I-95 south of Petersburg, Virginia.  Image by Taber Andrew Bain licensed under Creative Commons.

In the past, the Virginia Department of Transportation has often focused on moving cars over people, emphasizing wider roads. Now, along I-95, they’re asking if something else might work better.

Encouraging signs from VDOT

I-95 runs from Florida to Maine, and 179 miles of it run through Virginia. Virginia has the distinction of being home to some of the worst traffic along this route, especially between the Rappahannock and Occoquan rivers.

In an intervew with WTOP, Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Transportation Nick Donohue noted that the corridor needed multiple solutions to address this congestion, if only because other entities like Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express, and Transurban (the company contracted to operate HOT lanes along I-95) make projects there more complicated.

A number of projects are in the works or have recently been completed. The road’s reversible high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes were just extended, and plans to take them all the way to Fredericksburg are in the works. The exit at Route 123 is due for a redesign to help deal with the heavy traffic there where the road drops a lane just past the Occoquan river. The bridges across the Rappahannock will be rebuilt to better accommodate local and through traffic (similar to I-95/495 through Alexandria).

A graph of how many people travel through the corridor. Scroll to page 52 in this very long presentation to see it.  Image by VDOT.

In its presentation materials, VDOT is careful to note that it is counting more than just cars now. Despite the area’s traffic congestion, its numbers show that along sections of the road a majority of travelers in the corridor are traveling by transit, carpools, or something other than driving alone. Improvements targeted at those travelers could help relieve pressure without widening the highway.

You can weigh in on how to improve I-95

Do you have any thoughts or opinions about Interstate 95 in Virginia? VDOT is considering what options it has for the future, not just where traffic is the heaviest, but along the entire corridor from the Wilson Bridge to the border at North Carolina. It wants public input, so it’s running a survey and holding meetings to gather peoples’ ideas.

Some of the benefits of the new Long Bridge.  Image by VDOT.

VDOT has been careful to emphasize that it’s looking at the entire corridor and wants to know about transportation ideas that aren’t limited to cars and road-widening. Along with highway improvements, VDOT is emphasizing the new railroad tracks and bicycle infrastructure being installed on the Long Bridge, which could allow for more frequent Amtrak and VRE service and even replace about a million freight truck trips.

VDOT’s survey is open until August 21, and public meetings are underway. There’s one in Lorton on July 18, one in Fredericksburg on July 23, and another in Petersburg on July 25. What are your ideas? Let VDOT know, and tell us about them in the comments.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.