Does This Highway Need to be Widened to Six Lanes?

i-64 in New Kent County  Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is a campaign underway to expand a stretch of I-64 from Richmond to James City County.  Currently, the Interstate highway is a four-lane divided highway.  The proposal is to add an additional lane in each direction.

The Department of Transportation estimates the cost of the project at $750 million.

The first public evidence of the campaign came in the form of proposed amendments to the state budget bill.  The House of Delegates has proposed dedicating $30 million in general fund revenues to the project.  The Senate has gone bigger; it proposes $190 million in general fund appropriation.

Next came an op-ed piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The authors of the piece are a venture capitalist, the chairman emeritus of a leading law firm, and the CEO of a marketing research firm.  The piece is a example of boosterism at its finest.  Its headline claims that the expansion of the highway will “create game-changing growth.” The authors claim that the 29-mile “gap” of just four lanes from Richmond through New Kent County to James City County “stands in the way for both the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions to realize their full economic growth potential.”  The interior headlines of their piece announce that eliminating that gap will enable this region of the state to: maximize the economic power of the Port of Virginia; maximize the economic impact of Virginia tourism; maximize the impact of corporate investment; and maximize the opportunity to become a Global Internet Hub.

Finally, there was a push at the recent meeting of the new regional authority established to allocate the revenues from a new regional gasoline tax.  As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the authority had developed a plan for allocating the $276 million it had available among 30 high priority projects in the region, when the representative from New Kent County asked the body to reconsider the plan and include the widening of I-64 through New Kent.  The county requested a $400 million commitment.  The representatives of Chesterfield and Henrico counties killed that idea.  (Because the number of votes a jurisdiction has is weighted on the basis of population, those counties, together, can control the vote.)

Reading through the article, the reason for this campaign becomes apparent.  According to Shep Miller, the Director of the Virginia Department of Transportation, without some outside funding, the project will not qualify for state funding under the state’s Smart Scale system of scoring projects.  There is a need to lower the unfunded balance in order for it to qualify.  Therefore, he said, “All of us are trying to find ways to cobble enough funding together to get it done.”  The “cobbling” would include any funding earmarked by the General Assembly in the state budget and allocations from the new federal infrastructure bill, as well as regional funding.  Apparently, it is important that the region have some skin in the game.  Carlos Brown, a member of the regional authority and of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, urged a “moral commitment” of up to $100 million.

The Henrico and Chesterfield representatives did not oppose the project itself.  They said they objected because of the last minute maneuvering, saying they felt “ambushed”.  They pledged to “rally around and figure out some sort of funding mechanism.”


My Soapbox

There is no question that this stretch of Interstate is crowded in the summer, especially on weekends as people are either heading to the beaches or heading home from the beaches.  It is especially backed up on holiday weekends as drivers coming from the north take the exit from I-295 onto I-64 East near the Bottoms Bridge exit.  Other than that, the traffic flows smoothly.

It is interesting that the authors of the op-ed piece and the New Kent representative on the regional authority cite the same example as to why the expansion is needed—a new distribution center being planned by AutoZone in New Kent County.  As the op-ed explains, “ AutoZone plans to spend $185.2 million to establish an 800,000-square-foot distribution center in New Kent County along I-64, creating 352 new jobs. Trucks will need a congestion-free route along I-64 to transport products to and from the Port of Virginia, and from the distribution center to stores on the East Coast.”  New Kent Supervisor Patricia Page lamented, “New Kent was fortunate enough to get one of the largest warehouses that AutoZone will probably ever build. However, what difference does that make if we cannot get their product into Exit 211?” Something tells me that AutoZone would not have made this commitment if it had not already checked out the highway and was satisfied that it would meet its need to transport products to its various stores in the area.

This campaign has all the hallmarks of being pushed behind the scenes by people who stand to make a good bit of money from the highway’s expansion.

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35 responses to “Does This Highway Need to be Widened to Six Lanes?”

  1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    It needs to be three lanes.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Make it 8, like on the Peninsula.

  2. Acbar Avatar

    Just because this project is “being pushed behind the scenes by people who stand to make a good bit of money from the highway’s expansion” doesn’t make it bad for Virginians generally.

    I’m familiar with this section of I-64 in all sorts of conditions and times of day. It’s nearly as crowded just about any weekday as on summer weekends. It’s “Northern Virginia” crowded, with a heavy truck component. If the movement of trucks between Richmond and Hampton Roads is important to the Virginia economy, then widening this stretch of I-64 is important to Virginia’s economy. If some folks make money off the widening then so be it. Isn’t that what economic development is all about?

  3. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    There is always the get rich model of the Dulles Greeneay to line some pockets. What is the future market of AutoZone as EVs expand in numbers? What will the driveway DIY repair look like?

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Yet another non-partisan, non culture war post about something relevant and important in Virginia.

    Lot of talk about I-95 through Fredericksburg and justifiably so but this section of road also has “issues” more days than not on weekends IMHO. We have diverted off of it more than once because it was a slow-moving parking lot.

    It’s very very costly to “add a lane” to an existing limited access road, i.e. an interstate because most every bridge, overpass, and exchange has to be torn down and re-done. It will likely cost a billion dollars to do it.

    The way to pay for it is not by making localities that are adjacent pay for it; heckfire, 90%f of the traffic especially on weekends is not even from the local area.

    It’s an easy thing. Put toll lanes on it. Let people choose between no-toll and toll and let the tolls pay for it. Make the tolls variable so that they can keep the toll lane running in high traffic periods.

    People trying to get to the Outer Banks will gladly pay a few extra dollars to get to their vacation on time AND they already pay a toll when they get to North Carolina anyhow!

    Tolls are a win-win. They pay for the added lane(s) AND if variable, they manage the congestion levels and guarantee free-flowing conditions.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      VDOT has estimated the cost at $750 million. Even if approved today, I would bet the eventual cost would be $1 billion.

      As it stands now, the project apparently would not score high enough on the Smart Scale to justify full state funding. I am assuming that, if the traffic were heavy enough to justify tolls, Fluor and its partners Transurban and Lane Construction, the folks who built the HOT lanes in Northern Virginia, would be proposing to do that on I-64.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        SmartScale, as currently shaped, won’t pay 100% for highway expansions. Even the new I-95 bridges over the Rappahannock did not qualify for SmartScale and had to be funded from a program called the Atlantic Gateway.

        The new “express” lanes ( HOT toll) from the current start point in Stafford to the new bridges will be done by the toll concession “Mobility Partners” but I-64 will “leak” potential toll traffic to US-460 and the last time, a few years back, the toll folks did not believe toll lanes would pay for themselves much less be profitable.

        It’s possible that VDOT might be willing to make up the difference; they actually have that provision in the I-95 HOT lanes if those lanes attract too much “free” HOV traffic; the state will pay additional if/when that happens.

        As said earlier. I’ve travelled I-95 and i-64 and both can be parking lots on weekends and/or accidents.

        New lanes will cost a billion plus and there is no money in the VDOT budget for that unless gas taxes are increased – and even then with the advent of hybrids and electrics, it would also be increased “use” taxes on them.

        The question is should everyone who drives in Virginia – pay to fix these roads or should that cost be put on those that use them?

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          You obviously are more informed about the Smart Scale than I am. There was a time when I was fairly well versed in highway funding, but that was a long time ago, before the many changes in recent years.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            only somewhat. I sit on the local citizens transportation MPO and a significant part
            of their work is their transportation plan and vetting projects for smartscale now that it’s the primary path for many discretionary projects.

            Fredericksburg had the same issue with improving I-95 as the counties adjacent to I-64 in that there is a significant amount of traffic from beyond their own region and their funding ability is limited while any improvements to interstates is uber-costly.

            Fredericksburg has made the point – also – that weekend traffic is even heavier than weekday commute traffic and much of it is passing through.

            Issues like that on improving I-81 – though they have more truck traffic. They wanted to toll it but opposition was significant and no agreements for a decade or more. They managed to cobble together (with difficulty) a path forward.

            New roads and new lanes are HARD especially when expensive – VDOT simply does not have the budget for billion dollar projects and that’s why they go to tolling with HOT lanes to afford the initial cost then tamp down rush hour demand with congestion pricing.

            My understanding is that Aubrey Lane played a big role in all of this.

          2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            But the Governor says that we have more transportation revenue than we need!

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            And even his GOP supporters know that’s not true but when you characterize it as giving people back their money……..

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Sounds like another example of where sky high tolls should be implemented to pay for road expansion. What … ? Sky high tools are only needed for road expansions in NoVa? Ahh!

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      yes. And vary the tolls according to congestion levels. Let people choose between the untolled lanes and tolled lanes and in doing that , let the folks who want the new road, be the ones that pay for it.

      A study was done a few years back on I-64 and the study indicated that toll lanes may not pay for themselves because people would also divert to US-460.

      I-64 has gotten progressively worse since then, especially on weekends.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    It’s a real phenomenon, “I-64 Red Light”, the beloved children’s game.

    You’re ripping along at 70 and… sudden stop. Creep, creep, creep. Then whoosh, you’re off again at 70… for another mile.

    Old salts know that from May Day to St. Crispin’s Day hopping on Rte.60, or better still, Rte. 5 is the only way to escape the trucks and tourons.

    You’re right, somebody will make money on the expansion, but without it we are all losing in wasted fuel, time, and okay, every once in awhile, insurance claims and dead people, aka “Blood on the Highway” improvements.

    BTW, given I-64 expansion, and the creation of I-87 in NC, will help the Ports of Hampton Roads.

    Now, if we could just convince the Navy that “No, the Japanese will not bomb Norfolk,” and build some cheap bridges over the James and Elizabeth rivers, life would be soooo much better.

  7. Lefty665 Avatar

    64 needs to be 6 lanes all the way from Richmond to Norfolk, and has for years, It’s often as bad as I-95 north of F’burg.

    Virginia has been way behind the 8 ball on interstate widening for decades. Long past time to get our heads out of our butts.

  8. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    In that area I 64 runs through low income and disproportionately minority sections of Virginia. I think expanding it would bring into question the Environmental Justice Act. The EJ Act lays out a framework where EJ communities can’t face any potential disparate impact. The increased emissions and the increase “heat island” affect of the expanded road would do just that.

  9. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    During the year that my son attended ODU in Norfolk, we drove this section of I-64 quite often. We also drove it many other times to and from the NC beaches. It was often jammed.

    While my evidence is totally anecdotal, it strikes me that NCDOT, which also controls all roads in the state like VDOT, is more active in providing needed capacity on heavily travelled roads than VDOT. Unlike NOVA, the Triangle seems to receive a better return on its tax dollars for transportation.

    NCDOT is rebuilding an intersection on heavily traveled NC 98 in Wake Forest near our house. While the construction delays are irritating, the new intersection should be able to handle more traffic safely than the earlier design. I’ve also noticed NCDOT has built a number of “U-turn” intersections to enable more right-in, right-out entrances/exits traffic to move more efficiently without the cost of building more traditional intersections and losing the value of right-in, right-out facilities.

    In contrast, I don’t believe that VDOT/FCDOT has done anything significant to the numerous intersections identified for improvement as part of the 2010 Tysons Comp Plan revisions.

    I’ll continue to observe things here in Wake County and see whether my initial perceptions continue.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      TMT – need to look at “access management” for VDOT. They are closing cross-overs and lengthening left turn lanes at intersections for U-turns.

      Also -NCDOT is getting into toll roads including in your region:

      1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

        I’ve been aware of toll roads in the Raleigh-Durham area since I began driving to, from and around the area when my daughter was a freshman at NC State in 2010. I didn’t notice the special U Turn features until we moved here and started driving locally on a regular basis.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      We’ve diverted off of I-64 a number of times – once the left lane is blocked, the frustrated pass on the right and force their way back into the left lane… it’s a constant worry about people on their brakes while others are speeding up. In my mind, it’s actually worse than I-95.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        It is. Worse than I95. The morons on I64 switch lanes like mad in tie-ups.

  10. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Also… get some money for a flyover from SBI-95 to EBI-295 and get rid of that damned left exit! Geez, the place is a rear-ender dream spot.

  11. Ronnie Chappell Avatar
    Ronnie Chappell

    The state should get on with the job of adding these lanes, making travel between Richmond, Williamsburg and the rest of Hampton Roads safer, faster and less stressful. One gets the sense that if the naysayers had been in charge, I-64 would never have been built given the fact that US 60, a perfectly good four lane road, runs parallel to the interstate. When I moved back to Williamsburg after a more than 40-year absence I was astounded to discover that I-64 was essentially the same as the day I graduated from William and Mary. Two-lane to Newport News and the James City County line, short merge lanes. The big change was the traffic and the chaos caused by a single accident. I remember thinking to myself as I sat in traffic behind one pile up how backward the state was in its approach to critical infrastructure. The improvements to I-64 between Williamsburg and Newport News have made a huge difference. The drive is safer, faster and far less stressful. It has shortened commute times for thousands of workers and expanded the customer base for hundreds of local businesses. Some have profited more than others. But all who live in the area have benefited from these improvements.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Of course, when I graduated from W&M, I-64 stopped at Bottoms Bridge and one had to take US 60. (That is still what I do when going to Williamsburg from Richmond.)

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Not Rte.5? One of our truly beautiful roads. Are you aware there is a bicycle path from Charles City to Williamsburg just next to the road?

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          I like Rt. 5 a lot and would occasionally take it. But it is not as direct as Rt. 60 and my wife sometimes gets impatient on those country roads.

          Yes, I am aware of the Capital Trail. I was skeptical at first, but it has turned out to be a popular and well-used bike path.

  12. Matt Adams Avatar
    Matt Adams

    When my family used to travel to OBX for vacation from NWPA, we took 64 maybe twice. We preferred to use 460 and even go as far to break it up with an overnight in Petersburg.

  13. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    There will always be special interests who advocate for something and then look for ways to shift costs. In the case of I-64 that is evident as commenters have observed. But that doesn’t mean that expansion is not justified. In addition, as long as I-64 is designated as an emergency evacuation route, the four lane bottle neck will be a serious safety problem.
    I lived in New Kent from 2003-2018, I can attest that over that period congestion became a real problem on a daily basis. Summer travel only made matters worse.

  14. Richard S Corner Avatar
    Richard S Corner

    Having lived in Southeastern Virginia all my life and made the drive westward on I-64 (and back) many, many times under a variety of conditions, I am surprised anyone would hesitate to support the widening. The widening to Williamsburg has already been transformative and made the road safer. And although we haven’t had to organize a mass evacuation in advance of a hurricane [yet], one day we will be grateful for the extra capacity.

  15. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

    I’m late to this conversation, but just about all of my views have been expressed by others, except one: Nothing has been said about law enforcement. The truth is, I don’t feel safe on I-64, and I have rarely seen any law enforcement between Richmond and Virginia Beach that would slow down drivers. It’s the law of the Wild West on that stretch of highway. To be fair, it is not as frightening as I-81 or the Virginia Beach Expressway (I-264). But, if I-64 were widened to three lanes, would it be safer? I think it would, but when, oh when, would it be finished? My parents moved to Virginia Beach in 1967 and lived there until 2018. My mother told me that during the fifty years they lived there not once was the “road from here to Richmond and back” free of construction. Ugh.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      The problem is when you widen an interstate -just about every single overpass, bridge and interchange has to be rebuilt. And if you’re gonna do that, it’ll be cheaper to add more than one lane (or at least enough for a future lane or lanes.

      These are not cheap to rebuild. I cost more than a billion dollars to add lanes to I-95 and a good portion of the cost was the rebuilds.

      There is no way that kind of money could come out of the adjacent counties allocations and folks over in western Va or northern or tidewater might want their “share” and point out that when their lanes were widened they were paid for with tolls.

      In both cases, the tolls are variable and are set according to real-time congestion levels. People still have choices, use the older untolled lanes or at least in I-95 case, travel for free if HOV.

      I-95 from Fredericksburg to Richmond will also need to have lanes probably sooner than later.

      Almost no one likes the tolls but IMHO, they’re effective at managing congestion levels and more important, they produce the money needed to actually widen the lanes. There’s no way gasoline taxes are going to be increased statewide to pay for these.

  16. Crosswalks to Nowhere Avatar
    Crosswalks to Nowhere

    Adding more lanes increases traffic due to a phenomenon called “induced demand”. A simple way to think of it is like the old “Field of Dreams” movie saying “build it and they will come”. The additional lane influences more people to use the road. If you think i’m wrong just try to think why Los Angeles super highways with 6 lanes both ways are a nightmare full of traffic everyday all day. More lanes create more problems

  17. Given our political climate and population growth, it probably makes sense to widen I-64 to 6 lanes sooner or later. At the start of a probable recession is as good a time as any.

    But I wonder why we can’t also consider the following as alternatives in the short term:

    * Use that $750m to improve passenger rail speeds and frequencies between DC/Richmond and Norfolk (or an extension to VaBeach)

    * Heavily toll all the tunnels during peak hours ($20+, then free rest of time) to distribute the traffic flow to different times. I know there are likely some federal restrictions on this for I-664, but the USDOT can grant exemptions and has been known to do so.

  18. Given our political climate and population growth, it probably makes sense to widen I-64 to 6 lanes sooner or later. At the start of a probable recession is as good a time as any.

    But I wonder why we can’t also consider the following as alternatives in the short term:

    * Use that $750m to improve passenger rail speeds and frequencies between DC/Richmond and Norfolk (or an extension to VaBeach)

    * Heavily toll all the tunnels during peak hours ($20+, then free rest of time) to distribute the traffic flow to different times. I know there are likely some federal restrictions on this for I-664, but the USDOT can grant exemptions and has been known to do so.

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