The most infamous stretch of one of the most congested highways known to man.

One of the busiest and most dangerous areas to be driving in the United States, "The Mixing Bowl" is a section of the Capital Beltway in northern Virginia just southwest of Washington, DC and Alexandria, encompassing several closely-spaced exits.   400,000-500,000 vehicles pass through the intersection of I-95, I-395 and I-495 every day.

My puny little ASCII map can hardly do justice to the thing:

                To Washington
Capital  I-495 _____   ______ I-95/495 Beltway  To Maryland ->
       Commerce ========== St
         VA 644 ============ Franconia Road
        Old Keene   |||
        Mill Rd     ||| SM
                To Richmond

The interchanges are being reconstructed as we speak.   It is no hyperbole to say the area will look like a plate of concrete spaghetti when everything is done.

  • These interchanges are so close together that Federal regulations require they essentially be combined into one intersection.  For good reason; the number of merge areas is mind-boggling.
  • Not only that, the nearby Springfield Mall (SM on the map), a major traffic generator, requires direct ramps of its own.
  • High-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes exist on I-95 and I-395 and will be expanded. The HOV lanes need their own independent set of ramps.
And all of this has to be done while 400,000+ cars drive by every day.

The final cost of the project is estimated to be $567 million (which may grow). The project will take place in several phases, the last of which will not be completed until 2007.

And of course, the slight increase in traffic capacity will be rendered worthless unless the political football known as the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, by which the Capital Beltway crosses the Potomac River into Maryland, is finally reconstructed.

People driving from anywhere north of Washington DC to anywhere south of it are advised to find alternate routes (US 13, US 301, or I-81 depending on your starting and ending points).  You will thank me later.


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