Beneath the surface, the Beltway crumbles – The Post
The core infrastructure of the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495 and between Springfield, Va. and Beltsville, Md. also Interstate 95) is approaching the end of its usable life.
Under the surface of all but some recently restored segments, fissures are spreading, cracks are widening and the once-solid road bed that carries about a quarter-million cars a day is turning to mush.
In a perfect world, it would be torn up — the asphalt and concrete, and the bed of crushed stone below — right down to the bare earth. From that fresh start a new and stable highway would grow. But this is the Beltway, and closing down whole sections of it would tie one of the most congested regions in the nation into a Gordian knot.
“With the older base layers under the asphalt, the surface is not able to absorb the pounding the way it used to,” said Doug Simmons, deputy highway administrator in Maryland, home to almost two-thirds of the 64-mile Beltway and to the more serious of the highway’s problems. “It is at that 50-year age point, which is too close to [the end of its life]. It’s a good example of the challenges we’re going to be facing not only in Maryland but other places in the country.”
Two big challenges await getting the Beltway rebuilt:
- funding – the traditional method, the gas tax, doesn’t pull in enough funds to meet the needs and there is no political mandate to raise it to realistic levels. All sorts of ways around raising the gas tax, like multinational companies building privately financed toll roads, are being developed.
- The actual reconstruction would be painful, as Northern Virginia commuters experienced with the 495 Express lanes.
There is some good news – those express lanes on the Virginia side have resulted in a whole new roadway for all drivers, though the income being generated is below projections. The bad news is that the Prince George’s County side of the Beltway handles the I-95 through traffic.
Things will probably get worse before they get better.