As legislators head to Richmond they have their eyes on transportation issues, including the notorious bottleneck on Interstate 95 crossing the Occoquan River into Prince William County.
Sen. George Barker, D-39th District, said Gov. Ralph Northam is trying to negotiate a deal to add one additional lane in both directions on I-95 near Va. 123 in Occoquan.
“We understand something needs to be done,” Barker said.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-2nd District, said the governor’s office could make an announcement about plans to address the bottleneck in about a month.
Barker and Foy were among state leaders who spoke at the legislative breakfast hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 5 at the Old Hickory Golf Club in Woodbridge.
In 2012, the Virginia Department of Transportation entered into a public-private contract with TransUrban to allow the company to build about 29 miles of toll lanes on I-95.
As part of the agreement, VDOT agreed not make improvements to the main lanes of I-95 without compensating TransUrban for their possible revenue losses on the Express Lanes.
Del. Danica Roem, D-13th District, said the bottleneck needs to be addressed immediately.
“That backup is just getting more and more severe,” Roem said. “That has an economic development impact for us, it has an impact on quality of life.”
Reached after the legislative breakfast, Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th District, said the bottleneck is the No. 1 traffic complaint he receives from constituents every year. Surovell said he and state Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th District, have pushed for three years for the state to renegotiate the contract with TransUrban.
As construction continues to extend the toll lanes north on Interstate 395, along with planned construction of an extension south toward Fredericksburg, Surovell said it’s “the perfect opportunity for Governor Northam to renegotiate the contract, and I am very optimistic he will do that so we can start focusing on solutions to the bottleneck instead of having to worry about how many tens of millions of dollars we will have to pay Transurban before we can put a shovel in the road.”
METRO HOPES (AND LIMITS)
When an attendee at the breakfast asked if there were any plans to extend Metro to Prince William County, Barker said extending the Blue Line from Franconia is “on the table” but not until the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport is complete in 2020.
Foy and Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st District, introduced a bill in 2018 for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to study the feasibility of extending the Blue Line to Marine Corps Base Quantico, along with reviewing options like bus rapid transit.
Foy said she will propose the bill again this legislative session.
According to a 2015 presentation from Metro officials, extending Metrorail would cost $100 million to $600 million per mile, $80 million to $300 million for a new station and $17 million to $22 million for an 8-passenger train.
Metro has existing infrastructure problems, Prince William Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, said after the breakfast.
“We don’t need a study to tell us we don’t have anywhere [for Metro] to go in Prince William County,” he said. “[Metro officials are] interested in high-rise growth. In Woodbridge, we’d need thousands of apartments, and I don’t think people want that. The growth has to come before [Metro].”
Leaders also discussed their 2018 accomplishments, including expanding Medicaid to 300,000 Virginians starting Jan. 1.
Foy has introduced a joint resolution that if approved by the General Assembly would make Virginia the 38th state to support the equal rights amendment being in the U.S. Constitution. The amendment states that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.
“I’m a patron of the equal rights amendment,” Foy said. “It’s very simple; it says no state or federal government can discriminate because of sex.”
This session Foy also wants to promote issues surrounding affordable housing and ending cash bail, which she said disproportionately hurts those who cannot afford to pay to get out of jail.
Roem said she will focus on funding for Virginia Railway Express, Va. 28 and more.
Del. Hala Ayala, D-51st District, said she wants to start a cybersecurity task force to raise awareness of good practices online.
Guzman said she will propose a bill to decrease the ratio of school counselors to students down to 250 school student per counselors, among other mental health and opioid crisis issues.
The 2019 legislative session begins Jan. 9.
The bottleneck occurs in two places: 1) the Route 1 merge just before the I-95 Occoquan bridge, and 2) the Route 123 / I-95 merge just past the I-95 Occoquan bridge. To fix the traffic congestion, both of these problems must be fixed.
P.S. I NEVER take the HOT lanes to avoid donating money to TransUrban. That was a HORRIBLE deal for Virginia.
The only way you will be able to fix the bottleneck on I-95 at the Occoquan, is to widen the bridge. Once cars cross the bridge, traffic opens up until you get to Springfield. With the left exit to 495 across the Woodrow Wilson bridge, travelers are not expecting that, then you have accidents there. The left lane drivers move to the right and the right lane drivers move to the left at the last minute. ANd you cannot move the traffic onto Route 1 because that bridge needs a lot of work It needs to be replaced.Potholes and cracks all over it.
Prince William County already has two VRE commuter rail lines as well as two high-capacity express-bus facilities (the existing I-95/I-395 HOV.HOT lanes and the I-66 HOV/HOT lanes now under reconstruction). PWC elected officials should focus on expeditiously improving and expanding those powerful public transportation assets, rather than pursuing far more costly, far less effective, slower, infeasible, and unsuitable Metrorail extensions into Prince William County that will likely never get built.
The Metrorail system will require tens of billions of dollars--over multiple decades--for continued expansions of its core capacity in Rosslyn, across the Potomac River, and in downtown DC before this system could ever successfully accommodate any new Metrorail extensions. Even then, proposed Metrorail stations in Prince William County are unlikely to ever achieve the urban densities and mixture of uses to make the desired PWC Metrorail extensions, heavily subsidized by PWC taxpayers, economically viable. Moreover, the distance-based fare prices and the slowness of a long, multistop Metroraiil trip from PWC to DC would attract relatively few riders.
That said, the most effective path to ever bringing Metrorail to PWC would be to first vastly improve both VRE and express bus services on I-95 and I-66.
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