Mixed Grades for the New Mixing Bowl

After eight years of work and $676 million, the Springfield mixing bowl connecting Interstate 95 with the Washington Beltway is complete. But there is growing concern, reports the Washington Post’s Eric Weiss, that the interchange’s 50 ramps and 24 lanes are so confusing that they could be creating safety problems.

Intuitively, people think that using the right-hand lane will take them to the right. Often, however, fly-over ramps cross the Interstate and take them in the opposite direction.

Weiss quotes commuter John Ulaszek of Arlington County: “It’s like putting the hot and cold knobs on the opposite side of the sink, and people can’t understand why they just got scalded.”

Dangerous driving occurs as drivers figure out their mistake at the last moment and cross several lanes of traffic.

The Virginia Department of Transportation contends that the number of accidents has declined, and that traffic should move more smoothly as locals get accustomed to the mixing bowl’s eccentricities. VDOT is watching the situation carefully and adjusting signage as appropriate.

A couple of months ago, I had my first encounter with the Springfield interchange. I was driving from Richmond to Washington D.C., planning to take Interstate 395 as I had for many, many years. I stuck to the left-hand land, as I had for many, many years. This time, however, I was whisked off to the Beltway, heading towards Maryland. By the time I figured out what was going on — I often zone out while driving, so it may have taken me longer than someone who was more alert — the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was looming ahead and there was no way to turn around!

The second time I ventured through the Mixing Bowl I paid more careful attention and negotiated the spaghetti works without incident. I suspect VDOT is right: After taking a wrong turn and ending up in the wrong state, most people will approach the interchange more gingerly the second time around. Eventually, traffic flows should improve. My elderly mother, who has experienced difficulties of her own, is less sanguine, however. She regards the interchange as just another example of the general incompetence and malaise overtaking our society.

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16 responses to “Mixed Grades for the New Mixing Bowl”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I agree. most locals will make a mistake once and then know better next time

    For the toursistas there is plenty of signage miles before the interchange including big signs saying I-95 North left lanes

    I have noticed a disturbing trend however. Taking I-95 South out of Springfield has become a disaster. The reason is all the mreges have been fixed so you have three fire hoses (I-495, I-95 and I-395) on full blast feeding onto I-95 south. Its approaching 1-66 bad status. This past weekend I went through at 9 AM on my way to Richmond and had problems. Then on my way back North Sunday at 11 AM I looked over and it was backed up again.

    Unfortunatly, it looks like going southbound the bottleneck was just moved two miles south


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    for most folks.. this issue a simple one of signage and getting used to the new patterns

    but one could ask… a couple of questions.

    1. – The first one is .. a “what if”.

    “What if” – the Interstate was NOT for local commuting and Springfield was basically an interstate crossroads with primarily interstate travelers on it.?

    Say.. it walked/talked like some intersecting interstates away from urban areas “work”.

    The second question is to ask whether Springfield has actually fixed something or has it just been a local fix that pushed the problems to other parts of the grid that now need to be “fixed”?

    So the second question is whether or not projects like Springfield are legitimate.. sustainable responses to congestion.

    So .. back to the first question –

    what if I-95 flew “above” and separate from all the local surface roads that “use” I-95 for .. essentially a substitute for surface streets for the locals who live there?

    In other words – no local surface-street ramps…

    Some will say that asking such a question is pure bullcrap.. but go back and look at the original theory and concept of the interstates and they were never envisioned to be local roads but rather roads that ‘connected” the nation and it’s urban areas.

    And I’m not saying we can undo it but what I am saying is that our attitude about “fixing” the problem falls way short of recognizing that fixing Springfield really does “fix” anything.. as much as it just moves the problem somewhere else.

    We talk about 5 billion for Metro. How about 700 million for an interchange that essentially moved a problem from one place to another place?

    Bonus Question:

    We have a thread:

    “Millions for Transportation, Pennies for Congestion Relief”

    which category would we put Springfield? 🙂

  3. Anonymous Avatar


    I see your main point but let me tweak it a bit

    Most of the actual “locals” in that area don’t use the interstates

    Now commuters use the interstates alot and many of them aren’t traveling “interstately”.

    I think you are talking about a third class of road for regional traffic. Thats really what the I-95 corridor needs since Route 1 is basically another interstate.

    In maryland around columbia and points south you have 29, I-95 and I-295.

    From DC to Fredricksburg you have 1-95 and Route 1 (but that has too many traffic lights

    The main issue in the Fburg to DC corridor is that there is no alternative fast road besides I-95.


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “The main issue in the Fburg to DC corridor is that there is no alternative fast road besides I-95.”

    and I-95 was originally designed to do what?

    was it designed to provide a commuting path between Fredericksburg and NoVa?

    Is that the identified need that motivated I-95 to be built?

    OR .. was I-95 designed explicitly for a different purpose that was subsequently co-opted for commuting – which, in turn, has seriously degraded the original design purpose of the road.. ??

    There have been many discussions of building a “bypass” around the DC area – basically abandoning I-95 to the regions commuters .. amid thoughts that the bypass would have few interchanges, perhaps even service plazas only.

    But there are opponents to this idea.

    They say such an idea is silly – that such a road could/should be used for both commuting and for interstate travel…

    I say.. show me an example where that idea “works” .. and I will show you 10 more than don’t work…

    We can’t go back and re-do I-95 and the idea of a bypass, while not totally dead is distant, so the goal now.. is commuter HOT lanes.

  5. Spank That Donkey Avatar
    Spank That Donkey

    My first experience was coming east to west on 495.. hoping to find 66…

    This was last year, and I was hoping for a sign that said vienna.. western side of DC… this way to the Shenandoah Valley… I took 95 S as I thought it was the southern route of 495 taking me to vienna..

    Will God for give us for what we say about VDOT signage?

    I have a good idea though, a beltway to the north or south of the mixing bowl itself… the mixing bowl bypass… allowing easy acess both west and east…

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Most of the actual “locals” in that area don’t use the interstates”

    Gotcha. I’m not “most” of the locals but the mixing bowl is practically in my back yard at my alexandria home. I frequently entered the interstate at Edsl Road, only to get off in Springfield to visit Fisher’s Hardware, the boat supply store, and the woodworking shop. The alternative was a deadly left hand turn and a dozen traffic lights.

    Now, you had to pick your battles, you wouldn’t make the trip during afternoon rush. You would go someplace else, the opposite direction, even if it was farther.

    I’m a small is beatiful type, so I think I agree with JB’s Mom. The mere fact that we have a need to build such a thing is evidence of failure.

    That said, there is a certain aerial and engineering beauty to it. It reminds me of the giant Andes sculptures that can only be seen from the air.

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “show me an example where that idea “works” .. and I will show you 10 more that don’t work…”

    Oh, Sorry. For a minute I though you were referring to Stuart Schwartz’s “alternative”.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I notice you didn;t mention the article in the Commuter section.

    “Five people would have to squeeze into a Camry or an Accord to equal the pollution emitted by five people in five Priuses or Civic Hybrids.”

    Actually, it is probably worse than that, because if you put five people in a Camry, its performance will suffer.

    But then it went on: you would have to put 15 people in a standasrd SUV, or thirty people in a Toyota Sequoia or a Land rover.

    Now, if you follow that line of thinking, what do you suppose it would say about a Metro Bus?

    What this means is that, even if EMR is driving only 4000 miles a year in his SUV, he is still polluting more than my Prius at 20k per year. Probably a lot more, because his SUV never runs long enough to warm up properly.


    The article went on to say that a number of area bus services offer free rides during code orange, code red, or code pueple days.

    Gee, maybe if they offered free rides on code yellow days, then we would have fewer code orange days.

    Or, considering the previous info, maybe not.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “The main issue in the Fburg to DC corridor is that there is no alternative fast road besides I-95.”

    Small is Beautiful. It doesn’t even have to be a fast road. Slower roads actually carry more cars (at lower speeds and shorter distances). But in the I-95 corridor, there is nothing.

    Compare that to I-66 which is paralleled by 50, 29, and Braddock Road. Then again, those roads serve a number of local business centers, so there is actually someplace local to go.

    having said that, the probblem with the mixing boaw is that they were thinking too small. The Exits going west to the beltway and east to Wilson Bridge should have been at least as far south as Dale City.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    If one accepts the premise with respect to what interstates were originally designed for .. agreement that they were not intended to be used as surrogate surface streets …

    … then… have localities and regions with bisecting interstates essentially “used” as de facto surface streets rather than building and maintaining connecting separate surface streets?

    In doing so, have we lost/degraded the utility of the interstate while at the same time making the surface streets vulnerable to interstate incidents?

    Beltways and interstates were NOT originally conceived to give folks more flexibility in terms of where to live and where to work – but instead to move people and goods
    through regions without getting tangled up in their local surface streets.

    I’m not advocating that we go back and undo anything… but rather than we recognize the consequences of using the interstates for local regional purposes and, in turn, the implications with respect to the need for expensive “fixes” like Springfield.

    Springfield did not add network capacity to the Region – as much as it was an emergency fix of a bottleneck that threatened the rest of the region if not delt with.

    Had we known – that by using the interstates as surface streets – the subsequent impact of the traffic generation from land development – we would surely have acquired right-of-way for 24 lanes of mainline and 50 lanes for interchanges

    .. vice trying to backfit in piecemeal fashion – espensive and lengthy projects like Springfield at 700 million a pop and almost a decade of delay.

    The sheer size and scope of Springfield was not needed because of the East Coast I-95 mainline traffic; the need was primarily driven by what was happening to Springfield as a result of local traffic essentially using I-95 as a surface street.
    surface street for the Region.

    What if I-95 through NoVa had been built like tollroads in the northeast that have very few interchanges and service plazas for gas and food – and NOT used for NoVa surface streets?

    The point of all this rambling is not to look back and say “we screwed up” and we have to go back and undo the mistakes but instead.. to ask that if we intend to continue to use I-95 as defacto-surface streets for NoVa – how many more Springfield-type interchanges should we expect to have to pay for? one, two, a half-dozen?

    METRO … IS different in this regard.

    METRO is separate and local from the interstates and well integrated to local surface streets.

    Is it a fair question to ask if METRO is a local surface street in terms of connecting the Region?

    METRO will fairly reliably get you from Point A to Point B most days.

    Did Springfield give NoVa a better transportation network or was 700 million spent to prevent disaster?

    We complain about the cost of Metro.

    Do we complain about spending 700 million for essentially keep the network from further degradation?

    How many more “Springfields” will have to be built to keep the network from further degradation – as opposed to providing better mobility?

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    “Following a deadly toll plaza crash on the Connecticut Turnpike in 1983, the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation abolishing tolls on the state’s roads starting in 1989.”


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    In Massuchestts, only the Mass pike is tolled, and the toll roads in NH have frequent exits. What Northeast tollroads are you referring to?

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The Garden State Parkway for one but it seems like everytime we go north there are quite a few toll roads that have food/gas plazas on them – and so – we never exit and I think those tollways were designed that way on purpose.

    Conversely, areas like Washington DC – rather than protecting the I-95 mainline for mostly through traffic – does use the interstate as a de-facto local surface street and that, in doing so, they are doing something that was not part of the original concept of the interstates.

    Had the concept included the use of the interstates by urban areas, they would acquired far more raw-land right-of-way for the mainline and the major intersections like Springfield rather than having to go back later and pay much higher prices for developed land with expensive structures on them.

    Any discussion of building a new I-95 alternate around Washington would almost immediately become a major controversy with respect to the philosophy about interchanges – because now we know.. what happens.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Here is a link to the photo I submitted to Eric Weiss that resulted in him calling me,

    John Ulaszek


  15. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Any discussion of building a new I-95 alternate around Washington would almost immediately become a major controversy with respect to the philosophy about interchanges – because now we know.. what happens.”

    I’ve said before that we are missing a great opportunity. Rather than build a western bypass, we should build an Eastern Blue ridge parkway. We could run it right across the top of Bull Run mountain.

    This would preclude most interchanges, maybe one at 66 and one at route 7. It would preserve route 15 for the Jorurney to Hallowed Ground, and there is plenty of vacant land up there, no structures to tear down, plus spectacular views.

    There is a small problem with conservation land, but that can be fixed.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: bypass

    to a certain extent – it’s a matter of trust.

    People fear that such a project would be promoted as having few interchanges and then after approval – the commitment forgotten and ignored… just as the I-66 commitment was reneged.

    So .. I don’t think you’ll ever see support from those that might support it… and in fact, they’ll probably oppose no matter what promises might be made…

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