- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Northern Virginia’s major highways have reached their capacity, creating longer rush hours and more traffic on side roads, traffic engineers said yesterday.

A recently completed study shows that traffic growth has remained almost flat for four years because there is no room for more cars.

Bill Mann, an engineer who does long-range planning for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), said the peak traffic hour on Interstate 95 used to be 5 to 6 a.m., but changed to 6 to 7 a.m. in the past two years.

A clue for traffic engineers that a highway is reaching full capacity is when there is no peak at rush hour.

“I thought it was interesting to see I-395 was solid for all three peak hours [6 a.m. to 9 a.m.],” Mr. Mann said.

One of the fastest-growing traffic problems is expected to be I-95 heading north from Stafford County. The number of vehicles on the highway is increasing 4.4 percent a year and is expected to reach gridlock by 2009.

“That’s very rapid growth rate,” Mr. Mann said. “That’s more than normal commuting. That means people are moving there for cheaper housing.”

The gridlock is not news to the motorists who endure it, and transportation officials said there is little good news as far as big improvements in the works.

Improvements on the Springfield Interchange between I-95 and the Capital Beltway and the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge are taking up much of the budget for road improvements for the region.

Another difficulty is that the General Assembly cut the budget for the six-year transportation plan by $1 billion to $6.2 billion this year.

VDOT spokesman Ryan Hall said after paying debts for previous projects and funding growing maintenance needs, there is no money for new roads.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board plans to break ground on Monday on a project to widen 3.8 miles of Interstate 66 from Route 234 Business in Manassas to the Prince William Parkway. The project will add four lanes, two in each direction.

Mr. Hall said the original plan was to widen I-66 all the way to Gainesville, Va., and create an interchange, but there was not enough funding for that widening project until 2010.

The Federal Highway Administration began a study last month on widening I-66 westbound on a 6-mile stretch inside the Beltway.

Gov. Mark Warner asked that the study involve local residents, work to stay within the existing right of way and examine public-transportation options.

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