The Center Square: Kaine, Spanberger discuss future northern Virginia transportation projects

THE CENTER SQUARE, SARAH RODERICK-FITCH

The national capital region is notorious for its political divisiveness, and traffic, the latter being a unifier.

With the new Interstate 95 express lanes opening to traffic today promising to ease congestion, are there other projects in the pipeline to improve transportation issues in northern Virginia?

Political and transportation leaders are optimistic the new 10 miles of express lanes through Stafford County will improve traffic congestion while touting Transurban’s concurring project, the 495 Express Lanes Northern Extension, rail projects and infrastructure improvements.

The new project, expected to cost $660 million, will extend the 495 express lanes north by over two miles, from the Dulles corridor to the George Washington Memorial Parkway – including interchanges by the American Legion Bridge.

In addition, Transurban is in discussions with the commonwealth to study the feasibility of adding bi-directional express lanes along I-95, but the challenge is limited space along the corridor.

“It is extremely tight through that area,” Amanda Baxter, senior vice president of Virginia market and operations for Transurban, told The Center Square. “And if you think about it, operationally, it won’t be the entire system. So we have something that we could scale but we will always be operating a reversible system on either end of those bi-directional so there’s a lot of planning in discussions that have to go into the feasibility of it that can work and that’s the stage that we’re at now.”

Baxter quashed concerns general lanes would be used to expand the express lanes.

“We always have to maintain the general purpose lanes capacity in our network. We want to preserve three lanes,” she added.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a regular user of the I-95 express lanes commuting between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, was especially enthusiastic about the new lanes. When asked by The Center Square if there were any plans to extend the express lanes to Richmond, he said currently, there aren’t any plans but highlighted rail improvements along the corridor.

“Right now there is not a plan that I’m aware of that Transurban are going to go south of this extension, but there are other plans in the corridor, so significant plans to improve both VRE and Amtrak service,” Kaine told The Center Square. “The state purchased the rightaway between Richmond and Arlington and we’re doing major upgrades through the infrastructure bill there.

“We do have more investment that will create more options for commuters in the region.”

The senator referenced the plan to add a rail bridge over the Potomac and additional tracks between D.C. and Richmond to accommodate more passenger rail service, offering more commuter options.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger weighed in on infrastructure improvements, specifically regional bridges. One of the challenges for traffic moving through Stafford County is that there are currently only two routes running north and south, U.S. Route 1 and I-95. The Falmouth Bridge over the Rappahannock River that connects Stafford County and Fredericksburg as part of Route 1 needs repairs.

“Just last year actually went out with VDOT bridge engineers to look at the Falmouth Bridge that’s a bridge that is in need of significant repairs and because of the infrastructure law, they have been able to move up the timetable for when they will be making improvements on that bridge, which is a really exciting reality for anyone who crosses from Stafford into Fredericksburg,” Spangberger told The Center Square.

Spanberger, like Kaine, stressed the importance of improving rail service, providing an alternative to commuting via vehicle.

“For commuters who might not want to take 95, they may not want to drive themselves or participate in a vanpool ensuring that our rail options are you know, top notch in can get from D.C. southbound or the reverse in a kind of efficient manner is a valuable option,” the congresswoman added.

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