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I-95 Corridor Update Aims to Cure Traffic Headaches

VDOT does what it can to temper the bumper to bumper traffic snarls around Washington D.C.

Tue December 17, 2013 - Northeast Edition
Eric Olson

Anyone who has ever had to drive into or out of Washington, D.C., in particular along the I-95 corridor, has experienced the almost mind-numbing traffic backups and delays common to the area.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic can be found at every compass point in and around the city, particularly on weekdays.

In order to improve the situation, albeit to a small degree, the Virginia Department of Transportation has begun working on a 7-mi. (11.3 km) stretch of I-95 in Prince William County, approximately 25 mi. (40.2 km) south of the nation’s capital.

Work began in April on a project designed to construct auxiliary lanes and widen the shoulders of the interstate, both northbound and southbound, to 12 ft. (3.7 m) with full-depth pavement to make them suitable for drivers to better navigate during emergencies. In addition, new guardrails and improved lighting will be installed.

The entire project is slated to last 28 months, or until the middle of August 2015. The project is projected to cost around $40 million.

“The way that I-95 was originally built did not include a wide shoulder on the left-hand side of the road,” said Bob Cross, a senior superintendent of Lane Construction Corp., a national firm with a northern Virginia office in Chantilly, “so if there is an accident or breakdown on the left side there has not been anywhere for traffic to go and that has led to more delays.”

According to VDOT, the road work will ease several chokepoints along the interstate, which will in turn add capacity during emergencies and cut down on the amount of weaving and merging by drivers.

Keep the Traffic Moving

The trick for Cross and his crew will be to keep traffic moving as normally as possible while the work progresses. That means shifting traffic seamlessly past five entrance/exit ramps northbound and four more southbound, plus a truck-scale stop and a rest area.

The bulk of the construction will be done on the inside and outside shoulders of I-95 between Virginia Route 234/Dumfries Road at the south end to Prince William Parkway in the north.

Auxiliary lanes will be built at three locations to create safer access and merging, particularly at the truck-scale station located at the south end of that stretch of I-95. Southbound, auxiliary lanes will connect the Opitz Boulevard on-ramp with the Prince William Parkway off-ramp, as well as the truck rest stop area on-ramp with the off-ramp to Dumfries Road. On I-95 North, another auxiliary lane will connect the Dumfries Road on-ramp with the truck weigh station on-ramp.

“The only work being done on the right side each way is to accommodate traffic that is shifted during construction,” Cross said. “After the median work is done we will actually resurface the entire 7-mile stretch.”

Rain Is a Problem

A crew of around two dozen workers has been laboring on the project through what has been a very rainy season. That has not been welcome news for Cross.

Late day thunderstorms, always a hazard during the summer in the south, were more prevalent this year. When it is rainy, crews cannot apply new striping to shifted roadways.

But even though the weather was hot and sticky, Cross much prefers the heat to rain.

“The heat doesn’t present a problem for us,” Cross said. “Actually, the heat is better as long as the road stays dry.”

Work Soldiers On

Lane and its subcontractors are working at different points along the 7-mi. stretch of road. Right now, they are doing work on the right side of the northbound lanes, as well as the left side of the southbound lanes, Cross said. He and his crews are working behind barriers to allow cars and trucks to move freely through the area.

A relatively small amount of earthmoving is being down on this project, according to Cross.

“We have around 60,000 to 70,000 cubic yards of earth to excavate, but that is spread out over 14 miles of traffic lanes, so it is really not that much,” said Cross. “Lane is doing the excavation and we’re also placing the stone.”

Among the equipment used by Lane at the site are Hitachi 350 track excavators, John Deere backhoes, Komatsu bulldozers and Caterpillar rollers, all of which are owned by the contractor.

Cross said that his company, as the main contractor on the project, has been working closely with its paving division, Virginia Paving Co., to shift the traffic to the right side of the road — often working six days and nights a week. Assisting them is the Manassas office of Roadmark Corp., based in Durham, N.C. That firm is re-striping the shifted lanes.

Besides Virginia Paving and Roadmark, the other major subcontractor on the project is Long Fence, which is installing a considerable amount of new guardrail along interstate, according to Cross.

Night work has been required on this project due to the strict lane closure restrictions in place on the heavily-traveled interstate. As a result of those restrictions, Cross anticipates very little traffic disruptions other than forcing drivers to slow down when moving onto shifted lanes.

But then, it is pretty rare to see cars moving at the posted speed limits anyway due to the heavy volume of vehicles that typically move along the interstate.

From his job site office off I-95 near Quantico, Cross sees what he calls horrible traffic delays every day of the week.

“Northbound traffic is bad from about 4:30 in the morning until about 9 or 10 o’clock, and then the southbound lanes start to get really bad at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Cross said.

While this project may not in itself ease the highway’s notorious traffic congestion, the hope is that when combined with other nearby projects both ongoing and planned for the future, the area will soon see the problem begin to get a little better each day.

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