Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: Speakers celebrate opening of extended express lanes in Stafford

FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, CATHY DYSON

One speaker after another shared stories of being stuck in traffic along Interstate 95 and how the new project they’d gathered to celebrate — the 10-mile extension of express lanes in Stafford County — would alleviate some of the mess.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) referenced the time he “camped out” on I-95. He was stuck in his car for more than 27 hours in January 2022, after a brutal snowstorm crippled the region and left hundreds stranded.

Mike Discenza, acting president of Transurban, the company that operates the express lanes, had barely started talking when people applauded. When he said the FredEx project addresses one of the most congested stretches of highway in the nation, some of the audience, which included several hundred people, applauded loudly.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin mentioned times he’d uttered a few choice words while being stuck in traffic jams, instances that he had to ask forgiveness for, come Sunday.

“But today we are collectively saying an amen and hallelujah, and that’s what’s so exciting,” the governor said. “This collective effort is going to literally get Virginia moving.”

Workers involved with the project from Transurban, the Virginia Department of Transportation, Branch Civil and Flat Iron Construction joined elected officials from local, state and federal governments Wednesday for a ribbon-cutting on the new express lanes.

The official opening of the extended lanes, from State Route 610 to U.S. 17 in Stafford, is expected at 10 p.m. Thursday for southbound traffic and Friday morning for northbound traffic.

The opening comes four years after work began on the $670 million, 10-mile extension of reversible lanes, designed to address congestion issues at the merge area in North Stafford. The lanes will run on the same schedule as the overall express lanes network.

Speakers hailed the change that the extended lanes would bring to the region. Sheppard “Shep” Miller III, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, called the project nothing short of transformational.

“This 10-mile extension is the biggest investment in I-95 and the region since the interstate was widened to three lanes in the 1980s,” he said.

Others cited the way the extended lanes will add 66% more capacity during peak times and move 30% more traffic along the corridor, according to Transurban.

“The reality is this expansion will provide so many opportunities to the people I represent who commute back and forth to parts of Northern Virginia, who head south to see family, who head north for business or vice versa,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th District). “This is such an important day for Virginians.”

Pamela Yeung, chair of the Stafford Board of Supervisors, said how much she and fellow board members and residents appreciated the state investing more than $1 billion in transportation infrastructure within the Fredericksburg region.

“We look forward to when Stafford is no longer synonymous with an interstate bottleneck or gridlock,” she said, adding that traffic on I-95 often spills over to Garrisonville Road, Mine Road and Courthouse Road.

Kaine also shared a story about a fellow passenger on a flight he took last week. The flight attendant and pilot came to congratulate the passenger on flying his millionth mile with the airline. Both asked if there was anything they could do to commemorate the moment, and he said, “Just get me to Chicago,” Kaine recalled.

“I think I’m the I-95 version of that guy,” Kaine said.

But then, he stressed that his weekly treks — he goes to Washington on Mondays and returns to Richmond on Fridays — pale in comparison to other commuters.

“I’m a minor leaguer compared to most of you, because if you live in Stafford and Fredericksburg, it’s up and back to work everyday,” he said.

While the extended corridor will open Thursday, construction will continue on new ramps. That work is slated to wrap up later this year.

Once all of the new ramps open, traffic will have several access and exit options to the extended section of express lanes, along with new entry/exit points to get to Marine Corps Base Quantico, north of the new toll lane section.

Youngkin said that’s particularly important because “folks, there’s 28,000 workers in this region who need access to this extraordinary center of our national security and defense.”

Work on the extension started in 2019, five years after the opening of the express lanes, which replaced the formerly free HOV lanes to create an electronically tolled network running to the Capital Beltway.

This extension is the second addition since the toll lanes opened. The first, shorter extension was added after traffic problems emerged at the Route 610 merge area soon after the express lanes opened.

Work toll lanes extension has been part of a larger I-95 construction zone that includes the Rappahannock River crossing project. The crossing project added three new lanes to southbound I-95 between U.S. 17 and State Route 3, with the northbound expansion expected to be completed in 2024.

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