Two local politicians, looking for innovative ways to unbuckle some of the region's most pressing traffic snarls, have proposed converting the shoulders of Interstate 95 to usable lanes during rush hours.
The proposal, by Del. Michele B. McQuigg (R-District 51) and Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-District 13), was submitted to state Transportation Secretary Shirley Ybarra on Monday and would affect I-95 between the Prince William Parkway and Newington.
The interstate is four lanes north and three lanes south of Newington. By adding the shoulders, McQuigg and Marshall seek to stretch the four-lane portion of the highway about eight more miles, to Exit 158, and ease commuters' drive.
"Where it goes from four to three lanes it bumps traffic back up the highway," Marshall said. "Since it would merge so much further south and so many people get off at these exits, it'll be an easier transition.
"I think it can be done with maximum benefit for commuters," Marshall added. "I can't imagine it" not being adopted.
"It's something we'd certainly review and be happy to look into," said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "But it's not always a matter of adding signs."
Commuters are able to ride on the shoulders of other roads, including Interstate 66, Morris said, but there are many safety concerns to cover before allowing such a practice. Primarily, transportation officials must determine whether the shoulder lanes can handle constant, heavy traffic. Then, additional signs and other implements must be instituted to alert riders to when they can use the lanes.
The lanes on I-66 have "operated safely for six years," Morris said. "But they also have all the bells and whistles to make them safe."
As Marshall points out, the shoulders on I-95 were used for high-occupancy vehicles before the separate HOV lanes were built, so there is a precedent of safety and durability for them.
"There's a track record of it," he said. "This could increase capacity by 25 percent. That's a significant shortening of the commute to and from work."