Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced Tuesday morning that VDOT will extend the 95 Express Lanes two miles farther south, in an effort to fix the bottleneck where these HOT lanes merge back with the regular lanes of I-95.
Anyone driving south on I-95 from the D.C. area Tuesday or Wednesday will realize why the governor’s announcement on WTOP radio is important. Both the regular lanes and the express lanes can be backed up for miles at peak periods where the two sets of lanes merge near Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.
McAuliffe said the express lanes will be extended under an agreement with Transurban, the company that operates the high-occupancy toll lanes on I-95 and on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia. He said construction should begin in 2016.
The project will take about two years to complete. At the new terminus, express lanes traffic will rejoin the regular lanes from a left-side merge. The express lanes are reversible, to accommodate rush hour traffic, so drivers heading north would follow the same pattern: They will enter the express lanes from the left side. This extension may help the northbound traffic flow as well, but it’s the southbound traffic that has experienced the severe problem.
Since the 95 Express Lanes opened in December 2014, the southern merge has consisted of a flyover ramp that takes the express lanes traffic over I-95 and into a merge coming from the right side of the regular lanes. This is about three-tenths of a mile north of the right-side exit ramp for Garrisonville Road.
Traffic there can be “a total congestion mess,” as McAuliffe put it during the “Ask the Governor” show. It’s especially so on Friday afternoons and evenings. It was particularly bad during the summer travel season, and it’s very likely to be horrible for the Thanksgiving getaway crowd. The traffic backup occurs in both the regular and express lanes. The difference is that in the express lanes, you’re paying a toll to sit in that traffic. So if you’re driving this getaway route on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon in the express lanes, watch for electronic message boards that will warn about congestion ahead. If they are illuminated, consider taking the next exit back into the regular lanes to avoid the toll for the final segment.
This southern extension will be built as one reversible lane, designed for easy conversion to two lanes, Transurban said. The construction will be mostly in the median. But new tolling displays and the regulatory signs will need to be installed along the regular northbound lanes south of Garrisonville Road.
VDOT and Transurban planners are hoping the extension will help the traffic in both directions. They say that 70 percent of the drivers who enter the northbound lanes in Stafford are coming from south of Garrisonville Road. So a new entry point should ease the demand at the current entrance, and also cut down on the weaving traffic there.
More than 25 percent of the express lanes drivers now using the southbound flyover ramp exit I-95 onto Garrisonville Road. Those drivers will still be able to use the flyover ramp, but the rest can continue on with reduced congestion to the new terminus just north of Courthouse Road, Transurban said.
Jennifer Aument, Transurban’s group general manager for North America, said in a statement: “VDOT and Transurban listened to Express Lanes customers as well as local stakeholders and worked together to develop a solution. The improvements in this area will enhance the travel experience for both users of the Express Lanes and those drivers in the regular lanes.”