State completes Mark Center traffic improvements

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State completes Mark Center traffic improvements
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By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

It took 10 years of planning and construction, but with the opening of a new pedestrian bridge over Interstate 395 last month, the Virginia Department of Transportation completed its work to ease traffic congestion near the Mark Center.

The city and VDOT began discussions about traffic impacts after BRAC-133 relocated to the Mark Center and began moving approximately 6,400 federal employees to the building in 2011. What was already a busy interchange was made even more congested by the federal government’s decision to relocate to the Mark Center, and brought several changes to the area’s roads.

Those changes included a ramp for high-occupancy vehicles that links the I-395 HOV lanes and Seminary Road and an auxiliary lane for I-395 northbound between Duke Street and Seminary Road. A triple left turn from westbound Seminary Road onto Beauregard Street and a double left turn from southbound Beauregard towards the Mark Center also were added, while the eastbound ramp from Seminary Road to southbound I-395 was widened. The improvements cost a total of $76 million.

“There were quite a few roadway improvements that were completed prior to even the facility opening. Then, of course, these most recent ones that have been completed this year, which are all working together to alleviate the impacts of any kind of congestion that could occur near the development,” said Carrie Sanders, acting deputy director of the city department of transportation and environmental services.

The new pedestrian bridge separates those on foot from vehicle traffic on Seminary Road, which crosses I-395. It connects the sidewalks in front of the Southern Towers apartment complex and the sidewalk on the east side of the interstate.

“It was approached from a multimodal transportation angle, so certainly there were traffic improvements to deal with increased traffic flow and congestion,” Sanders said. “There were also transit improvements that have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. There were also safety improvements such as a bridge that was recently opened.”

The HOV ramp is for use by those in carpools or HOV-exempt vehicles like public transit at all times, not only during rush hour. This is despite HOV rules on I-395 ending when peak travel times end. Sanders said the city will monitor usage of the ramp, which aims to deter people from driving alone to Mark Center.

“I think right now, it’s probably too early to make a determination yet about the usage,” she said. “Because it is quite new, we would want to give it a little bit more time for people to learn about it and utilize it. I think certainly we want to see it well-used, we want to see it being a tool to help traffic congestion in that area and help throughput of that corridor.”

Beyond the traffic improvements, Sanders pointed to council’s reaffirmed support for the West End Transitway in April as just one of many transportation improvements coming to the area. The transitway would link the Van Dorn and Pentagon Metro stations using a combination of dedicated travel lanes for buses in one or both directions as well as through mixed traffic.

“That’s a really essential project for the city’s transportation master plan, and that is going to be a project that will be a corridor with utilization of a direct service from Mark Center all the way to the Pentagon through the transitway,” Sanders said. “That is a big project for the city, and we’re enthusiastic that a locally preferred alternative has been selected and we’re now moving through the project development phase with the FTA.”

In addition to that proposal, which is slated to enter the             design phase this summer, the Mark Center has become a transit hub as part of planning for the BRAC-133 relocation. With five bus stops, routes like the AT2X from DASH that runs between the King Street Metro station and the Mark Center with no stops and the 7N and 28X offerings from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Sanders said there are plenty of options.

Sanders said the city and VDOT will continue to monitor traffic, and the usage of the HOV ramp in particular, as motorists hopefully begin to change their travel habits. Monitoring traffic as it moves into the center of the city is also an important point of emphasis.

“From a standpoint of traffic management, we’ll continue to monitor the traffic flows and also the city is looking at perhaps more detailed origin destination studies in terms of traffic and how that traffic is moving off I-395 into central Alexandria,” Sanders said. “That’s something we’re looking to monitor a little more closely over the next few years, particularly with these new lanes opening up on I-395.”

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