The Virginia Department of Transportation will hold three public meetings next week on its plan to create high-occupancy toll lanes along Interstate 95 between the Capital Beltway and Stafford County.

The sessions follow the publication this month of VDOT’s environmental analysis of the project. This is the shortened version of the first HOT lanes proposal, excluding most of the original route extending north along I-395. The Virginia government now hopes to move the project along quickly.

VDOT says that construction could begin as early as spring and probably would take three years to complete.

We’ll be talking a lot about this project. Let’s start off with some of the basics, drawn from the environmental analysis.

The project: The environmental assessment covers a project that would begin about a mile south of Route 17 (Mills Drive) in Spotsylvania County south of Fredericksburg and end at the Beltway, with a transition to the I-395 HOV lanes and general-purpose lanes near the I-395/Edsall Road interchange. The HOT lanes would be in the median of I-95 and consist of a two-lane reversible, limited access express route from the southern terminus to just north of the Prince William Parkway interchange (Exit 158), where it would expand to three lanes. That’s about 46 miles.

The project that the Virginia government sees in its immediate future starts only as far south as Garrisonville Road in Stafford County, about 28 miles from Edsall Road. The southern portion could be built later.

Alternatives: The only alternative included in the study is doing nothing. That means leaving three to four general-purpose travel lanes in each direction and a two-lane HOV route within the median from Dumfries just south of the Route 234 (Dumfries Road) interchange and the Beltway.

This doesn’t mean there are no other alternatives, just that they weren’t considered in the study. For example, Virginia could choose to widen the general-purpose lanes of I-95 in some areas, just as VDOT did recently along the six miles between Route 123 and the Fairfax County Parkway. The state could choose a plan more heavily dependent on transit, or modify land use planning or encourage telecommuting to reduce the demand for I-95.

Need: The study cites the expanding population in the I-95 corridor, and the job growth anticipated for Northern Virginia. The travel generated by this growth will further increase traffic on I-95, the study says.

“Traditional highway capacity expansion is not an option to meet the growing interstate travel demand because such expansion has become increasingly expensive and unaffordable, and the human impacts and physical constraints in the highly urbanized areas in the northern section of the project corridor make it exceedingly difficult to implement,” the study says. “While it is commonly understood that people place a high value on reaching their destinations in a timely manner, it is also recognized that people place a high value on the ability to reach their destinations in a reliable manner. I-95 has become so congested in recent years that the general-purpose lanes, and oftentimes the HOV lanes, cannot provide reliable travel times during the peak periods.”

Using the letter grades that highway engineers apply in measuring the performance of roads, the study says that the level of service along I-95 will degrade to an “F,” or failing rating, throughout most of the corridor.

This won’t work for either solo drivers or for carpools and transit, the study says. Under existing conditions, all vehicles, whether single-occupant, high-occupancy or transit, must use the general-purpose lanes south of Dumfries. So there’s no advantage for those who carpool or use transit. Meanwhile, the study says, the HOV lanes are becoming increasingly congested, diminishing the incentive to carpool.

The study notes the unreliability of travel times for solo drivers as well. For them, there are few if any options for avoiding or easing delays.

Why go HOT: By creating the high-occupancy toll option, the study says, Virginia could reduce daily congestion and accommodate travel demands more efficiently.

Travel times would be more reliable.

Travel options would increase because ridesharing and transit would be more attractive.

Solo drivers would have a new option for bypassing congested areas.

The public meetings

Please let me know what you think of the proposal, either by commenting here on the blog or sending an e-mail to me at Do you think the HOT lanes will improve travel conditions? Would you have preferred that Virginia consider other options?

Here’s the schedule for the three public meetings, all of which are from 5 to 8 p.m.

Monday, Sept. 26: Botts Fire Hall, 1306 F St., Woodbridge.

Wednesday, Sept. 28: Waterford at Springfield, 6715 Commerce St., Springfield.

Thursday, Sept. 29: North Stafford High School, 839 Garrisonville Rd., Stafford.

VDOT says that oral and written comments will be accepted at the hearings. Comments regarding the project design and environmental analysis can be sent to John Lynch, regional transportation program director, Virginia Megaprojects, 6363 Walker Lane, Suite 500, Alexandria, VA 22310 or to by Oct. 14. (Put “I-95 Joint Meetings” in the subject line.)