NEW KENT – Although thousands of people spend their summer vacations splashing at the beach, riding roller coasters, and visiting relatives, many others spend almost as much time getting to their destination due to heavy traffic congestion.
Traffic congestion has long been a problem on I-64, especially from Richmond to Virginia Beach. The corridor through New Kent County is a hotspot.
"We have several backups on I-64 every week, especially during the weekends and summer times," said Lindsay Legrand, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). "The traffic gets especially congested in the Hampton Roads region due to the beach traffic."
VDOT is in the process of conducting the three-year Peninsula Study of approximately 75 miles along I-64. The survey was conducted to identify transportation needs on I-64 from I-95 in Richmond (Exit 190), through New Kent County (Exits 205-227), to I-664 in Hampton (Exit 264), and how widening the road would impact traffic.
Although VDOT is considering widening the road to alleviate the traffic problem, it will be years before that becomes a reality.
This concerns commuters like Scott Craig of King & Queen County.
"I think we definitely need to widen the road to at least six lanes at the very least," Craig said. "It's a matter of National Defense."
Craig noted that I-64 east runs from Virginia's capitol in Richmond to the military bases in Newport News and Hampton to the heavily populated summer destination, Virginia Beach.
"We need that road widened for hurricane evacuation purposes," Craig said. "When it's time to pull the trigger on evacuation and there's that many people in the area and on the road, it'll be too late."
According to VDOT, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) approved the proposed widening of I-64 in Hampton Roads in January. The $144 million award-design-build project will go out to bid this winter.
The Peninsula Study, which was started in 2011, revealed that the Hampton Roads area needed "immediate congestion relief."
To help alleviate this problem, VDOT is proposing to widen 5.5 miles of I-64 to relieve congestion from Exit 242 (Humelsine Parkway) and Exit 255 (Jefferson Avenue) by adding one 12-foot wide travel lane and one 12-foot wide shoulder in each direction.
The project scope says that the widening of I-64 is expected to occur in the median of the existing interstate.
VDOT estimates that the project will be completed in winter 2018.
According to Craig, it's not just the inadequate number of interstate lanes causing the traffic congestion.
"People just jam up there because the road is rough," he said. "I see people slowing down and slamming on their brakes because their car starts bouncing."
"It's like hitting rumble strips."
VDOT recently announced that it partnered with contractor Lee Hy Paving, of Glen Allen, on a $13.9 million project to repair and repave nearly 16 miles of I-64 between the James City County line near mile marker 224 and mile marker 209, which is just east of Airport Road in New Kent County.
Paving started this month and will continue through October. The entire project, including a second paving, is to be complete in November 2015.
Drivers can expect periodic lane closures throughout the project, which will take place during overnight hours.
Additional resurfacing work on I-64 is planned between mile marker 205 (Bottoms Bridge) and mile marker 209, just east of Airport Road. The project is scheduled for advertisement in 2016 with completion set for 2017.
Aside from road conditions and only two lanes in each direction, West Point resident Ron Kirkland said there's another reason for the congestion — commercial and "Sunday" drivers in the left lane and too many tailgaters.
Kirkland suggested that VDOT "restrict all commercial vehicles to the right lane" and that state police "start writing tickets for people driving in the left lane that are not keeping up with the flow of traffic, and write even more severe tickets for people exceeding 80 mph, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, and cutting people off."
"We just have to show the will to get something done and demand that our representatives in Richmond act now," Kirkland wrote on the Tidewater Review's Facebook page.
No matter what the reason for the traffic congestion, Vick recommends drivers remain alert when traveling the highway.
Vick recommends that drivers:
•Always have a safe following distance
•Don't become distracted while driving, i.e. using cell phones, eating, reading the GPS, and texting
•Obey the posted speed limits
•Be courteous to other drivers
For real time information about traffic incidents or road conditions for the I-64 corridor and other areas of the state, call 511 or visit http://www.511virginia.org.
For more information on the Hampton Roads I-64 widening project, visit: http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/hamptonroads/i-64_widening_project.asp.
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.
Box truck driver causes 12-mile back-up on I-64
NEW KENT – State police charged the driver of a box truck after he caused a nine-car accident on Interstate 64 east in New Kent County last week.
According to the Virginia State Police, James R. Frazier, 41, of Norfolk was driving a 2007 freightliner box truck on I-64 east near mile marker 222 on Tuesday, July 8, when he came upon slowing traffic. Frazier told police that he looked down to get water and when he looked up, the traffic was stopped.
Frazier struck a Toyota minivan, which then struck a Chevrolet Silverado pickup. As a result of this accident, six other vehicles, including two tractor-trailers, became involved in separate accidents, Sgt. Stephan Vick reported.
Frazier has been charged with reckless driving.
Several people were transported to MCV hospital but it is unknown at this time the extent of their injuries.
The crash shut down I-64 east and one lane on I-64 west for several hours and backed traffic up over 12 miles. According to Vick, the cleanup took more than 7 hours.