Stafford Co. leader rents I-95 billboard, asks commuters to text traffic complaints

WASHINGTON – A Virginia politician is so unhappy with the current condition of Interstate 95, he’s put up a billboard asking drivers to text their displeasure about the highway’s traffic.

“Well they are sitting there in traffic anyway, at least four days a week,” said Stafford County Supervisor Paul Milde, who represents the Aquia area. “We’re just trying to respectfully gather a group of people together that are willing to speak as one voice.”

Milde rented a billboard off the northbound side of I-95, just south of the Garrisonville Road exit in Aquia, that asks drivers who are frustrated with the traffic to text a number to put together a petition.

He is trying to drum up public support to get more work done on I-95.

Last month, Gov. Terry McAuliffe says that I-95 Express Lanes will be extended about two miles south. He also announced that Interstate 395 high-occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV) will be converted to high-occupancy toll lanes (HOT)

“This will be another great game changer for us southbound,” McAuliffe told WTOP during an Ask the Governor segment on Nov. 24. “We will now take it down approximately 2 more miles to get us through that bottleneck that we have at the Garrisonville exit now.”

Since taking office, McAuliffe has focused on congestion relief on Interstate 66.

“When I ran for governor, I said I’m going to do something about Northern Virginia congestion,” McAuliffe told WTOP. “These are pragmatic solutions. I’m happy to say I’ve honored a campaign pledge I have made.”

Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, has praised the improvements.

But clearly not everyone is happy.

“That was very clever how he packaged the extension going north through Arlington along with this little tiny 2-mile extension in Stafford, which we know — based on their modeling — isn’t really going to do much to help us,” Milde said. “When they presented the modeling, it showed it did not do anything to relieve the traffic heading south and only slightly by a few minutes relieved the traffic going north during rush hour.”

Milde said that the current setup of the I-95 Express Lanes has cost drivers commuting through Stafford County an extra 44 minutes each week.

“We’re gridlocked right now. We’re stuck,” Milde said. “It’s twice as bad as it was before the HOT lanes were put there. We were given commitments and we need it taken care of, we need it addressed.”

Often, the traffic issue on I-95 is from motorists who are driving through Stafford County.

“The problem is that 30,000 people live and work in Stafford and a bunch more live in ‘Spotsy’ [Spotsylvania] and Fredericksburg, and commute to Quanitco or Stafford to go to work,” Milde said. “They are sitting traffic for almost an hour more every week because of where these HOT lanes end.

That second phase of the project was expected to extend the express lanes all the way south to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County.

“Our last letter from this administration in Richmond that still confirmed they were moving forward with the HOT lanes on the phase two extension to Massaponax,” Milde said. “Then all of the sudden — when we started asking again, pushing to find out what the plan was, where’s the activity on the issue — we were seeing lots of activity on (Interstate) 66, and they were talking about a lot of stuff in Northern Virginia. They weren’t talking about the HOT lanes in Stafford anymore.”

Extending the 95 Express Lanes all the way south to Spotsylvania County isn’t a cheap proposition. Milde said it’s a billion-dollar effort.

Milde claims he was told in a letter that in order for the next phase to move forward an application would have to be submitted through the House Bill 2 program, a law meant to prioritize the decision process for which commonwealth transportation projects gain funding.

“Do we want to be unrealistic?” Milde asked, rhetorically. “No. That is a billion dollar price tag. Maybe two exits. It doesn’t necessarily have to go all the way down to Massaponax in Spotsylvania County, but it certainly can’t stay where it is.”

And the Stafford County Republican has a message for state leaders: “Let the governor and (Transportation) Secretary (Aubrey) Layne know that this is important to people in this region and that we need a little more attention here.”

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