However, environmental litigation stopped completion of this plan, and the built portion of I-95 inside the Beltway from the south northward into downtown Washington was redesignated I-395 in 1977. “Maryland Welcomes You” sign on the Outer Loop over the Woodrow Wilson BridgeI-95/I- 495 and I-295 interchange in Maryland seen from the air above the Potomac River (2012)The Beltway (here I-95 and I- 495 together) enters Maryland during its Potomac River crossing over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, west of Forest Heights and National Harbor as a ten-lane highway with a local–express lane configuration including three local lanes and two express lanes in each direction.
After crossing the Potomac, I-95/I- 495 narrows to eight lanes with two local and two express lanes in each direction, and immediately meets the southern terminus of Interstate 295, known as the Anatolia Freeway, a route that serves downtown Washington to the north, connecting in Washington to Interstate 695. The highway passes south of Oxen Cove Park and Oxen Hill Farm and next intersects MD 210 (Indian Head Highway), a major north-south route from southern D.C. to Indian Head in Charles County, Maryland, which also serves the town of Forest Heights to the north at another interconnected interchange.
Heading eastward, the Beltway's (I-95/I- 495) local–express lane configuration ends before it interchanges with various local highways, including MD 5 and MD 4 on either side of Andrews Air Force Base, which the Beltway travels near its northern edge. I- 495 /I-95 northbound approaching the I-595/US 50 interchange in Prince George's County, MarylandTurning northwest, the Beltway then enters Greenbelt Park, intersecting the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (B-W Parkway) in the northeastern edge of the park.
Now turned fully west, the Beltway runs through the northern edge of College Park, interchanging with the access roadway for the GreenbeltMetro and MARC commuter rail stations, then US 1. I- 495 continues west, alone, on the Capital Beltway, while I-95 turns northeast towards Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.
The interchange includes access to a Park and Ride lot which was originally paved as part of I-95's route within the Beltway. The old Rock Creek Parkway alignment follows I-270 north, while I- 495 turns west and enters the only other six-lane segment of the Beltway still in existence; significant levels of traffic exit onto I-270 north, leaving the six-lane segment west of the split adequate.
I- 495 northbound approaching the exit for I-270 Spur, which provides access to I-270, in BethesdaInterchanging with Old Georgetown Road (MD 187), I- 495 soon meets the Interstate 270 Spur, the other side of the I-270/I- 495 triangle. The two carriageways of I- 495 temporarily widen to five lanes each until the MD 190 and Cabin John Parkway interchanges.
(MD 190 provides access to the northwestern portion of Washington, D.C., and to the Potomac and Great Falls, Maryland areas of Maryland's Montgomery County, while the Cabin John Parkway extends to the Clara Barton Parkway along the Potomac River.) Turning sharply to the west, I- 495 meets the Clara Barton Parkway along the north side of the Potomac River ; this parkway provides a scenic route eastward into the western part of Washington, and westward toward the Potomac River's Great Falls.
After this interchange, the Beltway soon crosses the Potomac Gorge into Virginia over the ten-lane American Legion Memorial Bridge. American Legion Memorial Bridge carrying the western section of the Beltway over the Potomac River (2015) Immediately after crossing into Fairfax County, Virginia, I- 495 encounters the western terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway at a trumpet interchange ; the Parkway provides a scenic route to Arlington, Virginia, and downtown Washington.
The former interchange with the toll road (VA 267) is a directional interchange, while the latter is a cloverleaf; the entire complex occurs east of the Tyson's Corner business district. Now running south, the Beltway interchanges with VA 7 (Leesburg Pike) east of Tyson's Corner; passing Dunn Losing to the east, I- 495 soon reaches the complex interchange with Interstate 66, which extends westward to I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley near Strasbourg, Virginia, and eastward to Arlington and downtown Washington.
Instead, Outer Loop traffic must use the eastbound Dulles Access Road exit 3 miles (5 km) to the north in order to reach I-66 East. Continuing east, the Beltway encounters a diamond interchange with a connector road linking to Eisenhower Avenue, which parallels the Beltway for a short distance.
Skirting the northern edges of Loft ridge Park and Burgundy Park the two routes enter Alexandria and soon reach VA 241, a direct route into the city, currently under major reconstruction. Within the interchange, the Beltway nears the western approach to the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.
A short stretch of the bridge just before this sign is in the District of Columbia. Continuing east the two routes encounter US 1, a major north-south highway providing access to Alexandria, Arlington and downtown Washington, as well as various points south in Fairfax County, Virginia. Finally, beyond this complex interchange, I-95 and I- 495 together cross Alexandria's Jones Point Park and exit Virginia via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
The idea of building a highway around the Washington suburbs had been discussed at least since 1944, when Fred W. Tumbler, director of planning of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, proposed an Inter-County Metropolitan Freeway. Backed by Senator Francis Case of South Dakota, the plan called for the highway to begin in Belleville at the nearly completed Baltimore-Washington Parkway, continue west through Silver Spring and Bethesda, cross the Potomac River over a new bridge, head south near Tyson's Corner and Falls Church, turn east by the Shirley Memorial Highway, and end at Route 1 in Gum Springs.
A 1952 amendment called for continuing the highway past Alexandria, over the Potomac River on a new bridge, and reconnect to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Maryland. By December 1952, the plan had evolved into a highway that fully encircled Washington's suburbs.
The highway was intended to reduce traffic and also to offer an alternative route for the military in case of emergency. The federal government gave final approval for the construction of the Capital Beltway (also known as the Circumferential Highway in the planning stages) on September 28, 1955.
The first section of the 64-mile (103 km) long Beltway (including the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River) was opened on December 21, 1961; the highway was completed on August 17, 1964. Originally designated I- 495, in 1977 the eastern portion of the Beltway was re-designated I-95 when a proposed alignment of I-95 from New York Avenue in Washington, D.C., through Prince George's County, Maryland to I- 495 was canceled.
Lots of resistance from bureaucrats, but eventually we got dual I-95/I- 495 signs on the eastern half of the Beltway. This parlance too has led to its own confusion, with unfamiliar motorists imagining two separate, distinct highway alignments, one some distance inside the other.
At entrance ramps to the Beltway and on the on-highway signage, “Inner Loop” and “Outer Loop” shields are posted in conjunction with the route marker shields, although the terms are not emphasized in signage. The Beltway was originally envisioned as primarily a bypass for long-distance eastern seaboard traffic to avoid driving directly through Washington.
However, the explosive growth both of housing and business in the Washington suburbs following the Beltway's completion quickly made the Beltway the area's “main street” for local traffic as well. Numerous large shopping malls, community colleges, sports and concert stadiums, and corporate employment centers were purposely built adjacent to the Beltway, and these added greatly to the traffic, as has the passenger growth of regional airports accessed by the Beltway.
The formerly more affordable price of housing in Southern Maryland versus Northern Virginia, also led tens of thousands of commuters to live in Southern Maryland and commute on the Beltway to Virginia. The newer Fairfax County Parkway in the 1990s helped ease some traffic on the Virginia beltway; however, various proposals to build another complete outer beltway in the outer suburbs has not gotten off the ground, because local governments in Maryland object to building additional Potomac River crossings as well as destroying protected “open space” and creating sprawl.
As originally planned, it was designed with the idea that mainline I-95 through traffic would continue straight through the interchange and south into Washington D.C. as the Northeast Freeway, joining the North Central Freeway within D.C. and running south towards the central business district. When the D.C. government canceled its segment of I-95 in 1977, I-95 was rerouted onto the eastern half of the Capital Beltway, which lost its designation as I- 495 (this was restored in 1989, forming a concurrency of I-95 and I- 495 on the eastern half).
As a result of this rerouting, the interchange was placed under considerable pressure to cater for a traffic flow that it was not designed to handle. Originally, travelers from southbound I-95 to the Inner Loop had to traverse the one-lane cloverleaf ramp in the southwest quadrant of the interchange; after exiting the ramp, traffic then had to weave through Inner Loop traffic headed for US 1.
This unsafe condition was rectified by November 1986, when the flyover from southbound I-95 to the Inner Loop was constructed for I-95 southbound through traffic; the existing one-lane cloverleaf ramp was retained for access to the new C-D lane on the Inner Loop within the US 1 interchange, to segregate through traffic from southbound I-95 and local traffic for US 1. The stump end of the interchange was also modified into its present configuration, and the Park and Ride was built.
View south along I- 495 approaching the Springfield Interchange in Springfield, Virginia intersections on the Capital Beltway are ranked in the top 20 on a study of the “worst bottlenecks in the nation.” They are the- 495 at I-270 interchange in Montgomery County, Maryland, ranked third overall, which receives 760,425 cars daily, and the College Park Interchange in Prince George's County, Maryland, ranked 11th, with 340,125 cars.
The Springfield Interchange, where I-395, I-95, and I- 495 meet, was previously ranked fifth worst in the nation, but recent improvements have taken it off the top 20. Local commuters refer to the Springfield Interchange as “The Mixing Bowl,” although this designation is reserved by highway officials for the even more complicated interchange complex adjacent to The Pentagon on the original Henry G. Shirley Memorial Highway (currently better-known as Interstate 395) at State Route 27 in Arlington.
In April 2005, the Virginia Department of Transportation signed an agreement with two private companies to build high-occupancy toll lanes on the stretch of the Beltway between Springfield and Georgetown Pike. Maryland's officials are considering such lanes on their segment of the Beltway, as well as other major commuter highways in the state.
These new lanes are one stage of a controversial project to widen the beltway, with the second stage involving widening the beltway to 12 lanes; opponents have called for various alternatives to this project (as well as the controversial Intercounty Connector project) which would divert many vehicles off the northern beltway. HOV lanes were added between River Road and the I-270 Spur in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The interchange between I-95 and the Beltway in Prince George's County, Maryland was originally designed to be a cloverleaf to allow I-95 to extend southward toward the District of Columbia. After I-95 was realigned onto the Beltway, a flyover ramp was built to allow I-95 through traffic to have two high-speed lanes.
In the Beltway's original configuration, I-295 and Indian Head Highway had separate interchanges. As a result, north-south traffic between I-295 and Indian Head Highway was forced to merge onto a congested section of the Beltway for approximately one mile.
However, these interchanges were redesigned and rebuilt to accommodate the expansion of the Wilson Bridge and the construction of dedicated ramps to National Harbor. In January 2018, Maryland State Democratic Sen. Joanne Benson of Prince George's County proposed legislation (Senate Bill 55) to increase the speed limit of the Maryland section of the Beltway from 55 to 70 mph, in a bid to reduce traffic congestion on the Beltway.
The eight-year, nearly $676 million project worked to eliminate weaving among local and long-distance traffic between I-95, I-395, the Beltway, and State Route 644. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge underwent reconstruction in a major project that began in 1999; it now provides express and local lanes for both the Inner and Outer Loops.
The new Wilson Bridge is higher and wider than the original 1961 span, which was demolished in 2006. Also, in association with the Wilson Bridge project, the Telegraph Road and U.S. 1 interchanges (exits 176 and 177) in Alexandria, Virginia were rebuilt.
At the left is the elevated ramp to access the HOT lanes from Route 123 via West park Drive (Tyson's Corner). In the background is the Silver Line viaduct. Drivers of vehicles with fewer than three occupants are required to pay a toll to use the lanes.
Tolls are waived for buses, carpools of at least three people, motorcycles, and emergency vehicles with an Pass Flex transponder set to the “HOV ON” configuration. If more than a specified number of carpools or buses use the lanes, Virginia must pay the tolls for the excess vehicles.
However, elsewhere along the corridor, access to and from the HOT lanes is only permitted from cross roads. Many HOT lane access points serve traffic in only one direction of I- 495, which is intended to complement typical commuting patterns.
The partnership has proposed extending the scope of the project too north to the Potomac River. In 2004, Transurban (USA) Development Inc. joined the Floor team to serve as concessionaire and long-term operator of the HOT lanes.
After a competitive procurement, the team was selected to deliver and operate the new HOT lanes. After a series of public meetings and environmental studies, the project was approved and funded in 2007.
View south along I- 495 near Cabin John, a primary area targeted for widening In September 2017, Governor Larry Hogan announced a plan to widen the portion of I- 495 in Maryland by four lanes, adding express toll lanes to the median, as part of an $11+ billion proposal to widen roads in Maryland. The project would be a public-private partnership with private companies responsible for constructing, operating, and maintaining the lanes.
On June 5, 2019, the Maryland Board of Public Works voted 2–1 in favor of the proposal to construct express toll lanes along I- 495, with Governor Hogan and State Comptroller Peter Franc hot voting for it and State Treasurer Nancy Opp voting against it. After the eastern half of the Beltway was renumbered in 1977 as Interstate 95, exits on the Maryland portion were renumbered to the current format, counterclockwise with exit numbers assigned to mileposts.
^ Not the extant parkway in Rock Creek Park within D.C. ^ If a driver gets onto westbound I-66 at the Leesburg Pike (SR 7) entrance, the only choice for getting to northbound I- 495 is to take I-66 west to the Outlet Street exit and then get on I-66 east. ^ a b The Woodrow Wilson Bridge crosses through the District of Columbia for approximately 300 feet (91 m).
“Table 2: Auxiliary Routes of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System Of Interstate and Defense Highways as of October 31, 2002”. The shortest Interstate route segment is I-95 in the District of Columbia which is 0.11 mile long.
(subscription required) ^ “Cost Sharing Urged for Ring Route”. “After 20 Years of Columns, Checking the Rearview Mirror One Last Time”.
Washington, DC: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. ^ “Hogan proposes $9B plan to add new lanes to Beltway, 270 and BY Parkway”.
“Divided Maryland Board of Public Works OKs public-private partnership for highway expansion after explosive hearing”. ^ “The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Provides Position on State's Recommended Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study for the Interstate 495 and Interstate 270 Managed Lanes Study”.
Silver Spring, MD: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. “Daily Traffic Volume Estimates Jurisdiction Report: Fairfax County” (PDF).
“Daily Traffic Volume Estimates Jurisdiction Report: Arlington County” (PDF). “Capital Beltway High Occupancy Toll Lanes” (Map).