Congestion on I-95 and Old Bridge Road
Ruth Anderson, Occoquan District Supervisor, Prince William Board of County Supervisors
Frequent commuters along the I-95 corridor in Prince William County (PWC) are painfully familiar with daily radio announcements during the evening commute on I-95 South to “expect major delays as you move over the Occoquan.”
The message is so routine that no one expects to hear anything different. The problem centers on one unfortunate structural deficiency: At the I-95/Route 123 interchange, five lanes decrease to three lanes in an abrupt narrowing of the interstate. The result: Many commuters who could continue further south on I-95 to reach their destinations instead exit I-95 South, travel a short distance on Route 123, and turn left onto Old Bridge Road (OBR) to avoid bumper-to-bumper I-95 traffic as far as the eye can see. The reality: A residential road has become a major thoroughfare to points west in PWC, taking as long to travel on OBR as it did to move south along I-95 from points north.
This problem needs a comprehensive and funded solution to make life better for Occoquan District commuters. That’s why I have hosted five traffic congestion “think tank” community meetings focused on generating citizen solutions to the OBR conundrum. These think tanks sought resident input and produced 70 ideas. Most of the ideas focused on intersection improvements, stoplight timing, better public transit options, and other similar solutions. Almost every discussion led to the same conclusion that the major culprit is traffic congestion on I-95.
My office is currently working with the PWC Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Transportation to merge some of our think tank proposals into workable future projects. In fact, one solution has already been implemented with the erection of a new sign guiding drivers to stay on Prince William Parkway vs. using OBR to get to I-95 during morning commutes. And, another solution is in progress in the form of an extended turn lane onto Minnieville Road close to OBR. But the major challenge that requires a comprehensive solution is how to increase I-95 regular lane capacity.
In late 2016, my colleagues on the PWC Board of Supervisors and I voted unanimously to propose an I-95 widening project to the Commonwealth Transportation Board and compete for transportation dollars against hundreds of proposals by other Virginia localities. Despite our best efforts, our proposed project didn’t make the final cut. Because I-95 is a corridor of statewide significance, I was disappointed in the outcome. One explanation was deeply concerning: That widening I-95 might decrease the number of vehicles in the toll lanes and thus create a “compensation event” with the decades-long Transurban contract. A “compensation event” means Virginia taxpayers would have to compensate Transurban for lost revenue.
As a result, I recently met with Transurban officials to explore various options for widening I-95 in PWC. I was pleased to learn that Transurban is willing to work with localities to allow improvements along I-95 in much the same way they have worked a transportation project in the Springfield area.
So, we are not giving up, and I am determined more than ever to find a solution to I-95 congestion at the Route 123 interchange. I am especially concerned about the revenues lost by PWC when people and businesses locate elsewhere because of our congestion problem. Other improvements along OBR will help some, but a final solution will remain elusive until we address and resolve our I-95 challenges. I remain committed to that goal.