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Freight traffic issues plague Fredericksburg region

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To the average driver, Interstate 95 between the Fredericksburg and Washington can frequently seem like one long traffic jam.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the freight industry sees the same stretch of I–95 as a serious problem.

The stretch of interstate in Stafford County recently made a top-100 list of worst freight trucking bottlenecks in the country, and data shows the stretch of interstate between Fredericksburg and D.C. may be the worst freight bottleneck in the state.

Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop freight traffic. Like all other road traffic, much of the tractor–trailer traffic vanished in 2020. But freight truck traffic soon returned to pre-pandemic figures, and it continues to rise.

FAMPO Administrator Ian Ollis thinks the region needs to better understand what already is a freight traffic problem—one that will only grow worse without better planning.

He gave a presentation to the FAMPO Policy Committee at its Monday meeting, saying the region needs to take a look at the impacts of freight traffic. He scheduled a September summit to cover the topic.

“We have, between our region and D.C., the worst freight delay times in the state of Virginia,” Ollis told the committee. “That’s a fact. The data indicate it. So we want to dig into this problem.”

Ollis was citing 2017 data in a graph—from the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation—showing Fredericksburg’s “truck travel time reliability index.”

The graph shows Fredericksburg’s truck travel reliability is the worst out of 11 Virginia regions, outpaced slightly by Washington, D.C. Hampton Roads was the only other Virginia region close to having the truck travel problems found in Fredericksburg and D.C.

A stretch of Interstate 95 in Stafford County also made the 2022 list of worst freight bottlenecks in the U.S.

In the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2022 list, the Stafford stretch of I–95 is the 70th worst. The average tractor–trailer speed was 48.1 mph, with the low speed dropping to 44 mph during peak congestion, according to 2021 data. The peak average speed along the stretch of interstate dropped 10.4% between 2020 and 2021.

Freight traffic is picking up, too. An America Trucking Association update on freight movement in March showed a sharp spike.

In a news release, ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said the report shows that “contract freight was solid in March, witnessing the largest sequential gain since May 2020. March was also the eighth straight month-to-month improvement, with a total increase of 7.4% over that period.”

On top of a general increase in national freight truck traffic, the coming years will see more local freight transportation added to the mix as large warehouses in Stafford start operating at full capacity.

Online retailer Amazon, which already has a 200,000-square-foot warehouse on Centreport Parkway in the county, plans to open an additional 630,000-square-foot complex. A 533,000-square-foot DHL distribution facility is under construction on Wyche Road, and that facility is expected to bring heavy truck traffic to the Courthouse Road interchange.

At Monday’s meeting, Ollis said the goal of the summit, scheduled for September, is to produce a report covering the issues and potential remedies.

One thing Ollis thinks can be improved is the state’s long-range plan, which “perhaps needs some updating to include some slightly different freight metrics.”

Ollis also told the committee that some of the area’s road infrastructure needs to be updated in order to properly accommodate big trucks, something else the summit will address.

The summit also will focus on such things as specific problem areas for congestion, challenging intersections, causes of delays, and freight rail challenges.

Ollis said FAMPO is inviting various entities to the summit, including the VDOT, the Virginia Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, freight and logistic companies, as well as local officials.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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