The new diverging diamond interchange in Stafford County is on the cusp of opening, and the crisscrossing road pattern will be something many drivers have never experienced.
The interchange is a relatively new road design, with the Courthouse Road exit marking just the fifth such diverging diamond design in Virginia, according to Virginia Department of Transportation project manager Beau Hoyt.
Hoyt, along with representatives of VDOT and the contractor, took members of the Stafford Board of Supervisors on a bus tour last week to see the unusual interchange where drivers will cross to the opposite side of the road and back again en route to their destinations. Raised medians and islands separate traffic and traffic signals will manage the flow of vehicles.
“If drivers follow the lane markings and signs, it’s intuitive, the nature of going through the DDI,” Hoyt told the group during the tour. “You won’t even feel like you’re on the wrong side of the road.”
Regardless of the relative simplicity of driving through a diverging diamond interchange, the new pattern is a significant change. VDOT, in turn, is making a big push to prepare drivers for the opening of the new exit, which is slated for the morning of Dec. 7—two and a half years after work started.
VDOT is using several modes to get the word out, including a social media blitz and advertisements in local movie theaters.
In an effort to incorporate the new interchange into the system, VDOT has worked with traffic app providers such as Waze to add the changes at the exit.
Hoyt said VDOT has met with fire and rescue crews and school officials to help prepare for the coming changes.
A public meeting also is scheduled from 5–7 p.m. Monday at Colonial Forge High School so residents can find out how the interchange will work. VDOT staff will give a presentation on the new interchange that includes a video showing how traffic will maneuver through the interchange and staff will set up a “walk-through DDI exhibit.”
The interchange includes a pair of bridges over Interstate 95, along with a span on one of the exit ramps. A new four-lane, divided road will run east of the interchange to U.S. 1 at the Hospital Center Boulevard intersection. The existing intersection at Courthouse Road and U.S. 1 will remain open for local traffic once the project is complete.
Another aspect of the interchange project is expanded commuter parking. There will be two commuter lots with approximately 1,100 spaces combined. Work will continue on the lots after the interchange opening.
A companion to the new interchange is the Courthouse Road widening project, which involves expanding a 1.9-mile section of the road from two lanes to four lanes west of I–95 between Cedar Lane and Ramoth Church/Winding Creek roads. That section of road will be divided by a raised median.
Due to the widening, the intersection of Ramoth Church Road and Winding Creek Road will be realigned, as will the intersection of Kelsey Road and Rockdale Road. Both intersections will be converted into traditional four-way signalized crossings.
New sidewalks and pedestrian paths are also being added as part of the project.
The new I–95 interchange will replace an exit that was built in 1963 and no longer can handle the heavy traffic in that area.
Hoyt said the divergent diamond interchange will improve traffic flow and safety. According to VDOT, after getting a green light to enter the overpasses, drivers can briefly shift to the other side of the road to merge left onto the I–95 northbound and southbound ramps without having to stop.
The design is one reason traffic flows better at such interchanges, but the Stafford exit also includes technology that will allow for real-time management of the stoplights.
According to VDOT, the new exit should prove a safer drive because divergent diamond interchanges “reduce conflict points.”
VDOT spokeswoman Darragh Copley Frye told the group about the state’s first divergent diamond interchange, which was built on U.S. 15 over Interstate 64 at Louisa County’s Zion Crossroads. She said there were no reported crashes when it opened in 2014 and there were no major crashes reported several years after its opening.
“It’s improved safety,” she said.
Supervisors Gary Snellings and Cindy Shelton took the tour of Stafford’s new interchange, and both said they are looking forward to the opening.
“I think it’s gonna be good,” Snellings said.
Fellow Supervisor Tom Coen also thinks the interchange will work. The Colonial Forge High School teacher said he showed the simulation video to his students.
“They’re very suspicious of it” because drivers have to use the wrong side of the road, he said. But Coen added that he is convinced that it will be safer.
Another Stafford supervisor, Mark Dudenhefer, was less enthusiastic about the interchange.
“I’m still not convinced it’s gonna work, but we’ll give it a chance,” said Dudenhefer as he stood in the newly paved lanes of the interchange during last week’s tour. “Ten years from now, is it going to handle capacity?”
VDOT officials believe the interchange is designed to handle future traffic demands. According to VDOT, an average of 16,000 vehicles travel Courthouse Road daily while approximately 136,000 vehicles use I–95 at the exit each day.
On Dec. 7, VDOT crews and Virginia State Police will be on hand as the interchange opens. The opening will begin when three of the existing interchange ramps are closed while the new ramps are simultaneously opened.
One new ramp, from southbound I–95 to the interchange, will remain closed while crews build it. A temporary detour will take traffic from the existing exit ramp along a section of the old Courthouse Road to the divergent diamond interchange. The new ramp is expected to open later in December, along with the widened Courthouse Road.
Traffic will use three eastbound lanes along with three westbound lanes on the interchange. The westbound lanes will narrow to two lanes prior to Austin Ridge Drive.
West of Austin Ridge Drive, Courthouse Road will remain one lane in each direction as work continues on the widening project. The new four-lane roadway in that stretch is slated to open later in December, weather permitting.
Work will continue on the projects into the summer of 2020 as crews wrap up.