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New VDOT tool aims to curb crashes, prevent stop-and-go traffic on stretch of I-95

'Crash rates are so high' on I-95 between Thornburg and Fredericksburg, VDOT official says
VSL VDOT
Posted at 5:21 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 20:14:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Starting Thursday, if you drive on I-95 northbound between mile markers 115 and 130 (between Thornburg and Fredericksburg) you will notice new digital speed limit signs.

Starting next Wednesday, those signs will start displaying a different speed limit depending on conditions.

The signs are part of a new Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) project called a Variable Speed Limit (VSL) zone that aims to reduce crashes and decrease travel times for drivers in that stretch.

"The person hours of delay and the crash rates are so high," VDOT Assistant State Traffic Engineer Mena Lockwood said.

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As a result, VDOT unveiled a tool officials hope will reduce those issues. Variable Speed Limit or VSL zone is where digital speed limit signs are placed every six-tenths of a mile that can change what the limit is.

"The signs will reduce the speed where there is a slowdown, whether caused by an incident or work zone," Lockwood said.

VDOT officials said sensors above the signs will take real-time traffic data and relay it to an automated system that will determine whether and by how much to slow down cars heading to the trouble spot.

The speed limit will at most drop by 10 mph between each sign and will go no lower than 35 mph.

"There's a beacon on top of each speed limit sign," Lockwood said. "So when the system is activated, and the speed limits are below the maximum, the beacon will flash."

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VDOT officials variable speed limits will reduce crashes by slowing drivers before they get to a congested area and get them through the trouble spots faster.

"We're trying to prevent that stop-and-go traffic and let the drivers travel at a constant speed through the corridor," Lockwood said.

VSLs, which have been deployed in other parts of Virginia and the U.S., on average have reduced travel times by 5% and crashes by 8%.

Cortiz said he has come across them before with no issues.

"No, it's easy," he said. "It makes sense."

Additionally, police are provided data as to what the current speed limit is in the VSL zones.

Virginia State Police said traffic laws remain the same in VSLs and that there are no additional penalties.

Troopers said that while they understand there will be a learning curve for drivers, they are not planning increased enforcement in the area.

While the signs were unveiled Thursday, they will not start changing speeds until Wednesday, June 22.

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