PHOTO: backup on I-95

WE’LL never know what traffic in Fredericksburg would be like today if state and local officials had actually followed through on plans to meet the region’s future transportation needs when they had the chance. But we do know that nearly two and a half decades ago, they were well aware of the coming congestion crisis.

That’s because back in 1995, the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Transportation Organization (FAMPO) asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to come up with a proposal that “would address existing and future traffic conditions in the Fredericksburg region, the fastest growing area of the Commonwealth.”

FAMPO’s stated goals were to reduce traffic volumes on State Route 3, U.S. 17 and Interstate 95; provide an additional north–south travel corridor; serve growing areas in western Spotslyvania and Stafford counties; and improve commuter access to the Virginia Railway Express.

Sound familiar?

VDOT dutifully came up with five main options it presented in a 1997 Draft Environmental Impact Statement. In 1998, the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors both voted in favor of the westernmost Corridor 1, a 12.6-mile project that would have begun at the Mine Road Extension (a separate project) and snaked through western Stafford and Spotsylvania before terminating at Route 3.

In June 2001, VDOT held a series of public hearings in Fredericksburg on building the northwest quadrant of the outer connector. But the project stalled in 2003 when elected officials in both Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg voted against it. By 2012, FAMPO wouldn’t even spend $5,000 to hire a consultant to present just portions of the doomed project.

The discarded Corridor 5 was a 13.7-mile multiple-segment project that started at the same place as Corridor 1, but closely followed I–95 south, adding a Route 3 bypass north of the existing interchange, and connector/distributor roads between Route 3 and U.S. 17. Corridor 5 also included a Rappahannock River Crossing that would “consist of two, three-lane bridges adjacent to the existing I–95 river crossing.”

According to VDOT’s own projections, which took anticipated future I–95 traffic into account, Corridor 5 would have cost a lot more that Corridor 1 ($214.4 million v. $116.6 million), but it would also have significantly reduced congestion on the main interstate travel lanes (28 percent v. 8 percent by 2025) over the no-build option.

VDOT’s 1997 outer connector study accurately predicted an average daily traffic count of between 116,800 and 212,000 vehicles on I–95 in Fredericksburg by 2025. The current count is 150,000 and is expected to rise to 180,000 or more over the next six years. But none of the outer connector options were built, leaving the region still trying to play catch-up 24 years later.

If Corridor 5 had been built, there would already be six additional lanes over the Rappahannock River. Local commuters would have had to deal with significantly less traffic congestion in the intervening years. And who knows? There might not even have been a need for privately-owned toll lanes to ease the crunch.

But even though everybody knew that traffic would continue to worsen, local officials chose the no-build option instead.

Why is this do-nothing history of the outer connector relevant now? CTB launched a new I–95 Corridor Improvement Plan in April. Let’s hope that all those involved in the region’s future transportation planning have at least learned a lesson from this missed opportunity.

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