Vacationers, consider alternatives to I-95 in Northern Virginia

This VDOT photo, taken in February, shows I-95 at Joplin Road in Prince William County, where an overpass is being built for the 95 Express Lanes.

The hardship for drivers during the Memorial Day weekend escape from the D.C. region is more about volume than about road construction, since most work zones will be lifted for the peak hours of the getaway and return.

But over the summer, there is one local work zone that is likely to slow the start and finish of many vacations. That’s the 29-mile section of I-95/395 between Edsall Road, just north of the Capital Beltway, and Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.

If you have friends and relatives who will be passing through the D.C. region this summer, you may want to alert them to this one. Traffic slowdowns are likely to be bad enough to drive people to maps and Web sites looking for alternatives to I-95 through this area.

The Virginia Department of Transportation said this week that drivers will face “several months of heavy, traffic-impacting construction immediately following the holiday.” The major project is construction of the 95 Express Lanes. The project got underway in the middle of last summer, but will have its greatest construction impact this travel season. These high-occupancy toll lanes are scheduled to open late in 2014.

Also underway this season is the 95 Shoulder Improvement Project. The shoulder work is along seven miles of the Interstate in Prince William County. It includes work on the guardrails and lighting while widening the shoulder pavement to 12 feet. (That will mean the shoulders can be used for traffic during emergencies.)

VDOT says these are the main things to watch for, day and night:

  • Daytime, off-peak lane closings.
  • Extended closings of the HOV lanes in the middle of I-95 overnights and on weekends.
  • Multiple lane closings overnights on I-95, sometimes with full traffic stops for short periods.
  • Complete closings of I-95 in one direction overnights with all traffic detoured to  Route 1. (This would occur when workers need to place steel girders.
  • Limited shoulder access.
  • Truck traffic entering and exiting the work zones in the middle of I-95. (That’s a safety issue for drivers in the left lanes, but it also will generally slow down traffic.)

So what are the potential alternatives?

A driver on the east side of the region could use Route 301, cross the Potomac River via the Nice Bridge and link back to I-95 at several points south of Fredericksburg. To the west of D.C., one option is to take Route 28 to Route 17, which joins I-95 just north of Fredericksburg.

Neither of those qualifies as a shortcut, and neither is likely to be congestion free when most drivers launch their vacations. But they are likely to good alternatives for many who do their driving overnights, when the I-95 project will be closing multiple lanes.

Note that on July 1 the toll for the Nice Bridge will rise from $4 to $6.

Would others like to weigh in with their own alternative routes?

See also: Summer getaway routes from the D.C. region.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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