A few years from now, Interstate 95 will be transformed through the Fredericksburg area with the extension of the express lanes and the construction of the two mammoth Rappahannock River crossing projects.
Those projects are expected to help improve traffic flow through the corridor.
But transportation planners say it’s likely the interstate will eventually still need more general purpose lanes. The widening could come in the form of a new fourth lane in each direction between the State Route 610 exit in North Stafford to U.S. 17, by converting the inside shoulder to a new lane.
But one of the congestion fixes could stand in the way of those fourth lanes ever being added.
The express lanes extension, from the current North Stafford merge to the area of U.S. 17, could include a clause that requires “competition compensation” for any transportation projects that impact the electronically tolled lanes. The same clause was part of the agreement between the state and Transurban for the express lanes, which opened in late 2014.
In that vein, the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization will send a letter to the state asking to allow those lanes to be added without restrictions that could be part of the agreement between Virginia and Transurban for the express lanes extension.
FAMPO Administrator Paul Agnello said in an interview this week that there are no plans to add the fourth lanes in the near term, but eventually that would be the plan.
In the letter, FAMPO notes that last year I–95 in Stafford was tabbed as the worst choke point in the U.S., according to a study by traffic data company INRIX.
The letter says the express lanes extension and crossing projects will help ease congestion problems in the corridor. But it points out an issue the express lanes won’t be able to address.
The tolled lanes help ease congestion in one direction, which “works well for peak weekday commuter traffic where heavy traffic is one direction,” the letter states. The problem “with peak weekend traffic, however, is that the traffic can be at peak level in both directions at the same time.”
FAMPO is concerned that adding the fourth lanes “may be significantly restricted by the planned agreement for the extension of the 95 Express Lanes,” which “could require that the Commonwealth provide competition compensation to the operator of the 95 Express Lanes if additional general purpose lanes are provided in the future.”
Agnello said it's not clear how much that compensation would amount to. He noted that a project to add lanes on I–95 in Prince William County was scuttled after officials learned they would have to pay the fee to express lanes operator Transurban.
He introduced the letter to the Policy Committee on Monday.
Current committee Chairman Tim McLaughlin said he had already read the letter.
"I'm okay with it," he said.
Without comment, the committee voted to send the letter.
New fourth lane approved
While there is concern about adding future additional lanes on I–95, one small Stafford County section of the interstate will get a new fourth lane.
The fourth lane project, which will convert just more than one northbound mile of the existing shoulder of I–95 between Centreport Parkway and the U.S. 17 area in Stafford, arose from a recent study conducted by FAMPO.
“That’s a major improvement,” Agnello told the Policy Committee at Monday’s meeting.
While the fourth-lane project cost hasn’t been finalized, Agnello pointed out that converting the shoulder will cost quite a bit less than building an entirely new lane from scratch.
In an interview this week, he cited as a cost comparison two projects, one where a new lane will be added by converting the paved shoulder, the other would build new lanes from scratch.
One example is the planned fourth-lane project in Spotsylvania County. The project also will convert the shoulder into a new lane, along a roughly three-mile stretch from State Route 3 to the Massaponax area. The project will cost about $40 million.
The other project is the express lanes extension, which covers 10 miles. The new lanes as part of that project will cost about $60 million a mile, Agnello said.
The fourth lane will link up with a new lane in the crossing project and the section of I–95, between Enon Road and the Centreport Parkway exit, that already has four lanes, Agnello said.
Work on the fourth lane is expected to be done while crews build the massive northbound crossing project, which will add three feeder lanes to I–95. The new crossing lanes will run from the U.S. 17 area to State Route 3 in Fredericksburg.
The northbound crossing project is slated to start in the spring of 2019 and be completed in 2022. Work on the southbound crossing project has already started and also should be completed in 2022.