Commentary: Unlocking Northern Virginia

Commentary: Unlocking Northern Virginia

Weekly during the General Assembly session and several times monthly during the remainder of the year I travel the Dulles Toll Road to the Beltway to I-95 South to Richmond. Since I travel south early in the mornings and return late in the day I can generally make the trip in two hours. Mine is a reverse commute, but I witness in the lanes going in the other direction the bumper-to-bumper, slow-moving traffic experienced by commuters daily.

Express lanes on the Beltway—I-495—along with its widening have helped relieve congestion with the exception of the American Legion Bridge that is like a parking lot much of the time. I-95 is its own parking lot during commuting times.

Fortunately, relief is on the way, but the size of the transportation projects requires years for completion. Widening with express lanes and using traffic management technology will bring some relief to the I-66 corridor. The most promising congestion relief for the region was announced recently with Virginia receiving a $165 million federal FASTLANE grant that will be leveraged to fund $1.4 billion in multimodal transportation projects in the congested I-95 corridor. The entire undertaking is being called the Atlantic Gateway Project.

For the highway commuters I see stuck in traffic on my trips to Richmond, the project will fund the extension of Interstate 395 express lanes about 7 miles north to the Potomac River and I-95 express lanes about 10 miles south towards Fredericksburg. A new I-95 bridge will be built across the Rappahannock River. For rail commuters and rail freight the project includes the construction of 14 miles of new track along the CSX rail corridor crossing the Potomac River to enhance freight, commuter and passenger rail routes. Mass transit options will be expanded with 1,000 new parking spaces for commuters along I-95 and I-395.

The federal money coming from the United States Department of Transportation competitive grant program, FASTLANE, is part of a $4.6 billion, 5-year program that was passed in Congress in 2015 after years of delay and inaction. The project in Virginia has national significance in that it will help unlock the most congested part of I-95 on the East Coast. Not only will Virginia commuters realize relief, but it will be shared by travelers from New York to Florida. Likewise, commerce will be enhanced with the railway and highway improvements.

Added to the $165 million in federal money will be $565 million in private investment by Transurban and CSX Transportation through public-private partnership agreements and $710 million in state transportation funds. Construction on some parts of the project will begin as early as 2017.

The multimodal approach being used in this corridor establishes a significant precedent that must be followed to successfully unlock other areas of Northern Virginia from some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.