The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
State to examine area road woes
It’s looking more like the state will get involved in a long-running dispute over one of the area’s most important—and contentious—transportation issues.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board got details on the controversial Rappahannock River Crossing project and other traffic issues this week when it held a workshop and regular monthly meeting at the University of Mary Washington’s Jepson Alumni Executive Center in Fredericksburg. It’s part of the board’s efforts to meet in regions throughout Virginia.
For nearly two years, the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization has been embroiled in heated arguments over a parkway included in the Rappahannock River Crossing, a mammoth project aimed at easing congestion along the Interstate 95 corridor here.
The issue was a hot topic during the CTB meetings.
And it’s something Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton believes needs to be addressed.
“This has gone from being an issue of local concern to one of statewide concern,” Connaughton said after Wednesday’s regular CTB meeting. The area’s I–95 chokepoints are “causing major problems.”
He noted that the CTB doesn’t like to get involved in local disputes. But, he said, the FAMPO dispute involving Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and Stafford officials has “gone on too long.”
During Tuesday’s workshop, he asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to study alternatives aimed at fixing the area’s I–95 corridor congestion and come back to the CTB with a recommendation.
Connaughton said the CTB will pick the best alternative presented to it and put it in VDOT’s Six-Year Improvement Plan, “so we can get this project done.”
He believes the collector–distributor roads—part of the Rappahannock River Crossing project—are a key component to easing I–95 congestion.
The proposed $300 million Rappahannock River Crossing project includes new interchanges at U.S. 17 in Stafford and State Route 3 in Fredericksburg, as well as collector–distributor roads and bridges running parallel to I–95 between the exits.
A tolled parkway was originally included as part of the project. It would run from the Virginia Welcome Center on I–95 and tie into Route 3 at Gordon Road in Spotsylvania.
But, in January 2011, a new majority of Spotsylvania supervisors panned the parkway, saying residents didn’t want it and that it wouldn’t help fix Route 3 congestion.
Since then, Spotsylvania Supervisors David Ross and Tim McLaughlin have been embroiled in heated debates with FAMPO committee members over the issue. Ross and McLaughlin are two of the county’s three FAMPO representatives.
The Spotsylvania board eventually produced an alternative bypass, which would run from the Stafford Regional Airport exit to the Wilderness area of Orange County. The first phase of the bypass would go around any part of Spotsylvania. A second phase, which hasn’t even been illustrated as a line on a map, would connect back to I–95 south of Fredericksburg.
During the Tuesday work session, FAMPO Administrator Lloyd Robinson presented traffic impact projections on routes such as the Rappahannock River Crossing, the old Outer Connector and the bypass proposed by Spotsylvania officials.
According to computer models, the Spotsylvania bypass had the least-positive impact on traffic. The original Rappahannock River Crossing project had the greatest impact on congestion.
Robinson told the CTB that the Rappahannock River Crossing is FAMPO’s No. 1 priority among the region’s traffic projects.
Ross and McLaughlin have criticized the FAMPO models presented to the CTB, saying they are slanted against the proposed Spotsylvania bypass.
A date hasn’t been set, but VDOT could present its findings on the best alternative at the December CTB meeting.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
CTB TOURS REGION’S ROADS AND RAILS
A bus tour Tuesday afternoon that was supposed to highlight the Fredericksburg region’s traffic woes didn’t come off as planned.
Traffic on area roads was uncharacteristically light as the charter bus carried Commonwealth Transportation Board members on a route that covered a swath from southern Spotsylvania to Dumfries in Prince William County. Even Interstate 95 traffic was flowing fairly well, except near the infamous HOV chokepoint in Dumfries.
Numerous reasons for the light traffic were touted—everything from it being too early for peak traffic (the tour lasted from 3 to 5:30 p.m.) to the idea that many commuters stayed home after Monday’s Navy Yard shootings.
Nonetheless, Quintin Elliott, the Virginia Department of Transportation Fredericksburg District administrator, made his pitch to the state’s top transportation decision-makers.
During the tour, which included a ride on a Virginia Railway Express train to see the spot where the new Spotsylvania station will be built, Elliott provided details of projects and trouble spots in the area, including State Route 3 and U.S. 17 and 1.
At times he had to talk over CTB members joking about how light traffic seemed to be.
Even if the ride failed to show the congestion problems in the region, some of the statistics highlighted during Tuesday’s CTB workshop at the University of Mary Washington’s Jepson Alumni Executive Center were telling.
According to Elliott, Spotsylvania and Stafford are two of the state’s top spots for “megacommuters,” people whose commute last at least 90 minutes each way. Spotsylvania is No. 1 and Stafford fourth, he said.
According to a report by Lloyd Robinson, the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization administrator, the region has experienced the fastest growth in the state since 1970.
Forty percent of the labor force, he reported, commutes out of the area, mostly to the north.
And, Robinson told the CTB, each day some 160,000 vehicles travel on I–95 through the Fredericksburg area. By 2040, that figure is expected to jump to 220,000.
He added that the area has the largest vanpool fleet in Virginia, carrying some 10,000 commuters each weekday. VRE carries a similar number of commuters.
Al Harf, the executive director of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, followed up during the work session with some information on the I–95 express lane project, which the CTB bus passed during the tour.
Those new electronically tolled lanes, which will be extended nine miles from Dumfries to Garrisonville, are under construction and expected to be open by early 2015.
The nearly $1 billion project also will add another lane to the current High Occupancy Vehicle lanes north of Dumfries.
Harf believes the express lanes will benefit the group of commuters who get and give free rides in order to use the HOV–3 lanes, despite concerns from some who “slug” to work.
The key benefit, he says, are the extended hours. The express lanes will be open round the clock, as opposed to the current HOV lanes, which are open only during certain times.
He also pointed out that the express lanes project will include the addition of some 10,000 park and ride spaces for commuters, as well as an expansion of the vanpool system.
The new express lanes, as VDOT Megaproject’s Steve Titunik told the CTB members while the bus passed the construction in the interstate’s median, will offer “choices.”
Key among the choices, Titunik said, will be 25 entry and exit points, or “slip ramps,” along the express lanes, something lacking with the current HOV lanes.
Another project on I–95 that came up during the tour is the planned addition of a fourth lane in both directions from Garrisonville, where the express lanes will end south to Centreport Parkway in Stafford. It won’t happen anytime soon, though. The project is in the study and design phase.