Potential solutions to improve travel time and safety on Interstate 95 were unveiled this week during a public meeting at James Monroe High School and the best options may surprise some commuters.
The plan favors a variety of approaches, such as increased transit or ride-sharing opportunities and interchange improvements, over simply building more lanes on I–95, Virginia Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Nick Donohue told a crowd of about 30 Wednesday evening.
The study tackles problems on the 179 miles of I–95 in the state, primarily congestion and crashes. The study’s first phase pinpointed problem areas, while the current second phase is focused on potential solutions.
Donohue gave a presentation Wednesday covering I–95 traffic data and modeling gathered as part of the study, and highlighted a couple of surprises.
One traffic model studied the long-term impacts of adding lanes to a 52-mile stretch of I–95 from North Stafford to Northern Virginia. Adding one lane would cost $12.5 billion, but showed little improvement. Adding two or three lanes showed improvements, but not enough to justify the costs.
Donohue was surprised by the result, but not entirely.
“We’ve seen this before,” he said, explaining that adding lanes brings more traffic. And he said that would be the case for an area “with so much growth.”
The other surprise was traffic modeling that showed heavy commuter numbers tied to Fort Belvoir. According to the VDOT model, the top three origin points for southbound afternoon peak commuter traffic on I–95 heading to Stafford County were Arlington, Washington and Fort Belvoir.
Donohue said VDOT has never established a connection with Fort Belvoir in relation to commuters. He said part of the study’s plan is to work with government officials to seek a way to provide Fort Belvoir workers better commuting options.
Those options fall in line with the study’s potential improvements, focusing on options like bus service, carpools and van pools while including such ridesharing options as slugging. Donohue added that expansion of the Virginia Railway Express commuter service is another option the study could include.
Other approaches could focus on improved towing service and the use of drones to help clear crash scenes.
Donohue also pointed out several major projects officials believe will improve the interstate’s traffic flow through the Fredericksburg region. The two Rappahannock River crossing projects will add three lanes on I–95 each way between U.S. 17 in Stafford and State Route 3, and the express lanes extension will stretch that toll road from North Stafford to U.S. 17. Those projects should be completed by 2023.
The study also will focus on potentially improving interchanges and road infrastructure in areas around those exits. Such improvements could help when I–95 closes down and detoured traffic floods roads around interchanges.
Donohue highlighted one potential project the study could promote that would add a lane to increase southbound I–95 capacity beyond the crossing projects in an effort to help avoid choke point problems.
Another potential project—hardening I–95 shoulders to allow peak-period usage for traffic—caught the attention of some residents at the meeting. It wasn’t the traffic impact of the plan that drew responses, but the limitations tied to the electronically tolled express lanes.
The state’s I–95 express lanes contract with Transurban precludes the state from making improvements that would impact the toll lanes without compensating the express lanes operator.
The study’s plan would use the shoulders in the opposite direction of peak express lanes usage as a way to avoid the payments.
The I–95 study used more than 3,000 comments from residents, and Donohue said planners will rely on more input as the study recommendations are solidified.
Comments can be made online at va95corridor.org.
VDOT will present the study’s recommended solutions at November public meetings. The Commonwealth Transportation Board will vote on the study recommendations in January.