A FREAK accident on Interstate
95 in Stafford County that
closed down all the northbound lanes of the nation’s busiest highway for several hours last week is yet another warning that the Fredericksburg region remains perilously on the verge of gridlock.
According to the Virginia State Police, 69-year-old Earl Vaughan allegedly raised the back of the heavy dump truck he was driving just as he was going through the Truslow Road bridge underpass, causing the truck bed to get stuck in an upright position. Vaughan, who suffered minor injuries and was treated at Mary Washington Hospital, was later charged with reckless driving.
The traffic situation was complicated by the fact that the dump truck hit a concrete structural beam on the bridge, which had just opened in April as part of the I–95 Express Lanes Fredericksburg Extension project. The new $565 million span had to be inspected for structural damage before VDOT inspectors would allow traffic to proceed. Fortunately, the damage to the bridge was minimal.
However, the effect on local traffic was not. The problem for area motorists was how to get where they needed to go without hopping on northbound I–95. “Travelers can expect heavy congestion on Route 1 northbound and other arterial routes in the Fredericksburg area,” VDOT warned.
Vehicles swarmed onto U.S. 1 because that’s one of the few north-south options. Even though the crash happened at 12:40 p.m. (and thankfully not during rush hour) interstate traffic also had to be detoured onto State Route 3 and U.S. 17 and U.S. 301, which also quickly became clogged. It took VDOT more than four hours to finally open two northbound lanes on I–95 and relieve the pressure.
But what if the overpass had sustained structural damage severe enough to shut down that part of I–95? And the detours that were merely inconvenient last week had to become a regular part of the daily commute for weeks or even months?
Route 1 is already heavily congested and, as VDOT’s final report on its Route 1 Corridor Study completed last November noted, the intersections at Fall Hill Avenue and Hanson Avenue/Princess Anne Street are already in the red zone (i.e. failure) during the evening rush hour.
The Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is currently conducting an Intraregional Multimodal East–West Study to identify possible ways to lessen reliance on these two heavily congested north-south arterials. Building a stronger network of connecting roads and multimodal transportation options is the best way to make sure that a freak accident or two doesn’t shut the whole region down.