The expansion of Virginia’s 95 Express Lanes to the Fredericksburg area is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year, putting the project more than a year behind, toll operator Transurban announced Monday.
The project, a public-private partnership between Virginia and Transurban, will provide a milestone in the state’s plan to create a network of more than 90 miles of high-rise (HOT) tolls in northern Virginia.
Work on the expansion of 10-mile HOT tracks began in 2019 and was expected to be completed in October this year. The project’s delays – and the contract dispute – have been attributed to challenges with soil conditions, including a highly plastic clay and silt material, which officials said requires a different approach to construction.
Transurban and its contractor, a joint venture between Branch Civil and Flatiron Construction (BFJV), recently settled a cost dispute and the project timeline, according to Transurban. The extra time and mitigation required to deal with the land challenges will increase the project’s initial cost of $ 565 million by about $ 100 million. Transurban is financing the project.
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Amanda Baxter, vice president of the Virginia market and operations for Transurban North America, said the late 2023 timeline is achievable after builders move beyond the “unpredictable” land-related delays.
“These mega-projects are very complex, and that kind of thing happens,” she said. “We went into this year knowing that we would find a way forward and we had a good dialogue with our contractor about the possibility of promoting this project.”
In an arbitration hearing last October, the BFJV disputed that geological conditions in the construction zone affected its ability to keep the project on time. An arbitrator ruled that the BFJV was entitled to a price adjustment and more time to complete the project. Transurban said construction never stopped during the arbitration process.
The toll operator is expanding the reversible 95 Express lanes from Route 610 in the Garrisonville area to Route 17 near Fredericksburg. Virginia transportation officials say Fredericksburg extension will increase lane capacity by 66 percent during peak hours direction along one of the most congested sections of I-95.
When the lanes open, carpooling will be allowed to run for free, while solo motorists can use the lanes for a fee. Officials say all drivers will benefit from it because having more drivers in the toll lanes should also alleviate the congestion in the regular lanes.
VDOT, which oversees the project, said in December that it expected Transurban and BFJV to find a solution to minimize delays in the schedule. In a statement Monday, VDOT Fredericksburg District Engineer Marcie Parker said the agency welcomes the outcome of the negotiations “which benefit the people most affected by this mega-project – the travelers on I-95.”
“We will continue in our oversight role to ensure the project is delivered safely, built with quality and completed as quickly as possible,” she said.
Transurban officials said they were aware soil conditions when the project started and that the contractor conducted soil tests but acknowledged that the repercussions of the bad soil were greater than expected.
“The breadth and depth of this problem was much broader than a test regime would allow you to know,” Baxter said.
Construction since June 2019 has created additional traffic headaches for drivers in the corridor, although smaller traffic volumes during the coronavirus pandemic helped minimize the effects. Most of the work is done in the median of the route.
Crews have recently torn down the American Legion Road bridge and are working to rebuild it to accommodate the express lanes. The work, which will take about nine months, requires a detour in Stafford County for people living along the road.
In the coming months, crews will lift and install beams across the highway for future access points to the express lanes, which will affect traffic in both directions.
“You really want to see an increase in construction activity,” Baxter said.
She said that although the target opening date is December 2023, Transurban offers incentives in the hope that the contractor could open the payment lanes faster.
Transurban operates a network of more than 50 miles of Northern Virginia express lanes along Interstate 95 and 395, as well as the Capital Beltway. It is working on a three-mile extension near the American Legion Bridge.