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Friday, February 13, 2015

I-95 widening will affect local traffic

Residents look at maps at the VDOT meeting.
The Annandale Blogger was unable to attend the VDOT community meeting on plans to widen I-395 and thanks a reader for submitting the following article.

Trade-offs seemed to be the theme at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Feb. 10 public information meeting at Holmes Middle School on the planned widening of Interstate 395 southbound between the Duke Street and Edsall Road exits.

The project has two main goals: to eliminate the well-known southbound bottleneck at Duke Street where the four through-lanes narrow to three and to reduce the high rate of accidents that occur in the cloverleaf merge areas at both Duke Street and Edsall Road. More information on the project, including FAQs, traffic data, and maps can be found on the VDOT website.

A VDOT illustration shows the changes planned at the Edsall Road interchange.
The current design forces exiting traffic to decelerate and weave right into the exit lane, while traffic entering southbound 395 has to accelerate and weave to the left. VDOT hopes to improve safety by eliminating one of the cloverleafs at each interchange.

Of course, as is often the case with legacy infrastructure, the widening project will involve trade-offs. While I-395 commuters will enjoy a faster, and hopefully safer, ride, local residents will be forced to absorb many of the disadvantages that the project will create.

These include disruptions and delays caused by what will surely be a lengthy construction period; new traffic patterns; an inadequate design for Little River Turnpike/Duke Street that reflects VDOT’s failure to adequately plan for the new HOT lane traffic patterns; and perhaps most obviously, the addition of new traffic signals on already-congested arteries.

All motorists exiting I-395 at Duke Street will use what is now the westbound, Little River Turnpike exit 3A. The existing cloverleaf for eastbound/Duke Street traffic will be eliminated. The Little River Turnpike exit ramp will be widened, allowing two left-turn lanes for drivers heading east on Duke Street and a right-turn lane for westbound Little River Turnpike traffic.

All lanes will be controlled at the top of the ramp by a new traffic signal.VDOT claims that the addition of a signal at this location will not be significantly disruptive, noting that the Beauregard/Little River Turnpike intersection is the main reason for congestion in the area.

VDOT will take a different approach at Edsall Road, eliminating the cloverleaf that currently allows westbound Edsall Road traffic to access I-395 south. In its place, VDOT proposes the creation of a new, signal-controlled, left-turn-only lane.

The new lane will be created in the westbound median just after the I-395 overpass and just before the existing support for the flyover ramp that allows eastbound Edsall Road traffic to access I-395 northbound. This location will also be the site of the new I-395 southbound on-ramp for eastbound Edsall Road traffic, as VDOT plans to eliminate the current on-ramp.

A sixth signal would be added in the half-mile stretch of Edsall Road between Mitchell Street and Beryl Road. VDOT officials claim the additional signal will not significantly impede traffic flow, citing the fact that, unlike signals at a typical intersection, this one will not have to be timed to allow for cross traffic. VDOT also maintains that its analysis has taken into account the high percentage of truck traffic concentrated in this area.

Residents look at planned changes to I-395.
One aspect of the plan is already colliding with unintended consequences of the new express lanes on the interstate.

As local residents are well aware, the opening of the express lanes south of Edsall Road has led to a surge of bailout traffic clogging the flyover Edsall Road exit from the southbound express lanes. Motorists who previously could travel southbound in the HOV lanes during off-peak hours are choosing to return to the regular lanes at Edsall Road (the last exit before tolling begins), rather than pay the variable express lane tolls.

The flyover was not designed to handle such a mass exodus, and traffic has, at times, backed up into the express lanes as exiting traffic merges out of the Edsall Road “exit only” lane and into the main lanes.

Unfortunately, the VDOT plan calls for even more traffic to be dumped into this already-overburdened flyover. VDOT officials have redesigned I-395 southbound access for motorists traveling east on Little River Turnpike. VDOT was concerned that some of these motorists are weaving across several lanes of traffic to reach the left HOV lane between Duke Street and Edsall Road.

To prevent such risk-taking, VDOT’s plan would have motorists traveling east on Little River Turnpike merge first with the HOV Edsall Road flyover traffic before merging onto the main regular lanes.

When pressed about how this could possibly work given the current unanticipated backups, VDOT officials optimistically suggested that the express lane backups will ease as motorists become more familiar with the new traffic patterns and more people obtain E-ZPass Flex transponders needed to travel in the toll lanes.

VDOT encourages concerned residents to submit comments by Feb. 26  to Calvin Britt,VDOT, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030 or email feedback to Reference “I-395 South Additional Through Lane” in the subject line.

The public meeting was well attended by VDOT officials and consultants, and the formality and thoroughness of the presentation, including computer simulations showing how they expect traffic will flow after the changes, strongly suggests that this plan will be implemented in the near future.

Indeed, several VDOT representatives emphasized that elimination of this bottleneck is a high priority, and they expect it to be funded.

If so, it appears that motorists on I-395 will benefit from a faster and safer commute. But for local residents, it remains to be seen whether the disruptions and delays will dissipate once construction concludes, or whether this VDOT project will result in still more unintended consequences.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like an unmitigated disaster, and I don't see much abatement for Beauregard/Little River disaster that I deal with daily. There has GOT to be something that we can do there.