The infamous bottleneck along Interstate 95 southbound crossing the Occoquan River into Prince William County slows traffic to a snail’s pace for thousands of motorists each day. Unfortunately, says Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th District, fixing the problem is not easy.
Prince William County Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, has proposed a shoulder lane from the Va. 123 interchange near Occoquan to the Prince William Parkway, but Surovell said that the solution isn’t so simple.
“Modifications to the configuration of the interstate involve interagency coordination with many moving parts. And very little has been done to initiate the process of reconfiguring that intersection and stretch of I-95,” Surovell said.
State and local officials have raised concerns about the bottleneck and overall congestion of I-95 since widening completed in 2011 expanded both directions between Springfield and the Occoquan River from three lanes to four. The project left drivers with poorly integrated merge lanes while traveling south at the interchange with Va. 123 and numerous officials have said the congestion has negatively affected economic opportunity in the area.
Anderson initially proposed widening I-95 in both directions between the Occoquan River and the Prince William Parkway to relieve the bottleneck. However, that concept was rejected because the added lanes would violate the state’s contract with Transurban, the private company that built and maintains the I-95 Express Lanes. The reinforced shoulder lane project was presented by Anderson as a way to get around concerns with her previous proposal, but it’s unclear whether the project will move forward.
“We are reviewing the proposal and remain committed to doing everything we can to continue to support VDOT in their efforts to improve travel conditions on I-95. We have no further update at this time,” a Transurban spokesperson said.
Surovell said that Anderson hasn’t spoken to him about the project, but a group of legislators is working to address concerns that an additional lane would violate the contract with Transurban.
“It’s no question that this bottleneck is the worst traffic choke point north of Garrisonville Road. It inconveniences thousands of drivers on a daily basis,” Surovell said. “I’ve lived in this area my entire life. I’ve been driving to work for 21 years, and I’ve seen the state spend close to $10 billion on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, mixing bowl and I-95 HOT lanes. And the traffic is pretty much the same as when I started 21 years ago.”
Other projects to alleviate traffic have been discussed, including expanding the Metro Blue Line to Dale City, creating a commuter ferry service to Washington, and expanding access to HOT lanes from U.S. 1. But as Surovell empathizes, nothing has been put in motion, and possible solutions are still being discussed.
“These solutions are normally decided upon after significant study and interaction between nearly 10 different entities. None of that has happened yet,” he said.
Surovell said that he has been working with state Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th District, Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd District, and Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge. He has met with McPike and staff in the office of the Secretary of Transportation about trying to fund the compensation through Transurban concession payments, similar to the process during construction on Interstate 66. Surovell said he is confident the discussions will lead to a broader planning process.
McPike said the group has been working on the Occoquan bottleneck for a couple of years. “The solution isn’t designated as of yet, so it’s a little premature for planning, engineering and what the penalty payment to Transurban would be.”
While McPike said he would like to explore the idea of extending the Metro’s Blue Line, that project can’t happen without the support of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Surovell said he has made two proposals to the board to study the Blue Line extension, but those were rejected both times.