Scott Shenk writes about transportation issues affecting Fredericksburg-area residents.
Stafford residents give transportation officials a hard time
Officials with Stafford County and the highway department went to the Celebrate Virginia lodge Thursday night to give a routine presentation on road projects and how such work gets done.
They ran into a tough crowd.
More than 100 residents from Battleground Estates and 55-and-older subdivisions Celebrate and Falls Run listened quietly during much of the presentation, but eventually several stood and angrily questioned the approach to road improvements.
Virginia Department of Transportation officials and county supervisors Gary Snellings and Susan Stimpson tried to calm the crowd by explaining the complexities involved with transportation planning and giving details on numerous projects.
Some of their explanations worked, others didn’t.
Of particular interest to attendees was the Interstate 95 exit on U.S. 17, an infamous area that regularly backs up for miles, primarily because of traffic jamming into one lane to get on the interstate.
“Widening 17’s not going to do much good if you can’t get onto 95,” said one man to applause. “Why spend the money if you can’t get onto 95?”
VDOT officials said the highway’s widening is one portion of plans to ease congestion there.
The $50-million project will widen the highway to six lanes from McLane Drive to the entrance of the Stafford Lakes subdivision. Turn lanes also will be added. Work is slated to begin in mid to late 2013, and it could take up to two years to finish.
One man at the meeting said transportation officials often make the mistake of not dealing with “choke point” areas—such as the U.S. 17 interchange and the I-95 bridges over the Rappahannock River. Those are the problem, he said, and if they don’t fix them the other work won’t make a difference.
“It sounds like it’s a patchwork thing,” said the resident, who added that he wasn’t “knocking” VDOT because he sees the same problem with other highway departments. “But, doggone it, it doesn’t solve the problem.”
Snellings told the group there have been plans on the books to fix traffic in the area, once in the form of the old Outer Connector and most recently with the Rest Area Access/Toll Road, now known as the Rappahannock River Crossing.
“Our friends to our south killed it,” said Snellings, referring to Spotsylvania’s Board of Supervisors. Two different boards of supervisors in Spotsylvania have voted down those projects.
The most recent instance involved the Rappahannock River Crossing project, with a newly elected majority of Spotsylvania supervisors quashing the plan that included a parkway that could have carried a toll.
The parkway would have run from the rest area on I-95 and between State Route 3 and the Rappahannock River before feeding back into the highway in the Gordon Road area.
The supervisors, some of whom ran on a platform against the project, said the plan was too expensive and wouldn’t have solved the traffic problems, often caused by commuter traffic leaving the interstate at Central Park.
Snellings and VDOT officials pointed out that there is still $2 million set aside for part of the Rappahannock River Crossing project that could lead to improvements at the U.S. 17 interchange and add feeder roads and new bridges over the river along I-95.
Keith Dayton, Stafford’s acting deputy administrator, said he understands that transportation can be a hot-button issue and that’s why they hold these meetings.
“We are moving forward” with many projects that will help with traffic problems, Dayton said.
Attendees also raised questions about the $25-million Falmouth intersection project, which could start in 2014, and the Falmouth bridge, with some questioning whether it is safe.
VDOT’s Marcie Parker promised that the bridge has been inspected and deemed safe and said VDOT is looking into what can be done to improve the structure.
Officials also gave details on other projects, including the I-95 interchange on Route 630 in the courthouse area and 11 road projects being managed by Stafford County.
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