National Gateway project’s progress to ease traffic congestion in region

Numbers from the Census Bureau detail how many people drive into D.C. each workday, and from where. (WTOP Photo)

WASHINGTON – A milestone this week marks a big step toward keeping more trucks from crowding key highways in the D.C. area, including on Interstate 95.

CSX, Virginia, Maryland, D.C., West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio are celebrating the completion of phase one of the National Gateway project. It will eventually allow so-called double-stacked freight trains to carry more containers from ports, including Norfolk and Baltimore through Pittsburgh and into western Ohio.

Big improvements along the corridor will allow the trains to run with two containers stacked on each car rather than one, which is an important way to avoid extra truck traffic when the Panama Canal completes a big expansion in 2015.

“Those long-haul trucks are the ones that tend to get in your way when you’re trying to do business in traffic,” Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Chief Operating Officer Kevin Page says.

The $850 million phase one focused on the western half of the project from central Pennsylvania to northwest Ohio, while phase two includes several key tunnel or bridge changes in the Washington area.

The second phase is slated to be completed in 2015, just as the Panama Canal begins accepting wider ships that can carry more cargo.

“As we bring all those containers and prepare for the opening of the Panama Canal, there are going to be big winners of port developments on the Eastern Seaboard. The more containers we bring into the port of Virginia, we have to be ready with landside logistics or we will clog up our highway system,” Page adds.

He says the project will help relieve potential congestion, keep roads safer and reduce wear and tear on the highways.

“Some estimates show that that will save Virginia about $100 million in highway maintenance by taking freight off the road,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says.

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