new HOV ramp. Minor work on the landscaping, sound walls, and lighting will continue this month.

The new HOV ramp is restricted to vehicles with three or more occupants and HOV-exempt vehicles. According to Robert Thomas in the “Dr. Gridlock” column in the Washington Post, drivers have been surprised that those restrictions are never lifted even though the HOV rules on I-395 are only in effect during peak travel hours. There have also been complaints that few drivers use the ramp on non-peak times.

Southern Towers as seen through the metal fencing on the pedestrian bridge.
“The last thing the VDOT planners wanted to do was give people an incentive to drive solo in the vicinity of the Mark Center,” Thomas says, while Alexandria officials “did not want VDOT to do anything to encourage long-distance drivers to use the ramp to connect with local streets as part of a cut-through commute.” The planners expect many employees who have been relocated to the Mark Center will eventually move to new homes south of Seminary Road, so traffic on I-395 and the new ramp will increase over the years.

Meanwhile, VDOT expects to start construction in 2017 on replacing the HOV lanes – for eight miles, generally between Edsall Road and Eads Street in Arlington – with high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. The project includes the addition of a third lane, providing three reversible express lanes.

The work will be done by Transurban under the current agreement it has for developing express lanes on I-95 south of Turkeycock Run. Vehicles with three or more people can use the express lanes for free; those with fewer occupants will have to pay a toll if they want to use the express lanes.The amount of the toll will vary according to traffic conditions.

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