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Chronic I-95 congestion being addressed

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Heavy traffic in the main line and high-occupancy vehicle lanes of Southbound Interstate 95 approaches State Route 234 in Prince William  County on Friday, June 27, 2014.  (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Heavy traffic in the main line and high-occupancy vehicle lanes of Southbound Interstate 95 approaches State Route 234 in Prince William County on Friday, June 27, 2014. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Interstate 95 pumps some 140,000 vehicles through the Fredericksburg area each day, and any disruption on it can lead to problems throughout the region.

Area police and emergency responders have dealt with the issue for decades, but now they’re using new planning methods and technology to keep up with the challenge of working and clearing crash scenes in an area now infamous for traffic congestion.

Last year, there were more than 1,300 crashes on the interstate from North Stafford through Spotsylvania County, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles figures.

While the Virginia State Police is the primary force on I–95, when a crash happens on the interstate multiple agencies get involved—local police, fire and rescue and the Virginia Department of Transportation, to name a few.

All of the agencies and crews have to work together, quickly and efficiently, to help crash victims, investigate the incident and keep traffic flowing, if possible.

In the past several years, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office along with other area police and emergency responders have been trying to get ahead of the curve by using a federally sponsored training program designed for faster, more efficient emergency responses, Sheriff Charlie Jett said.

Along with the training, there are some additional tools coming soon that should help region emergency responders get to incidents faster.

One change involves VDOT moving an incident-management coordinator from its Fairfax County traffic management center to the Fredericksburg area, allowing for better monitoring of traffic and response to incidents in the region.

The highway department also is adding a third safety service patrol truck to cover the I–95 corridor in Stafford, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. The additional patrol unit is set to start running on July 19.

Southbound traffic along U.S. crawls past Telegraph Road in Stafford County on Friday, June 27, 2014. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Southbound traffic along U.S. crawls past Telegraph Road in Stafford County on Friday, June 27, 2014. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

VDOT and the Stafford Sheriff’s Office also are working to move a transportation controller into the 911 operations center near the courthouse. That’s expected to happen sometime after the Fourth of July holiday, Jett said.

VDOT’s Kelly Hannon said the focus on better training and the additions to traffic management attest to “how critical it is to keep traffic moving,” especially on I–95. She also said it “speaks to the volume of traffic that comes through the area.”

Having more eyes to monitor traffic could be the difference between a deputy or ambulance reaching a scene in minutes or getting stuck in traffic, Jett said.

“A lot of times my folks are sitting in traffic with their lights on,” the sheriff said.

And the federal training already helps emergency responders get scenes cleared up more efficiently and faster.

Those things allow “the right hand to know what the left hand is doing,” Jett said. The way they work now “is much more seamless.”

Traffic duties, Jett noted, are a major part of what the Sheriff’s Office does these days. Deputies now split their patrol time evenly between dealing with traffic issues and fighting crime, he said. His office investigates upwards of 3,000 traffic incidents a year.

Many of the crashes that area sheriff’s offices handle occur on local roads, but they usually become involved in some manner when there are crashes on I–95.

Those interstate crashes often lead to more problems because a jammed I–95 inevitably leads to congestion on most if not all of the Fredericksburg area’s main roads.

Jett said managing traffic after a crash on I–95 is becoming more difficult because of growth and a lagging transportation infrastructure.

“Even a minor incident results in major tie-ups,” he said.

People often “don’t see what happens behind the scenes,” the longtime sheriff said of the efforts made to deal with a major crash on I–95 or other main area road.

The new approaches to handling incidents have already led to some improvements, said Jett, adding that the increased monitoring should make it even better.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

 

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2014/07/03/transportation-chronic-i-95-congestion-being-addressed/

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