I-95 Transportation Study

Residents check maps during a meeting at James Monroe High School about a study looking at the 179-mile stretch of Interstate 95 through Virginia.

State transportation officials have results from the first phase of a study aimed at improving traffic flow on what could be called Virginia’s most complex interstate.

The 179-mile stretch of Interstate 95 running through Virginia is the most heavily used corridor in the Southeast, Virginia Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Nick Donohue told a crowd of nearly 60 at James Monroe High School on Tuesday night.

Each day, tens of thousands of people move along the I–95 corridor, which boasts all four modes of surface transportation (single-occupant vehicles, rail, bus and car/van pools), Donohue said. No other Virginia interstate uses all of those ways to get around, he added.

Mixed in with the never-ending flow of traffic on the interstate are tractor-trailers. Each year, 9 million trucks use I–95 to haul $195 billion in goods through Virginia, he said.

And all that traffic resulted in 21,000 crashes in the past four years.

The state’s I–95 corridor study follows a similar analysis of Interstate 81, which led to projects and funding for work on that interstate and others, including I–95.

The new study is tackling problems on I–95, primarily congestion and crashes, from the southern end at the North Carolina border to the northern tip in Alexandria.

The first phase pinpointed problem areas, most of which are in Northern Virginia and the Fredericksburg area.

The stretch of I–95 in the Occoquan area has the most problems, according to the data Donohue showed the crowd in a slide show. The Fredericksburg area was the next most troublesome area in most categories, which covered crashes and congestion broken down by the days and times they occur.

Richmond and Hampton Roads didn’t have as many issues on a regular basis, but the area outside of Richmond where I–95 and Interstate 64 intersect is the worst for crashes.

The data also showed commuting patterns.

Donohue pointed out that Northern Virginia commuters are more likely to share rides than those who drive from the Fredericksburg area. He also said the express lanes are moving more cars than it appears, explaining that traffic in the electronically tolled lanes appears light because cars use those lanes most often when the primary lanes are congested.

Donohue said the next phase will highlight possible solutions to problems, but also told the crowd there are 11 projects underway in the corridor that could address at least some problems.

One project is in the Occoquan area. Donohue described that as “good news,” but not great, because more will need to be done in that area.

He also pointed out Fredericksburg-area projects, such as extending the express lanes to U.S. 17 in Stafford County and the Rappahannock River crossing projects, which will run to State Route 3 in Spotsylvania County.

The toll-lane extension will add two reversible lanes in the median. The crossing projects will add three lanes in each direction in the median, and will include two new bridges between the existing spans over the Rappahannock. The crossing projects’ lanes will also separate local drivers from through traffic.

The combination of the toll lanes extension and the non-toll crossing projects will add more lanes each way from the North Stafford area to Fredericksburg.

“We think that will help,” Donohue said, but he added that, “There are more problems on the I–95 corridor than dollars to fix them.”

The Long Bridge carrying rail traffic over the Potomac River is one major project in the corridor that is unfunded. The $1.6 billion project would address a choke point problem on the only rail bridge between Virginia and Washington.

Still, he said, the study can serve as an important tool to devise the best way to improve travel on the interstate.

The next local meeting on the study will be held in September. That will be followed by one more meeting, in November, before the Commonwealth Transportation Board analyzes the study findings and determines what to do.

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436 sshenk@freelancestar.com

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