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Students put road projects in fast lane

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Andrew G. Wright Middle School students Lexi Vukmanic (left), 14, and Emily Burnett, 13, give a presentation on their study of the Rappahannock Crossing road project during a Stafford County Board of Supervisors meeting in Stafford on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014.  The two developed an alternative plan for the I-95 corridor, at the urging of Cord Sterling. The girls' project mirrors the one VDOT did in order to break the impasse on FAMPO.

Andrew G. Wright Middle School students Lexi Vukmanic (left), 14, and Emily Burnett, 13, give a presentation on their study of the Rappahannock Crossing road project during a Stafford County Board of Supervisors meeting in Stafford on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The two developed an alternative plan for the I-95 corridor, at the urging of Cord Sterling. The girls’ project mirrors the one VDOT did in order to break the impasse on FAMPO.

While many middle schoolers were probably at home watching television or playing outside Tuesday afternoon, a pair of A.G. Wright students dressed up and gave a presentation to the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.

Alexis Vukmanic and Emily Burnett have spent the past two months researching an issue that has vexed transportation officials for decades: how to fix congestion along the Fredericksburg area’s Interstate 95 corridor.

The eighth-grade National Junior Honor Society members gave a concise, straightforward PowerPoint presentation in the board chambers.

Their recommendation?

Build the western Outer Connector and the Rappahannock River Crossing project.

Stafford County Board of Supervisors member Cord Sterling congratulates Andrew G. Wright Middle School  students Lexi Vukmanic (left), 14, and Emily Burnett, 13, after the two gave a presentation on their study of the Rappahannock Crossing road project during a Stafford County Board of Supervisors meeting in Stafford on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The two developed an alternative plan for the I-95 corridor, at the urging of Cord Sterling. The girls' project mirrors the one VDOT did in order to break the impasse on FAMPO.

Stafford County Board of Supervisors member Cord Sterling congratulates Andrew G. Wright Middle School students Lexi Vukmanic (left), 14, and Emily Burnett, 13, after the two gave a presentation on their study of the Rappahannock Crossing road project during a Stafford County Board of Supervisors meeting in Stafford on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The two developed an alternative plan for the I-95 corridor, at the urging of Cord Sterling. The girls’ project mirrors the one VDOT did in order to break the impasse on FAMPO.

In December, the Virginia Department of Transportation recommended the Outer Connector as a secondary solution to its top choice, the crossing project.

As part of their research, the girls scoured transportation resources online and talked to VDOT engineers who studied numerous alternatives presented by area elected officials.

The girls had to juggle their research with school work, but they said it was worth the effort.

“I think it’s important that we have a voice in this,” 13-year-old Emily said in an interview after the presentation. She noted that she and her friends one day will be driving on area roads.

“We’re gonna pay a lot more attention to it” now, said Alexis, 14.

Cord Sterling, Stafford supervisor and member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, asked the girls to study the issue after seeing them in a countywide debate competition, which the girls won.

“I wanted a fresh perspective,” he said during the meeting, “one from, in this case, students who will eventually inherit what we, the elected representatives in this region, will make.”

At the CTB’s December meeting, VDOT presented a study aimed at helping solve a battle between local officials over how to tame the area’s congestion problems.

Local officials sent 16 alternatives to VDOT for the study.

The crossing project plans call for collector–distributor roads and new bridges over the Rappahannock along I–95 from U.S. 17 in Stafford to State Route 3 in Fredericksburg. The plans also call for U.S. 17 and State Route 3 interchange improvements, including the addition of flyovers to ease traffic backups.

The crossing project also includes the Rappahannock Parkway, which Spotsylvania County officials oppose. This part of the project calls for a new I–95 exit at the Virginia Welcome Center north of the Route 3 interchange. The exit would connect to the parkway, which would run west through Celebrate Virginia and then between the Rappahannock River and State Route 3 before tying into the highway at Gordon Road in Spotsylvania.

The Berea Parkway in Stafford County also is part of VDOT’s top recommendation. The parkway, which has been approved and has funding, would run from Centreport Parkway near the Stafford Regional Airport to U.S. 17.

Combined, the top recommended projects would cost an estimated $711 million.

The western Outer Connector project, which was approved and then rejected by local officials nearly a decade ago, would extend from the Berea Parkway to Route 3 in Spotsylvania. It would cost an estimated $562 million.

The girls noted that the Outer Connector seems like a good long-term solution. It would create a new river crossing west of I–95, they said, something they believe would be a boon for Route 3 traffic.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Emily said after the presentation. “I think they should consider it and I hope they move on with it.”

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

 

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