On the left: New I-95 interchange puts you on ‘wrong’ side of road to help traffic

On Saturday, there is going to be another spot in the D.C. area where you are supposed to drive on the wrong side of the road.

A new Interstate 95 interchange at Courthouse Road (Exit 140) in Stafford, Virginia, opens around 7 a.m. Saturday. This includes the bridges over I-95, where Courthouse Road traffic briefly switches to driving on the left side of the road.

The design, known as a diverging diamond, eliminates the need for drivers heading one way to wait at red lights during left turn arrows for drivers heading the other direction.

At this interchange, that means eastbound traffic trying to reach I-95 North bears left onto a ramp rather than waiting for a left turn signal.

Westbound traffic trying to reach I-95 South also simply bears left onto an entrance ramp after crossing over to the other side of the road.

See how it works below.

Still, the experience can be unnerving for unsuspecting drivers, as it can look like you are heading toward oncoming traffic as you approach the interchange. But once you get to the actual spot where traffic crosses, the road bends; and continuing straight through a green light is the correct path.

“If you focus on the pavement markings that are in front of you — you can see the arrows here — and you focus on the signage, it will really guide you into the direction that you need to go,” Virginia Department of Transportation project manager Beau Hoyt said, demonstrating the driving experience on Wednesday.

When the interchange opens Saturday morning, the current Courthouse Road lanes under I-95 will close to through traffic.

For about two more weeks, drivers exiting from I-95 South onto Courthouse Road will still use the existing ramp, but they will be forced to turn left toward Route 1. To reach Courthouse Road westbound, drivers will turn right just after the park-and-ride lot, then right again into the new interchange.

stafford county
A new Interstate 95 interchange at Courthouse Road (Exit 140) in Stafford, Virginia, opens around 7 a.m. Saturday. (WTOP/Max Smith)
diamond design, i-95
Diverging diamond design of the new interchange in Stafford County, Virginia. (Courtesy VDOT)
diamond design, i-95
On Saturday, there is going to be another spot in the D.C. area where you are supposed to drive on the wrong side of the road. (Courtesy VDOT)
diamond design, i-95
The design, known as a diverging diamond, eliminates the need for drivers heading one way to wait at red lights during left turn arrows for drivers heading the other direction. (Courtesy VDOT)
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diamond design, i-95
diamond design, i-95
diamond design, i-95

The 1,100 total park-and-ride spaces, bus loop and slugging area are expected to be completed by May.

The permanent ramp connection from I-95 South will open around Dec. 20, once dirt is filled in and new asphalt is poured to connect the exit to the new interchange.

VDOT also expects to have the Courthouse Road widening just to the west of the interchange fully open on Dec. 20.

At that time, the existing Courthouse Road underpass will completely close so the area can be used for 95 Express Lanes extension construction over the next two to three years.

For drivers on I-95, the change will be the location of entrance and exit ramps. It means drivers will need to pay close attention to avoid missing their exit and should expect merging traffic from slightly different locations than before.

The $195 million interchange and Courthouse Road widening project also includes a new wider connection to Route 1.

“People will see almost an immediate improvement on their normal commutes,” Hoyt predicted.

Westbound traffic headed toward Route 1 will now have two left turn lanes to go north, two lanes to go straight across, and one right turn lane to head south.

Traffic light timing will be tweaked over the next few weeks.

The project plans were based on Stafford County development plans over the next two decades.

“Twenty years from now, we’re going to have four times the amount of traffic,” Hoyt said.

The project and related work also include a sidewalk between the Stafford County Government Center, the park-and-ride lots and the east side of I-95 closer to schools.

Virginia has six of the interchanges spread across the state, including one over Interstate 66 in Haymarket that opened in 2017. Traffic patterns there quickly adjusted to the new designs, Hoyt said.

An additional diverging diamond interchange planned at Nutley Street and Interstate 66 was scrapped in favor of amended designs.

Saturday morning

To shift traffic onto the new interchange, VDOT expects to stop traffic on Courthouse Road for 15 to 30 minutes around 7 a.m. Saturday.

Crews are prepared to quickly put concrete barriers and construction barriers in place to make the new traffic pattern clear.

Traffic on I-95 itself is expected to keep moving.

Hoyt suggested avoiding Courthouse Road between about 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Saturday, just in case.

Practice makes perfect

School bus drivers, firefighters, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office and others have gotten dry runs, briefings or other training at the interchange to avoid any surprises next week.

While there are LED streetlights, Hoyt suggested regular commuters who live nearby may also want to check out the interchange in daylight this weekend to avoid surprises Monday morning.

The speed limit is 40 mph.

If you miss your exit to I-95, do not slam on the brakes or cut anyone off. Instead Hoyt encourages drivers to continue on until there is a safe place to turn around and come back the other way.

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