THE Virginia Department of Transportation has received a record number of Smart Scale applications this year, making the 2018 round the most competitive since the program was first approved by the General Assembly in 2014 as a way to take politics out of transportation decisions.
VDOT says a total of 468 Smart Scale proposals, totaling more than $7 billion, were submitted by 158 local and regional transportation planning organizations, including the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the George Washington Regional Commission, which represent the fastest growing of Virginia’s 21 planning districts.
But those $7 billion worth of projects are vying for just $850 million of available funding.
Smart Scale ranks proposed transportation projects in the Six-Year Improvement Program by a number of metrics, including whether they are located in a corridor of statewide significance, would reduce congestion and increase public safety, and have a positive impact on land use and economic development. Smart Scale projects that add new or improved access to Interstate 95 in the Fredericksburg region check all of those boxes.
Since the current round of applications is for inclusion in the fiscal 2020–25 Six-Year Plan, projects that don’t get the green light now will have to wait a long time for funding, and an even longer time for construction to begin.
VDOT is already spending more than $800 million on critical Interstate 95 improvements in the Fredericksburg region, including the southbound and northbound Rappahannock Bridge Crossings and a 10-mile extension of the “FredEx” toll lanes. So what are the chances that the region will get more Smart Scale funding for the projects identified in Phase 2 of FAMPO’s I–95 Corridor Study, released last month, during Round 3?
If Smart Scale is indeed smart, those projects should be funded.
FAMPO’s top priority would widen I–95 to four lanes between the future terminus of the southbound Rappahannock River Crossing and Exit 126 (U.S. Route 1/Massaponax), with a fifth southbound deceleration lane added. It makes no sense to expand I–95 to six lanes, only to have it bottleneck to three lanes just a few miles down the road. And you don’t have to be a highway engineer to know that adding a fourth travel lane northbound is also a no-brainer.
Other Smart Scale projects would improve I–95 access at Exit 136 (Centreport Parkway) and make needed upgrades to U.S. 1 and 17 and State Route 3. To sweeten the deal, these projects would include a bicycle/pedestrian path and a real-time parking availability system for all eight regional commuter lots along I–95 to facilitate carpooling, slugging, and transit use.
That brings the region’s total requests to $184.4 million competing for approximately $425 million available in Smart Scale’s High Priority Fund. However, I–95 is a corridor of not only regional and statewide importance, but also national significance, and these necessary improvements should have been done a long time ago.
Other jurisdictions throughout the commonwealth have also submitted their own applications and are vying for a share of the available funds. However, sections of I–95 between Quantico and Massaponax are already at or nearing the red zone, and FAMPO’s 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan predicts that the level of service on the region’s interstate, primary and secondary roads will be at the failure point if something is not done soon.
This region does not have the luxury of time.
Due to its strategic location linking Washington, Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads, and the inescapable fact that I–95 is the nation’s most heavily travelled and most heavily congested interstate highway, if Fredericksburg goes into gridlock, guess what? Much of Virginia and the entire East Coast will feel the effects as well. That’s why it’s so imperative to keep traffic flowing at this critical juncture.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board will be holding nine public meetings to get feedback on transportation funding. The one in Fredericksburg is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. in VDOT’s Fredericksburg District Office auditorium. It’s a curious time for a public meeting, since thousands of area commuters who would be directly affected by the Smart Scale funding allocations will either still be at work or heading back home on heavily congested I–95.
Those who can attend, should. Others should email CTB members at firstname.lastname@example.org urging them to fund most, if not all, of Fredericksburg’s requests.