I-95 Bottleneck

Motorist traveling south on Interstate 95 near the Occoquan exit are squeezed into three lanes.

Traffic backs up virtually every day on Interstate 95 southbound where it crosses the Occoquan River entering Prince William County because five lanes are decreased to three.

Prince William Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, has proposed a solution: Build a reinforced shoulder lane along I-95 south from the Route 123 interchange at Occoquan to the Prince William Parkway. This will keep four lanes available.

“Not only will this improve commute time, it will prevent frustration with having one of the worst bottlenecks in the nation,” Anderson said.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board is conducting an air quality analysis to see how the project will affect emissions. All projects under review must not negatively affect air quality, and Anderson hopes that the results will show reduced emissions.

The project is also under review for federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, with plans to request state funding in August through Smart Scale, a process that will allow the state to prioritize funding for the project. However, Anderson acknowledges that the project will still require funding from other sources, such as federal grants or the Regional Surface Transportation Program.

Anderson has met with a number of state and local transportation officials regarding the shoulder lane and says that the proposal has won the support of Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, Shannon Valentine, along with Deputy Secretary of Transportation Nick Donahue. The plan is also supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, Anthony Bedell.

The Transportation Planning Board was scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the proposed project at the McCoart Administration Building.

Anderson compares the proposed shoulder lane to those on Interstate 66 that open at certain times, although she plans for this lane to be open all the time. She hopes this will alleviate what the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments considers one of the worst bottlenecks in the region.

Anderson says the proposal also should relieve traffic on Old Bridge Road in Prince William.

“One of the reasons Old Bridge Road is so congested is because I-95 is congested. People use Old Bridge Road as a way to get off I-95, and as a way to bypass it,” Anderson said.

The project intends to address lingering issues from construction in 2011, which widened I-95 from three to four lanes in both directions between Springfield and the Occoquan River. Drivers were left with a poorly integrated merge lane when traveling south at the interchange with state Route 123. Anderson called the worsening bottleneck an “embarrassment” and said it negatively affects economic opportunity.

Shortly after the widening project was completed, the state signed an agreement with Transurban, the private company that builds and manages express lanes, to convert and expand the I-95 High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to toll lanes. Although the new HOT lanes give southbound drivers an alternative to the Occoquan logjam at rush hour, single-occupancy vehicles must pay tolls to use them.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to continue to support VDOT in their efforts to improve travel conditions on I-95,” said Michael McGurk, Transurban spokesperson.

In 2016, Anderson proposed expanding I-95 in both directions between the Occoquan River and the Prince William Parkway to relieve the bottleneck. That proposal was rejected on the grounds that it lacked vision and had an unclear cost, and that the added lanes would deter drivers from using the express lanes. The state Commonwealth Transportation Board feared that the added lane would create a compensation event, which could be a breach of contract with Transurban.

“The contract that was signed for the express lanes said we couldn’t add capacity to I-95, because they wanted people to use the express lanes,” Anderson said, adding that the shoulder lane is a way to get around that concern.

The I-95 HOT express lanes were completed in 2014 at an estimated cost of $925 million and stretch 29 miles between Stafford and Fairfax County. As part of the project, the express lanes from Dumfries to Edsall Road were also widened.

The express lanes use variable tolling, based on traffic conditions, but vehicles with three or more passengers can use the lanes for free.

 

(12) comments

geffert

We need something besides the total screwing we are taking by Trans-Urban. The cost of the HOT lanes is obscene, our law makers had to be in bed with someone to do this to us.

icrazyhorse

Right on geffert! The Trans-Urban fiasco is the product of corrupt Republican Governor McDonnell and a Republican-controlled Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Vote BLUE on November 6.

knowalibis

Its a wonder that our DemoCRAPtic VA government didnt give away our ability to drive on 95 without tolls. Not able to add capacity to 95..what a crock of DemoCRAP stew. Piss poor leadership...Clinton croanies sold us out. Wonder how many of those 928 millions are lining the wallets of the worthless leaders.

Allen Muchnick

@ knowalibis,

Both the I-95 Express Lane project agreement, which prohibits widening the general purpose lanes without compensating the private partner, and the 2011-2013 VDOT study of I-66 inside the Beltway that recommended tolling that existing highway during the peak commuting (HOV) hours were products of Republican Governor Robert McDonnell's administration.

Bill Card

"In 2007, VDOT finalized a long-term partnership agreement with Capital Beltway Express, LLC – a consortium led by Transurban that would design, build, operate, finance and maintain the $2 billion HOT lanes project."

From: https://www.expresslanes.com/project-background

Bob McDonnell was elected in 2009 and sworn in January 16, 2010. Tim Kaine gave away the store while he was Governor.

Allen Muchnick

@ Bill Card,

The passage you quote relates to the express lanes on the Capital Beltway (I-495), not the ones on I-95.

Farther down on the page you cited, the history of the I-95 Express Lanes is reported as follows:

----

"The 95 Express Lanes project is the result of more than 10 years of planning, environmental review, competitive procurement and public engagement.

In 2004, Virginia received multiple proposals under the Public-Private Transportation Act to improve mobility in the heavily congested I-95/395 corridor. An independent review panel evaluated the proposals and recommended that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) partner with 95 Express Lanes, LLC – a consortium comprised of Transurban and Fluor. In 2006, VDOT finalized an interim agreement with the consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain new high occupancy toll lanes.

In 2007, the Transportation Planning Board – including representatives from local governments throughout the region – voted to include the 95 Express Lanes in the region’s Financially Constrained Long-Range Plan.

Over the next several years, VDOT completed a series of environmental reviews for the project and continued to refine the project scope. In 2009, Arlington County filed a lawsuit related to the project. In response, VDOT chose to advance improvements across Stafford, Prince William and Fairfax Counties – deferring planned improvements inside the Beltway on I-395 in Arlington County.

In 2012, VDOT finalized it long-term contract with 95 Express Lanes, LLC. Transurban and its partners made a substantial upfront equity commitment to fund construction of the new lanes and secured financing through private activity bonds and a loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIFIA program. Through this partnership, Virginia was able to leverage private investment to deliver a nearly $1 billion project for only $82 million.

Construction, managed by Fluor-Lane, began in 2012 and the new lanes opened to travelers in 2014."
----

Clearly, it was Republican Governor Robert McDonnell who finalized the I-95 Express Lane project, which had been stalled for several years by a lawsuit filed by the Democratic Arlington County Board who--even before McDonnell was elected governor in November 2009--objected to the lack of public transportation provisions and other financial aspects of the project agreement.

icrazyhorse

Get your facts straight knowalibis. The Trans-Urban abortion is the product of a Republican Governor and a Republican-controlled Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Vote BLUE on November 6.

wilkinak

Both parties share responsibility for it. Tim Kaine, Bob McDonnell, Terry McAuliffe are all guilty in some form or fashion.

How about we quit arguing over who sc***ed us (they all did) and just try and fix it?

Allen Muchnick

"The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board is conducting an air quality analysis to see how the project will affect emissions. All projects under review must not negatively affect air quality, and Anderson hopes that the results will show reduced emissions."

This statement, regarding this short I-95 shoulder-lane proposal, is inaccurate and misleading. The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) does NOT model the air quality impacts of individual highway projects. Rather, only the TOTAL regional air pollution generated by future vehicles using the proposed future road networks in certain out years--when the total vehicle fleet is also forecast to be much cleaner than today's vehicle fleet and will likely include many electric vehicles--are modeled.

Moreover, this modeling almost always shows reduced future vehicle-generated air pollution, and this particular project would have an almost negligible impact on regional air quality.

In short, while this project must be included in the TPB-modeled future regional road network to become eligible for federal funding, that eligibility is almost certain to happen.

wilkinak

Even without the Transurban fiasco, there is no easy fix to this. Anderson seems to be glossing over the townhouses (at the end of my street) that would be on the shoulder of an added lane.

Since the board of my HOA owns those houses, I wouldn't be upset to see them torn down. ;-)

mossman

I say screw Transurban and do what is necessary to improve traffic on the I-95 corridor! Add two main travel lanes in each direction that extend to Fredericksburg at a minimum. Having 2-lane toll lanes with one-way travel that dump into a 3-lane highway just south of a major metropolitan area is ludicrous. They should have just made five lanes in each direction.

mossman

The traffic on 95 is the exact reason I no longer travel to DC or surrounding areas. I would love to frequent the museums, restaurants, and other attractions in DC on a regular basis, but dealing with the traffic just isn't worth it. I'm sure the same goes for countless others. I have to imagine this is having a negative affect on the local economy.

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