Mark Scheufler lives in Manassas.
In 2011, the Virginia Department of Transportation finished widening Interstate 95 from three to four lanes in each direction between Springfield and the Occoquan River. Unfortunately, the project scope left an extremely poor transition point in the southbound direction at the interchange with Virginia Route 123.
Soon after the widening project was completed, Virginia entered into an agreement with a private entity to convert and expand the I-95 High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes. The reversible lanes were widened between Alexandria and Prince William Parkway and extended to Stafford County. The toll system opened in late 2015. The toll project made the southbound bottleneck even worse because single-occupancy vehicles were no longer able to use the new HOT lanes after 6 p.m. without paying a toll. Because of right-of-way constraints along the I-95 corridor, the reversible-lane configuration will likely not change in the foreseeable future.
The express toll-lane project also added a left entrance to the general-purpose lanes from the toll lanes in the northbound direction near Prince William Parkway. This, coupled with the end of the collector distributor or auxiliary lanes at Prince William Parkway, created a bottleneck between Prince William Parkway and Route 123. This makes it difficult for commuters to access the North Woodbridge area and Route 123 to destinations in western Fairfax County.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments listed southbound I-95 at this interchange as the worst bottleneck in the region, and northbound I-95 at this location was in the top 10. Weekend traffic congestion when the toll lanes are running in the opposite direction or closed as they are being reversed is the leading cause of these high rankings.
In the previous statewide Smart Scale funding round, Prince William County submitted an application to widen I-95 in both directions in the county, but the project was rejected because of a lack of project scope and the unknown cost related to a potential “compensation event” in the toll project comprehensive agreement. This agreement pays the toll concessionaire for lost revenue when “additional lanes” are added to I-95 in Fairfax, Prince William and part of Stafford County.
To make matters worse for southbound travelers, the Interstate 395 Express Lane project will add an additional southbound general-purpose lane between Edsall Road and Duke Street to eliminate the existing bottleneck on 395 south that was holding back traffic from entering 95 south.
On Jan. 8, now-former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) announced an agreement with the I-95 Express Lane concessionaire to extend the express toll lanes to Fredericksburg. As part of the agreement, the northbound Rappahannock River Crossing will be built and $232 million will be allocated to I-95 corridor improvements.
This $232 million provides an opportunity for Virginia to work with the I-95 Express Lane concessionaire to study, design and implement a solution for I-95 between Prince William Parkway and U.S. 1 in both directions that benefits both parties. As a start, VDOT and Prince William County have submitted a project for inclusion into the Council of Governments’ long-range plan to add an auxiliary lane to southbound I-95 between Route 123 and Prince William Parkway.
A solution to this bottleneck may not reduce traffic volume during peak periods in the long run, but it could improve safety, reduce accidents, provide better access to and from Prince William County and reduce congestion during off-peak hours. Adding additional general-purpose lanes is not a cost-effective solution, but a mixture of auxiliary lanes, interchange reconfigurations and ramp metering could make this painful bottleneck that affects the lives of so many Prince William County residents and other users of I-95 more tolerable.
The writer lives in Manassas.