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Manassas leaders approve plan to add longer third traffic lane

Would a third lane move more traffic on Sudley Road in front of Novant Prince William Hospital?

Manassas City officials think so, as the plan to build a new third lane in this area has been on the books since 2000. Now, city planners will go back to the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Richmond to review some proposed changes for the $7.4 million project.

While the project was approved in 2015 and funded with state money, the Manassas City Council voted 5-1 on December 11 change the scope of the project. Planners first envisioned constructing a third lane on the northbound side of Sudley Road, from Impala Drive to just past Godwin Drive, across the city line into Prince William County.

The new lane would mirror a third lane that already exists on the southbound side of  Sudley Road in front of the hospital. The plan would have also called for the burial of power lines along the street.

But the effort to bury the lines is more expensive than extending the lane.

So, the City Council approved a new plan that would scrap the plans to bury power lines and instead construction a much longer third lane from Godwin Drive to Grant Avenue. The project would also bring a newly reconstructed sidewalk, new streetlights, a new fire hydrant, and relocated utility poles, and extended turn lanes at Sudley Road and Godwin Drive.

“This project won SmartScale funding from the state and, typically, these projects have to go back to the Commonwealth Transportation Board to be reviewed if we learn the project is going to cost more,” Michelle Brickner, a city engineer, told the Council. But this is more of an anomaly because it will cost less.”

Sending the item back to The Commonwealth Transportation Board to review at its January meeting is a courtesy. Any saved money will be returned to the state, not the city, and we’ll know just how much will be saved when the project designs are finished in 2018.

The project is still in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and take two years.

The City Council approved the changes, it was the first time officials had learned about changes to the project. That sparked ire from elected leaders who asked why not only the measure was placed on the consent agenda for rapid approval, or the scope changes weren’t introduced at a previous meeting of the city’s land use committee, but why a public hearing on the changes had not been held.

Councilman Ken Elston voted for the scope changes, but said the undergrounding of power lines is important to economic development in the city and is part of the city’s overall “branding.”

“I am certainly in favor of additional capacity in transportation, there’s no question about that, but I am not in favor of what I think are large changes being ducked under the radar here, and not taking large, aesthetic changes seriously when it comes to branding our city,” said Elston.

Pamela Sebesky was the only dissenting vote and was assured by Brickner and City Manager Patrick Pate that the public would have the chance to comment on the matter after designs for the project are completed next year before work begins.

“The can come in and see, and they won’t have any assumptions. They can see how the designs will actually look,” said Pate.

Pate apologized for placing the matter on the consent agenda for the December 11 meeting. He told the Council he felt confident they would approve the measure given that the new third lane would connect with an existing lane on Sudley Road north of Godwin Drive that carries commuters to Interstate 66.

“If I just look at whether I spend the same amount of money, or slightly less, to get less congestion in the city and elongate three lanes which reduce that congestion in the city, and doesn’t spend money to underground lines in Prince William County… that seems to me to be a no-brainer,” said Mayor Hal Parrish II.

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