The $132 million project is part of a major expansion of the interstate in Northern Virginia that aims to reduce gridlock in a section that carries an average of 150,000 vehicles daily. Another bridge over the Rappahannock is under construction to create the same capacity for the northbound lanes, which is scheduled to open in 2024. Just north of the river, crews are working on a 10-mile extension of the 95 Express Lanes to be completed next year.
“This is a boon for local motorists and for any user of I-95 who has experienced the bottlenecks in the Fredericksburg area,” said Robert Ridgell, a megaprojects engineer for VDOT’s Fredericksburg district. “There’s nobody who uses I-95 right now who isn’t familiar with the traffic in Fredericksburg, and we are very hopeful that these projects will help alleviate that significantly.”
The project will double capacity and ease traffic congestion in a roughly four-mile section of I-95, officials said. Richmond-bound traffic will move through without mixing with local traffic, similar to a system on the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.
As drivers reach Exit 136, they will need to make a decision to stay in the local or through lanes. Drivers heading south of Fredericksburg will stay in the three left lanes. Travelers exiting in Fredericksburg, on Route 17 (exit 133) or Route 3 (exit 130), will stay in the right lanes.
The change is welcomed by frustrated Fredericksburg-area residents who encounter nightmarish traffic on their commutes, said State Del. Joshua G. Cole (D-Fredericksburg). He said part of the congestion across the bridge is attributed to drivers trying to get over from the left lanes to the right lane to exit the highway.
“Our region is one of the fastest-growing areas in the state and so we have some of the worst traffic,” said Cole, who grew up in the area. He said he used to drive northbound and not hit congestion until Woodbridge, but people now use Fredericksburg as the point of reference to “where the traffic is.”
On a recent day, he said, it took 30 minutes to make a five-mile drive between south Stafford and Fredericksburg.
“I know back roads to get around traffic when I-95 is backed up, but it really shouldn’t have to be like that,” he said.
Although the new southbound bridge opens Wednesday, construction will continue and some lanes will remain closed until December.
Traffic will still move in three lanes, split between the old and the new bridge, with all six travel lanes expected to be open by the end of the year, officials said. The project, originally scheduled to open in May 2022, will be completed five months ahead of schedule partly because of progress made during the lighter pandemic traffic.
As the area continues to grow, officials said other solutions, including more investments in transit, will be needed. Jason Graham, a member of the Fredericksburg City Council, said he’s glad to see the project completed, but he is skeptical it will bring long-term relief.
“Try a highway expansion and within several months you get right back to the same point you were before,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to expand I-95 to the point that congestion is going to go away. I don’t think that we have a long-term solution unless we start to prioritize transit more heavily.”
A $3.7 billion passenger rail program will double train service between Washington and Richmond. The Virginia Railway Express’s Fredericksburg Line will see a 75-percent increase in service during peak periods by the plan’s completion in 2030. The line, which operates eight round-trip trains each weekday, will add six new round-trips.
The new spans over the Rappahannock will eventually connect with the 95 Express Lanes, which are being extended by 10 miles from Route 610 in Stafford County to Route 17 in Fredericksburg.
“We are really asking for patience from motorists and making sure that they’re still paying attention and using caution in the work zone,” Ridgell said. “We will be trying to open new lanes in the coming weeks, with all six open by the time we get to December.”