Improving I95 corridor through Fredericksburg and Virginia

September 19, 2016

Source: Free Lance Star | Aubrey Lane - Secretary of Transportation

RESIDENTS AND businesses in the Freder- icksburg region know firsthand that travel delays on Interstate 95 bring uncertainty, loss of time and huge hidden costs to families and businesses alike.

That is why the McAuliffe administration worked closely with our local, state and federal officials, including House Speaker Bill Howell, to propose the Atlantic Gateway program of road and rail improvements in the I–95 corridor.

Early work is already under-way to add significant new highway and express lane capacity to I–95. With these improvements, much of our major interstate corridors such as I–95, I–395, and I–495 have essentially reached their ultimate footprints where future widening will be cost prohibitive, impacts to communities will be too great or both.

This reality means more needs to be done in the future to take more trucks and cars off of I–95. Improving and expanding freight, commuter and Amtrak rail service will provide travel choices for commuters and businesses alike, and will allow the Atlantic Gateway Project improvements to I–95 to better serve the Fredericksburg region for decades to come. That is why the commonwealth is undertaking the D.C. to Richmond Southeast High Speed Rail (DC2RVA) study of rail capacity between Richmond and D.C.

This week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will meet in the Fredericksburg region and receive a briefing on the DC2RVA project. The briefing will focus on a high priority environmental review of whether and how to add third track rail capacity between Richmond and Washington, D.C. This study will help identify necessary improvements to:

• Increase the number of Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express trains serving the corridor.

• Improve the reliability and speed of all trains.

• Increase freight rail capacity to address growth, including goods from the Port of Virginia.

The rail corridor under study is a busy one—currently, there are 1.6 million passengers traveling through Virginia on Amtrak annually, 9,000 daily VRE users, and freight destined for points north and south. Demands will only increase in the future with a doubling of capacity and the Port of Virginia, completion of the Virginia Avenue Tunnel, and continued population and jobs growth.

DC2RVA will increase the benefits of Amtrak and VRE by creating additional capacity and allowing for up to nine more passenger rail round trips daily. The additional tracks and improvements will improve the speed and reliability of these trips through this area to points north and south. These new trains will help reduce congestion on I–95 and provide new travel choices for residents.

The DC2RVA study, in conjunction with the commonwealth’s recently announced Atlantic Gateway Project is part of our overall strategy to reduce travel times, expand access to employment opportunities, enhance the ability to move people and freight, and alleviate some of the worst bottlenecks in the United States.

The Atlantic Gateway Project works in concert with DC2RVA in this corridor to increase road and rail capacity, and includes southern expansion of express lanes to Fredericksburg, construction of a new southbound bridge across the Rappahannock River, and the addition of additional rail capacity in Northern and Southside Virginia.

The Department of Rail and Public Transportation is in the final stages of preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) due this fall that will analyze the benefits and impacts all of the various route and station options studied to date. This will provide much-needed answers to the questions Fredericksburg-area residents have asked.

While my office has heard from many individuals in the Fredericksburg area voicing concerns about the study’s examination of a proposed rail bypass around the city, I stress that no final decisions have been made and that other options are still being studied.

On behalf of the CTB and the commonwealth, I want to thank the residents living along the entire 123-mile rail corridor for their continued interest and patience throughout our study process.

This corridor is critical for the economic competitiveness of the commonwealth and the quality of life of its citizens. Doing nothing is not an acceptable outcome. The decisions coming before the CTB will be tough ones made based on an evaluation of the data. Our responsibility to the public is to be open and transparent as these decisions are made in the coming months.

Aubrey Layne is secretary of transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia and chairman of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. More information on the DC2RVA rail study can be found online at: