Can you imagine using the shoulder lane on Interstate 95 to get where you’re going in Northern Virginia?
State transportation officials can. In fact, in a process they call “hardening the shoulders,” they’re proposing turning the emergency pull-off area on both the north and southbound sides of the highway into travel lanes.
The could run from Stafford County north to I-395 and would work as the existing “Red X” lanes on I-66, which allow traffic to use the lane only during rush hour.
And, because of an agreement the state signed with Transurban, the operators of the E-ZPass Express Lanes on I-95, the lanes wouldn’t run in the directions you might think.
In the mornings, the shoulder lane would be opened to traffic headed south, against the flow of northbound traffic. In the evenings, it would be opposite as the lane northbound lane would be opened to drivers headed to Washington, D.C.
That deal with Transurban stipulates that the state cannot do anything to improve the main travel lanes of I-95 as improving traffic there could lead to fewer people using its toll lanes. And that would trigger a “compensation event” leaving state taxpayers on the hook for damages to be paid to the Australian firm that will manage the lanes for a total of 75 years.
In short, the shoulder lanes will move traffic always in the opposite direction of traffic in the toll lanes. At a public meeting at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fredericksburg Residency on Monday night, officials said that is a good thing as northbound traffic tends to build on the highway during the afternoon rush hour.
Construction on a new, short “Red X” lane on I-95 south, between Route 123 in Occoquan and the Prince William Parkway is set to begin soon.
The shoulder lanes are one of the multiple recommendations from a year-long study of I-95 form the North Carolina border to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria.
Other possible traffic solutions noted Monday night was reconstructing the interchange at milepost 126 at Spotsylvania, winding the highway to four lanes between mileposts 126 and 130, at Route 3 in Fredericksburg (where Transurban doesn’t have toll lanes) and adding new commuter bus service in Fredericksburg City and Spotsylvania County.
Smaller-ticket items include the addition of more traffic cameras along the highway to help first-responders identify crashes quickly, and new electronic signage on arterial roads like Route 1 to help move drivers around crashes on I-95 faster.
These upgrades could cost the state between $1.7 billion and $2.2 billion.
The state also says it needs to consider widening the E-ZPass Express Lanes so traffic can move in both directions at all times. There’s also a plan to look at extending the toll lanes in I-495 from Springfield to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Officials are hanging their hat on a game-changing $3.7 billion deal to purchase right-of-way to add new railroad track in the I-95 corridor, with the intention of doubling Amtrak passenger rail service, and expanding Virginia Railway Express Commuter service by 75% all in the next 10 years.
As in larger cities, like Chicago, this would allow us to have skip-stop, express service for commuter rail between Washington, D.C., and Richmond,” said Director of Rail for Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation Mike McLaughlin.