PHOTO: Traffic jam

Traffic backs up for miles on Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg.

LAST week, Virginia Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Nick Donohue released the results of the first phase of VDOT’s latest study of the 179 miles of Interstate 95 that run through the Commonwealth of Virginia. But the results certainly weren’t news to local officials in the Fredericksburg region or area commuters, all of whom are intimately familiar with the commonwealth’s failure to keep traffic flowing on the East Coast’s most important interstate highway.

For example, the first phase of the new VDOT study found that the worst problem areas in terms of congestion on I–95 between the North Carolina border and Washington, D.C. can be found at the Occoquan River crossing in Prince William County and (you guessed it!) right here in Fredericksburg.

But as we pointed out in February, Round Three of the state’s Smart Scale program inexplicably rejected Prince William’s application for a $31.1 million project to address the existing bottleneck at the Occoquan River exit.

Smart Scale also rejected the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s $34.3 million proposal to widen southbound I–95 from three lanes to four lanes between Exits 130 (State Route 3) and 126 (Massaponax), where traffic will inevitably bottleneck after the Southbound Rappahannock River Crossing project approved in the first round is completed.

A previous study of I–95 commissioned by FAMPO found that the resulting bottleneck there will become a major problem during evening rush hours and on weekends starting in 2023—just one year after the $125 million river crossing project is scheduled to open.

And by 2045, that section of I–95 will likely be failing, with traffic backing up all the way to the edge of the old chokepoint that the southbound crossing project is being built to relieve.

And another chokepoint on Long Bridge, the only rail bridge over the Potomac River between Virginia and D.C., which greatly restricts the number of commuter trains that could be helping to relieve traffic congestion on I-95, also remains unfunded, Donohue said.

Is this smart? Hardly.

We didn’t need another study to know that “bottlenecks frustrate drivers, slow down traffic, cause accidents and hamper what should be the commonwealth’s goal of free-flowing traffic, especially in its primary transportation corridors. These projects should be at the top of Smart Scale’s list, not the bottom.”

But another study has just confirmed it anyway, for the record.

Donohue told residents attending a meeting to discuss the latest study at Fredericksburg’s James Monroe High School that “there are more problems on the I–95 corridor than dollars to fix them.”

No doubt.

But there’s an even bigger problem when state transportation officials, whose job it is to prioritize projects in order to maximize the impact of the tax dollars that are available, do such a poor job of it that the two areas in the commonwealth with the worst congestion problems on I–95, according to VDOT’s own latest study, don’t get the money to fix or at least help alleviate them.

This just ensures more of the same for years to come.

Chronic stop-and-go traffic congestion on I–95 not only saps commuters’ time, it also results in unnecessary emissions due to excessive fuel use, lost productivity for businesses, constraints on economic development, and a general degradation of the quality of life in an area whose strategic location between Washington and Richmond, skilled workforce and natural beauty should make it a mecca for business.

If Smart Scale can’t prioritize known existing bottlenecks on the most heavily traveled interstate highway in the nation, Smart Scale itself needs an overhaul.

It’s time for members of the General Assembly to step in and make sure that happens.

No more excuses—and no more spending taxpayer money on studies telling us what we already know.