The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Court decides on side of tolls
THE DECISION on the Hampton Roads tunnel tolls came down last week in favor of the tolls.
The Supreme Court of Virginia justices basically ruled that the tolls were user fees, not taxes, according to news reports.
While the lawsuit, filed by a group of residents and business owners, focused on the fairness of the Hampton Roads tunnel tolls, in an indirect way it also challenged the state’s Public–Private Transportation Act and projects like the Interstate 95 express lanes.
The nearly $1 billion express lanes project is largely being paid for by private company Transurban, which will use funds generated by the electronic tolls to pay off loans and to, in theory, make a profit.
The lawsuit never really threatened the Interstate 95 express lanes, but legitimate questions were raised concerning such public–private partnerships and resulting tolls.
The overriding concern seems to be this: Who is calling the shots with these toll projects—elected officials or bureaucrats and corporations? Is it about fixing our congested roads or making a profit?
Speaking of that, keep an eye out for an upcoming story in The Free Lance–Star about one potential pitfall with the I–95 express lanes.
Dear Scott: U.S. 17 has for a long time been a major crossover from Interstate 81 to Interstate 95, with a lot of big rigs and snowbirds.
Traffic is steady and heavy most of the time. Is there any way VDOT could lower the speed limit on the entire part of U.S. 17 from I–95 to Stafford Lakes now instead of doing it piecemeal?
Putting a 35-mph section in the middle of two 45-mph areas doesn’t work. It’s hard enough getting traffic to slow to 45 at Poplar Road southbound, and both the county and state police do the best they can.
Since the work is supposed to go on for at least two years, it would make more sense to slow everyone down now.
The speed limit goes back to 45 mph after construction is complete.
—Judy Brader, Fredericksburg
VDOT’s Kelly Hannon agrees that U.S. 17 is one of the area’s busiest primary roads, noting that some 55,000 vehicles use the highway between I–95 and McLane Drive each day. And tractor–trailers comprise 17 percent of that traffic.
For a little background, the $48.9 million project will widen U.S. 17 from McLane Drive to the area of Stafford Lakes Parkway. Work is slated to be finished in December 2016.
Now, for the answer to the question of changing the speed limit: It’s not gonna happen. Here’s why.
The lower speed limit is strictly for the construction zone, a safety measure for drivers and workers, who are now in the area between International Parkway Stafford Lakes Parkway.
Work is being done in phases, and the 35-mph zone will gradually increase to cover the entire project zone, which at least is close to what the questioner suggested. That should happen in early 2014, Hannon said.
VDOT’s approach, Hannon explained, “strikes a balance between keeping motorists and construction crews safe, and allowing motorists to progress to their destination.”
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436