SPRINGFIELD, Va. — As many people in the region plan for a summer getaway to the beaches in Virginia or North Carolina, transportation leaders are reminding drivers to expect some delays on any trip south on Interstate 95.
The reason is the 95 Express Lanes project, due to be completed at the end of the year.
The project is about 80 percent complete, and it will run 29 miles from Garrisonville Road, in Stafford, to Turkeycock Run, near Edsall Road in Alexandria.
“For August, our goal is to minimize the closures where we can and only take weekend closures when we have to,” says Walter Lewis, project director at construction company, Fluor.
Nonetheless, Lewis says that full High Occupancy Vehicle-lane closures will be necessary to complete the project and open the toll lanes on time.
“When we do have the HOV lanes closed, it is because there is no other way to do the project, but to do that,” says Susan Shaw, Virginia Department of Transportation’s Megaprojects director.
“While it might not look like much is going on during these full weekend closures, there are tests and inspections being done. This is also a critical part of the project and making sure that it is safe when it opens.”
Most of the 30 overhead toll gantries that read your E-ZPass, and the 200 cameras to catch people who don’t pay, are already installed. But crews still want to do up to 10,000 dry runs through the corridor to make sure everything is working properly before it opens early next year.
Also, crews still need to install 3.7 million linear feet of cabling and wire, 190 lane control signals and more than 100 electronic message signs. Crews will repave the entire stretch and add new lane markings, guardrails and sound walls before the end of the year.
Nonetheless, both VDOT and Fluor understand a lot of motorists will be heading out of town on weekends. Their advice is to plan ahead and be prepared for some delays.
“We’re going do our best to minimize the impact during the peak times when head to the beaches or other points south. We’re going to try and keep southbound open between the Franconia Springfield Parkway and points south on Saturday mornings,” says Shaw.
“We will also be monitoring the traffic conditions. If we see big backups, or something else happening that we didn’t expect, we can work with our partners to reopen the HOV lanes.”
As with the 495 Express Lanes, drivers with fewer than three people can pay a toll and drive on the road. Unlike the 495 Express Lanes, drivers will be able to enter and exit onto the main I-95 lanes at various points.
Transurban, which operates the 495 Express Lanes and will also operate the 95 Lanes, has not yet set rates for the 29-mile stretch. Toll rates will fluctuate based on real-time traffic conditions, similar to the 495 Express Lanes.
“This project is a lot different than 495 because it’s existing HOV lanes that are being used that are being converted into toll lanes. So the process is a lot more challenging on our part,” says Lewis.