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Interstate 495 shield
Interstate 495
Auxiliary route of the Interstate Highway System
Capital Beltway
Length: 64 mi[1][2] (103.00 km)
Formed: 1958
Major
junctions:
I-295.svg I-295 near Forest Heights, MD
US 50.svg I-595.svgUS 50/I-595 near Glenarden, MD
MD Route 295.svg MD 295 (BW Parkway) in Greenbelt, MD
I-95.svg I-95 near College Park, MD
I-270 near Bethesda, MD
Virginia 267.svg VA 267 near Tysons Corner, VA
I-66.svg I-66 near Falls Church, VA
I-95.svgI-395.svg I-95/I-395 near Springfield, VA

Interstate 495 (abbreviated I-495) is an Interstate Highway that circles Washington, D.C. and its inner suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. I-495 is widely known as the Capital Beltway or simply the Beltway, especially when the context of Washington, D.C. is clear. It is the basis of the phrase "inside the Beltway", used when referring to issues dealing with American government and politics. Interstate 95 utilizes the southern and eastern half of the Capital Beltway to circumnavigate Washington, D.C., and is cosigned with Interstate 495 along that route.

The circumferential roadway is located not only in the states of Virginia and Maryland, but also crosses briefly through the District of Columbia over the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. There is also a short spur of the Beltway in Maryland. The Cabin John Parkway, a short connector between I-495 and the Clara Barton Parkway near the Maryland-Virginia border, is considered an Interstate spur by the Maryland State Highway Administration, and is designated I-495X. The Beltway passes through the Maryland counties of Prince George's County and Montgomery County, the Virginia county of Fairfax County and the independent city of Alexandria, Virginia.

Contents

Route description

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I-95/I-495 concurrency in Maryland

The two roadways, four lanes in either direction, travel together over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and touch down in Prince George's County west of Forest Heights. I-95/I-495 immediately encounter the southern terminus of Interstate 295, known as the Anacostia Freeway, a route that serves downtown Washington D.C. and connects to the planned alignment of I-95 through D.C., Interstate 395. Passing through the interchange, currently under major reconstruction as part of the bridge replacement and National Harbor projects, the two routes interchange with MD 210, a major north–south route into southern D.C. Beyond the MD 210 interchange (also under construction) the Beltway exits the eastern edge of the bridge replacement project.

I-95/I-495 and I-295 interchange (2007)

The two Interstates continue along the Capital Beltway, interchanging with various local highways such as MD 5 and MD 4 on either side of Andrews Air Force Base, which the Beltway travels very close to near its northern edge. Turning north past the MD 4 interchange, the Beltway runs through Glenarden, interchanging with MD 202, US 50/unsigned I-595, and MD 450, the latter route offering access to the New Carrollton metro station and the New Carrollton area.

Turning northwest the Beltway enters Greenbelt Park, intersecting the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in the northeastern edge of the park. Just after the B-W Parkway, the two routes interchange with MD 201, which connects to the southern terminus of the B-W Parkway at US 50 near the D.C. line. Now turned fully west, the Beltway runs through the northern edge of College Park, interchanging with the Greenbelt metro station's access roadway and US 1.

Beyond the US 1 interchange, Interstate 95 encounters its own route at the College Park Interchange and separates from Interstate 495 within this interchange. I-495 continues west, alone, on the Capital Beltway, while I-95 turns north onto its own planned alignment towards Baltimore, Maryland. The interchange includes access to a Park and Ride.

I-495 in Maryland

Continuing west from the College Park Interchange, I-495 enters a heavily developed and populated area. Passing underneath MD 212 with no interchange, the route interchanges with MD 650 near the George Washington Cemetery. After bisecting the Northwest Branch Park, the Beltway interchanges with MD 193 and US 29 south of Four Corners; the interchanges are little more than half a mile apart. Southbound US 29 is the main route into downtown Silver Spring.

Squeezing past Argyle Park and Sligo Creek Golf Course, the Beltway interchanges with MD 97 northwest of Silver Spring and follows an alignment formerly known as Rock Creek Parkway. Twisting along the alignment, through and around Rock Creek Park, the route interchanges with MD 185 near the National Naval Medical Center. Turning northwest, I-495 soon encounters the southern terminus of Interstate 270.

I-270 and I-495 split at a highly complex Y-junction, with separate HOV connections to I-270's HOV lanes and separate ramps to and from MD 355 (formerly known as US 240). 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.

Interchanging with MD 187, I-495 soon meets Interstate 270 Spur, the other side of the I-270/I-495 triangle. I-495 joins I-270 Spur at a converging wye junction; Inner Loop traffic exits from itself at the southern terminus of I-270 Spur, while Outer Loop traffic crosses the spur and enters it from the right. The two carriageways of I-495 temporarily widen to ten lanes and remain ten lanes as far as the MD 190 and Cabin John Parkway interchanges, where the route narrows to eight lanes again. Turning sharply to the west, I-495 meets the Clara Barton Parkway just to the north of the Potomac River, and soon crosses into Virginia over the American Legion Memorial Bridge.

I-495 in Virginia

Immediately after crossing into Virginia, I-495 encounters the western terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway at a trumpet interchange. Continuing south the Beltway interchanges with VA 193 south of Dranesville District Park, then reaches the massive triangle of interchanges between itself, the Dulles Airport Access Road, VA 267, and VA 123. The former interchange with the toll road is a directional interchange, while the latter is a cloverleaf; the entire complex occurs east of Tysons Corner, near the massive Tysons Corner Center shopping mall.

Now running south, the Beltway interchanges with VA 7, the Leesburg Pike, east of the shopping center; passing Dunn Loring to the east the route soon reaches the complex interchange with Interstate 66. In a similar setup as the I-270/I-495 interchange, dedicated HOV connections exist between I-495 and I-66, with many reversible and other directional ramps providing the remaining connections. There is no access between the Outer Loop and I-66 east at this interchange. Instead, Outer Loop traffic must use the eastbound Dulles Access Road exit three miles (5 km) previous to travel to I-66 East. If a driver gets onto westbound I-66 at the Leesburg Pike (VA 7) entrance, the only choice for getting to northbound I-495 is to take I-66 West to the Nutley Street exit and then get back on I-66 East. A similar situation occurs for going from the Dulles Access Road at Chain Bridge Rd (VA 123) to southbound I-495. It is assumed that the driver will know to continue along VA 7 or VA 123 directly to the Beltway. Also, there are multiple ramps from I-66 east to the Inner Loop, with one ramp exiting from the left side of I-66 east and the other exiting from the right.

South of the I-66 interchange, the Beltway crosses under US 29 and VA 237 with no access, then encounters a large braided interchange between itself, US 50, and two local roads; the direct interchange between I-495 and US 50 is a full cloverleaf, while the braided local interchanges between I-495, US 50 and the local roads are modified SPUIs. The entire complex is bounded on the northeast side by Fairview Lake and on the southwest side by an office complex occupied by Mobil.

Continuing due south, the route interchanges with Gallows Road south of the Mobil offices, then skirts the eastern edge of Mill Creek Park before interchanging with VA 236 southwest of Annandale Community Park. Running along the eastern edge of Wakefield Park the Beltway turns southeast and interchanges with the nearly straight VA 620 before turning east near Flag Run Park and running into Springfield, meeting the Springfield Interchange southeast of the Shirley Industrial Complex.

I-95/I-495 concurrency in Virginia

Crossing into Maryland on the Outer Loop over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge

I-95 joins the Beltway within the Springfield Interchange. I-495 also meets the southern terminus of Interstate 395 within the massive interchange complex.

Running due east away from the interchange, crossing to the south of Backlick Stream Valley Park, the two routes interchange with VA 613 a mile east of the Springfield Interchange. 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 Loftridge Park and Burgundy Park the two routes enter Alexandria and soon reach VA 241, a direct route into the city. Within the interchange, the Beltway enters the western edge of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge replacement project.

Crossing into Virginia on the Inner Loop over the Wilson Bridge

Continuing east within the project limits, the two routes encounter US 1, whose interchange with the Beltway is also undergoing major reconstruction as part of the bridge replacement project. Finally, beyond the interchange, I-95 and I-495 cross Jones Point Park and exit Virginia via the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

History

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. Motorists never fully adjusted to the two halves of the Beltway having different numbers. According to Ron Shaffer of the Washington Post, "There were signs stating that to continue on the Beltway, you had to get off at the next exit, when all you really had to do was keep going straight. Lots of resistance from bureaucrats, but eventually we got dual I-95/I-495 signs on the eastern half of the Beltway."[3] So, in 1989, the I-495 designation was restored to the eastern portion, making it a dual I-95/I-495.

Traveling clockwise, the Beltway is designated as the "Inner Loop"; traveling counter-clockwise, it is designated as the "Outer Loop". 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 cannot get off the ground, since local governments object to building additional Potomac River crossings as well as destroying protected "open space" and creating sprawl.

Traffic congestion

Despite numerous widening projects during its history, heavy traffic on the Beltway is a continuing problem. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge – where eight lanes were squeezed into six – was particularly onerous, with miles-long backups daily during commuter rush hours and on heavily traveled weekends. Relief for this bottleneck came on May 30, 2008, when the 12-lane replacement bridge opened to traffic in both directions (the six-lane span carrying Outer Loop traffic had opened in June 2006).

Two intersections on the Capital Beltway are ranked in the top 20 on a study of the "worst bottlenecks in the nation." They are the I-495 at I-270 interchange in Montgomery County, Maryland, ranked third overall, which receives 243,425 cars daily, and the I-495 at I-95 interchange in Prince George's County, Maryland, ranked 11th, with 185,125 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 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. Construction began in 2008. Maryland officials are considering such lanes on their segment of the Beltway, as well as other major commuter highways in the state. Locals who disapprove of these projects have nicknamed them "Lexus Lanes" because of the potential high price for using the lanes in exchange for bypassing congestion. 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. The proposed Purple Line of the Washington Metro subway system is just one example.[4]

Current roadworks

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge under reconstruction, June 2006

The Springfield Interchange in Virginia completed reconstruction in 2007. 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 is undergoing reconstruction in a major project that began in 1999; it will provide 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. The Outer Loop span opened in June 2006, and the Inner Loop span opened in May 2008.

Also, in association with the Wilson Bridge project, The Telegraph Road and U.S. 1 interchanges (exits 176 and 177) in Alexandria, Virginia and the I-295 and MD 210 interchanges (exits 2 and 3) in Maryland are being rebuilt.

The Branch Avenue (Maryland Route 5) Interchange has recently been improved as well.

HOT lanes

The Virginia Department of Transportation is constructing high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in Northern Virginia. Tolls will be waived for buses, carpools of at least three people, motorcycles, and emergency vehicles. Drivers with fewer than three passengers must pay a toll to use these lanes. The project will add two lanes in each direction from the Springfield Interchange to just north of the Dulles Toll Road, and may include repair of existing, aging infrastructure. This will include replacement of more than 50 bridges, overpasses, and major interchanges.[5]

Except at the north and south terminus, the I-495 HOT lane interchanges are not concurrent with existing I-495 interchanges. Moving from I-495 to the HOT lanes will require exiting I-495 and then entering the HOT lanes through a separate ramp. Additionally, many HOT lane access points are for only one direction, which is intended to compliment commuting patterns. HOT lane interchanges under construction are as follows:[6]

Access road Direction of HOT lanes entry
Near Old Dominion Drive Northern terminus
Dulles Toll Road (eastbound) South
Jones Branch Drive North and south
Westpark Drive North and south
Leesburg Pike South
Interstate 66 (eastbound) North and south
Interstate 66 (westbound) South
Lee Highway South
Gallows Road North
Braddock Road North
Springfield Interchange Southern terminus

Exit numbering

Exit numbers on the Beltway have gone through several iterations. Originally, all exits on the Beltway were numbered sequentially in a clockwise direction, starting with exit 1 for US 1 in Alexandria. 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. This caused problems because there were some exits that had the same number in Maryland and Virginia. Around 2000, this problem was solved by renumbering all of the Virginia exits. The exit numbers between the American Legion Memorial Bridge and the Springfield Interchange – Interstate 495's intersection with Interstate 395 and I-95 in Virginia – became a continuation of the Maryland exit numbers from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the American Legion Memorial Bridge. The exit numbers between the Springfield Interchange and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge became a continuation of the exit numbers of I-95 in Virginia.

Exit list

Exits are numbered in a counterclockwise (outer loop) direction, which is the opposite of AASHTO guidelines. The normal standard is overridden due to the presence of Interstate 95, which proceeds northward on the outer loop. Being a main interstate, its number sequencing (south-to-north numbering, which is in accordance with AASHTO guidelines) takes precedence, and the remaining exits are adjusted to conform.

County Location # Destinations Notes
Old
Woodrow Wilson Bridge over Potomac River (state line)
Prince George's 38 2B I-295 north – Washington
2A National Harbor
Forest Heights 37 3 MD 210Indian Head, Forest Heights Signed as exits 3A (south) and 3B (north) on outer loop
37A 4 MD 414 (St. Barnabas Road) – Oxon Hill, Marlow Heights Signed as exits 4A (west) and 4B (east)
36 7 MD 5 (Branch Avenue) – Waldorf, Silver Hill Signed as exits 7A (south) and 7B (north)
35 9 MD 337 (Allentown Road) – Andrews AFB, Morningside
34 11 MD 4 (Pennsylvania Avenue) – Upper Marlboro, Washington Signed as exits 11A (southeast) and 11B (northwest)
13 Ritchie-Marlboro Road – Capitol Heights, Upper Marlboro
33 15 MD 214 (Central Avenue) – Largo, Seat Pleasant Signed as exits 15A (east) and 15B (west)
16 Arena Drive Provides additional access to FedEx Field and Boulevard at the Capital Centre
32 17 MD 202 (Landover Road) – Upper Marlboro, Bladensburg Signed as exits 17A (east) and 17B (west)
31 19 US 50 (I-595) – Annapolis, Washington Signed as exits 19A (east) and 19B (west)
New Carrollton 30 20 MD 450 (Annapolis Road) – Lanham, Bladensburg Signed as exits 20A (east) and 20B (west)
Greenbelt 29 22 MD 295 (Baltimore-Washington Parkway) – Baltimore, Washington, DC Signed as exits 22A (north) and 22B (south)
28 23 MD 201 (Kenilworth Avenue) – Bladensburg, Greenbelt
24 Greenbelt Station Inner loop exit and outer loop entrance
College Park 27 25 US 1 (Baltimore Avenue) – Laurel, College Park Signed as exits 25A (north) and 25B (south) on inner loop
26 27 I-95 north – Baltimore Counterclockwise end of I-95 overlap; no exit number on outer loop
Montgomery 25 28 MD 650 (New Hampshire Avenue) – White Oak, Takoma Park Signed as exits 28A (north) and 28B (south)
24 29 MD 193 (University Boulevard) – Wheaton, Langley Park Signed as exits 29A (west) and 29B (east) on outer loop; inner exit to MD 193 west is via exit 30A
23 30 US 29 (Colesville Road) – Columbia, Silver Spring Signed as exits 30A (north) and 30B (south) on inner loop; outer exit to US 29 north is via exit 29B
21 31 MD 97 (Georgia Avenue) – Silver Spring, Wheaton Signed as exits 31A (north) and 31B (south) on inner loop
20 33 MD 185 (Connecticut Avenue) – Kensington, Chevy Chase
19 34 MD 355 (Wisconsin Avenue) – Rockville, Bethesda
19 35 I-270 north – Frederick Outer loop exit and inner loop entrance
18 36 MD 187 (Old Georgetown Road) – Rockville, Bethesda
17 38 I-270 (via I-270 Spur) – Rockville, Frederick Inner loop exit and outer loop entrance
16 39 MD 190 (River Road) – Potomac, Washington Signed as exits 39A (west) and 39B (east) on inner loop
16 40 Cabin John ParkwayGlen Echo Outer loop exit and inner loop entrance
15 41 Clara Barton ParkwayGreat Falls, Carderock
15 41 Clara Barton ParkwayGlen Echo Inner loop exit and outer loop entrance
American Legion Memorial Bridge over Potomac River (state line)
Fairfax 14 43 George Washington Memorial ParkwayWashington
13 44 SR 193 (Georgetown Pike) – Langley, Great Falls
12 45A SR 267 west – Dulles Airport Signed as exit 45 on inner loop
12 45B I-66 east (via SR 267 east) – Washington Outer loop exit and inner loop entrance
11 46 SR 123 (Chain Bridge Road) – Tysons Corner, Vienna, McLean Signed as exits 46A (south) and 46B (north)
10 47 SR 7 (Leesburg Pike) – Falls Church, Tysons Corner Signed as exits 47A (west) and 47B (east)
9 49A I-66 west – Front Royal, Manassas, Vienna Signed as exit 49 on outer loop; additional left exit (exit 49C) on inner loop
9 49B I-66 east – Washington Inner loop exit and outer loop entrance
8 50 US 50 (Arlington Boulevard) to US 29 (Lee Highway) – Fairfax, Arlington Signed as exits 50A (west) and 50B (east)
7 51 SR 650 (Gallows Road)
6 52 SR 236 (Little River Turnpike) – Annandale, Fairfax Signed as exits 52A (west) and 52B (east)
5 54 SR 620 (Braddock Road) Signed as exits 54A (west) and 54B (east)
4C 57A I-95 south – Richmond Clockwise end of I-95 overlap; no exit number on inner loop
169 SR 644 (Old Keene Mill Road, Franconia Road) – Springfield, Franconia Signed as exits 169A (east) and 169B (west); outer loop exit is part of exit 57A
4B 57B I-395 north – Washington Signed as exit 170B on inner loop
3 173 SR 613 (Van Dorn Street, SR 401) – Franconia
3A 174 Eisenhower Avenue Connector – Alexandria
2 176 SR 241 (Telegraph Road) – Alexandria Signed as exits 176A (south) and 176B (north)
City of Alexandria 1 177 US 1Fort Belvoir, Alexandria Signed as exits 177A (south) and 177B (north)
1 177C Mount Vernon (SR 400)

See also

  • Maryland Route 200 (the Intercounty Connector), which began construction in 2007, uses portions of what was once planned to be the Outer Beltway in Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland
  • Fairfax County Parkway and Prince William Parkway, portions of which are built on rights-of-way acquired for the Outer Beltway in Virginia.

References

External links

Browse numbered routes
< MD 491 MD MD 495 >

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