After hearing the preliminary results from an Interstate 95 corridor study, the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted this month to allocate $68 million for operational improvements, such as responding to accidents or other incidents and managing congestion.
Ben Mannell, the project manager for the study, which included I-95, Route 1 and Route 301, said these operational improvements have the highest return on investment and fastest implementation compared to adding more lanes. The improvements are expected to be implemented over the next three years.
The transportation board held public meetings this week to present its preliminary findings, answer questions and receive feedback. Mannell spoke to nearly 40 people Tuesday night in Lorton.
Improvements approved by the CTB include closed-circuit television cameras to help track incidents in real time, changeable message signs to alert drivers to upcoming conditions, safety service patrols, which will assist after vehicle accidents and with traffic control, towing programs and other improvements.
Staging the right towing equipment at the right places will help remove vehicles involved in a crash from the highway, Mannell said. He noted that towing tractor-trailers requires specialized equipment. Staff estimated the towing program will help clear accidents from the corridor by up to 27 minutes faster.
Around 20% of crashes are secondary crashes, and Mannell said having a safety service patrol will help reduce secondary crashes by up to 40%.
LARGER I-95 STUDY
The changes approved by the CTB came from more than $2.3 billion in recommended road, rail and commuter bus improvements in a preliminary study of the I-95 corridor from the North Carolina state line to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Mannell said VDOT will conduct a similar study of Interstate 64 this summer, before offering the CTB a list of priority projects from both studies.
Starting in fiscal year 2022, state officials are estimated to allocate about $40 million to I-95 projects as a result of legislation approved last spring, Mannell said. And the CTB will have an additional $44 million it can spend on any interstate in the state.
In the interim I-95 plan, study authors recommended 11 road projects in Northern Virginia that would cost up to $748 million, including adding a shoulder lane in each direction that would be used for traffic heading in the opposite direction of the 95 Express Lanes between U.S. 17 near Fredericksburg and the Occoquan River.
The proposals include an additional $376 million in multimodal projects, such as expanded commuter bus and train access, more park-and-ride commuter lots and enhancements and rewards for ridesharing. VDOT notes the price tag for these multimodal ideas is far less than the $12.5 billion cost of building a new main travel lane in Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia.
The findings also include up to $15 million in improvements to routes such as U.S. 1 that are used as detours during incidents on I-95.
VDOT suggested dozens of additional improvements that might provide traffic relief, but would require more analysis. Those include several interchange improvements from Joplin Road to South Van Dorn Street, two-way Express Lane access, a shoulder lane for rush-hour traffic in Alexandria, and more park-and-ride lots in Prince William County.
ALREADY IN MOTION
Over the next five years, the state is spending more than $1 billion on roadwork in the I-95 corridor, including adding an auxiliary lane southbound from Occoquan to the Prince William Parkway, extending the I-95 Express Lanes south to U.S. 17 and adding lanes across the Rappahannock River to relieve congestion near Fredericksburg.
The $32 million project to construct the 1.5-mile auxiliary lane on southbound I-95 from Route 123 to Prince William Parkway is currently under design, according to VDOT. The project also includes improving noise walls and repaving existing I-95 general purpose lanes.
About 90,000 vehicles travel southbound a day along that stretch, according to VDOT. Construction is slated to begin spring 2021 with an estimated completion date of late 2022.
When the project is completed, VDOT estimates travel time from the Fairfax County Parkway to the Prince William Parkway will decrease from 20 minutes to eight minutes.
In December, Gov. Ralph Northam announced $3 billion in improvements for rail traffic along I-95 that is expected to provide new opportunities for Virginia Railway Express commuter trains. The VDOT study notes that the rail expansion program is expected to remove 5 million cars and 1 million trucks off Virginia’s highways each year.
Michael McLaughlin, chief of rail transportation for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, said during the public meeting Tuesday that planned improvements include adding later morning and later night VRE trains and weekend service. In all, VRE service is expected to increase by 75% along the Fredericksburg line, he said.