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Prince William plans diverging diamond interchange at Balls Ford Road


First on Potomac Local 

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY — Drivers on Prince William Parkway at Balls Ford Road could see a diverging diamond.

The type of crossing that’s popping up all over the state called a Diverging Diamond Interchange, is proposed to replace a four-way intersection now controlled a signal light, near Interstate 66.

The interchange would be built just south of the current intersection of Prince William Parkway (Route 234 bypass) and Balls Ford Road. The price tag to build the new junction, and widen Balls Ford Road from two to four lanes between the parkway and Groveton Road, sits at about $145 million.

Prince William County officials applied, and the Nothern Virginia Transportation Authority this month approved $235 million for the project. The project now heads to Richmond for approval by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

The DDI design replaces an old cloverleaf design that was to be built in the same area.

Prince William County Transportation Director Rick Canizales said his department was able to lower the projected cost of the diverging diamond interchange, or DDI, project in the design phase and wouldn’t require the entire $235 million. The funds are part of a more than $500 million advance payment from Interstate 66 toll operators I-66 Mobility Partners paid to the state ahead of construction of the I-66 E-ZPass Express Lanes project. The funds will be used to fund road and rail transportation improvement projects in the region.

Prince William County already owns much of the right of way of where the new interchange will sit. While the project is still in the design phase, a portion of what will become the old Balls Ford Road east of Prince William Parkway will become a culdesac.

A right-turn-only, from the southbound side of the parkway for drivers exiting I-66, onto the old portion of Balls Ford Road could be added.

Balls Ford Road is Prince William’s industrial corridor with multiple warehousing businesses in the area to include Martin Brower, U.S. Foods, and Reinhart food services companies. Prince William Parkway (Route 234 bypass) is a popular truck route that links I-66 and I-95.

The DDI is designed similarly to one that opened this summer on I-66 in Haymarket. Two signal lights on the east and west sides of the intersection control the flow of traffic, allowing drivers on Balls Ford Road to drive on the opposite sides of the road to move through the intersection, as well as seamlessly exit the road onto Prince William Parkway.

Known for its safety features, the DDI eliminates the need for making right turns across oncoming traffic to enter and exit a roadway. The DDI in Haymarket was the first in Northern Virginia, and a second DDI is now under construction at Courthouse Road and I-95 in Stafford County.

Balls Ford Road will be realigned and widened to four lanes ahead of the opening of the new DDI. From west to east, the new, wider Balls Ford would divert from Devlin Road and intersect with Wellington Road at a stoplight, then again at Wallingford Drive.

Two new bridges to be built as part of DDI will carry Balls Ford Road traffic over the Norfolk Southern Railway and Prince William Parkway. Once across Prince William Parkway, traffic on the new Balls Ford would reconnect with the old portion of Balls Ford east of Groveton Road.

The Balls Ford Road interchange is one of 10 projects Prince William County officials submitted to the NVTA to be considered for funding from the more than $500 million I-66 Mobility Partners grant. All of the projects were in the Prince William Parkway (Route 234 bypass) corridor and included constructing new interchanges at University Boulevard and Sudley Manor Drive.

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Stafford tables talks for regional transportation authority until 2018

STAFFORD — The creation of a regional transportation authority would give it the power to levy taxes to improve roads and transit in the Fredericksburg region.

Much like RTAs in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the authority would also decide which projects to fund.

After last night, the Fredericksburg region is no closer to establishing such an authority after the Stafford County Board of Supervisors decided to postpone its discussion on the matter until as many as three new Board member takes their seats in January.

Spotsylvania County supervisors rejected the RTA in October. But officials in Fredericksburg support the measure.

Before an RTA could be created, Richmond legislators need to change the rules. The preceding text was taken from a Fredericksburg City document:

“Specifically, we wish to see changed the existing HB 2313 legislation to enable areas outside of Northern Virginia (PDC 8) and Hampton Roads (PDC 23) to also be able to create Regional Transportation Authorities with local and regional support. This would involve removing the size thresholds for regional transportation authorities of 1.5 million population, 1.2 million registered vehicles, and 15 million in yearly transit ridership from the HB 2313 legislation.”

Fredericksburg leaders also want state legislators to allow to require a minimum of two adjacent localities to form an RTA. So, if Spotsylvania leaders opt out, Stafford and other counties in Virginia’s Planning District 16 to include Caroline and King George could still participate.

Stafford Rock Hill District Supervisor Wendy Maurer on Tuesday asked to table the discussion. Without everyone on board, she’s skeptical that an RTA would work.

“I have serious reservations about creating another bureaucracy where we’ll need another six-figure salary person to head the organization,” said Maurer.

She’s of the mindset that if higher taxes is what is needed for transportation projects in Stafford County, let Stafford’s elected officials be the ones to hike the tax rate.

The move toward an RTA may be a bit premature, she adds, as new transportation monies are already flowing into the region.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe last year announced $165 million in new funding for improvement projects along the “Atlantic Gateway” to include Interstate 95 and the CSX Rail line that runs parallel to the highway. The funds are now being used to extend the I-395 E-ZPass Express Lanes to the Pentagon and, when approved, the I-95 E-ZPass lanes to Route 17 in Stafford County.

Those lanes will give drivers new options to carpool, or pay a toll to avoid traffic congestion. A new $149 million diverging diamond interchange under construction now at Courthouse Road in Stafford will give drivers a new way to cross over that highway congestion.

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5,000 VRE Santa Train tickets sell out in less than 7 minutes

Hordes of tickets to see Santa Claus on a commuter train were snapped up Monday.

Virginia Railway Express officials tell us 5,000 tickets for the annual Santa excursion trains sold out in less than seven minutes. The tickets went on sale at 9 a.m. Monday on the VRE website, and at select vendors in the VRE system.

A total of 10,000 Santa train tickets were sold on Monday, marking the sold-out event scheduled on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

Each year, online tickets for these trains sell out under in under 10 minutes. The vendors, which included visitor centers in Fredericksburg, Manassas, and Spotsylvania, all reported to be sold out of tickets by Monday afternoon.

Five excursions of “Santa trains” will operate from commuter rail stations Burke, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Spotsylvania, and Woodbridge. The tickets were sold for $5 in person or $6 on the VRE website.

Children who ride the trains will receive candy canes and coloring books. The trains operate as part of Operation Life Saver’s “Look, Listen, and Live” campaign.

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Here’s when drivers are expected to pack the roads this Thanksgiving holiday

Fuel costs up this year 

Drivers headed to grandma’s house this Thanksgiving will pay more at the pump.

In fact, they’ll pay the most for a gallon of gas in the past three years. The average price for a gallon of gas in Virginia this holiday is $2.32 and $2.56 nationally, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. Last year, drivers paid $1.98 a gallon, and $2.13 a gallon, respectively.

In addition to paying more for fuel, more people also plan to travel this Thanksgiving. The automobile club says 1.2 million Virginians plan to hit the highway, up 3.2 percent over last year. And 4.5 percent more Virginia travelers plan to fly this year versus last year, with 103,217 taking to the friendly skies.

To help drivers, the Virginia Department of Transportation will lift all work zones on state highways starting at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. The state agency also has an interactive travel trends map that shows peak congestion periods for highways.

If you’re traveling on Interstate 95, expect the worst southbound congestion between 1 and 4 p.m. Wednesday. On Saturday, I-95 drivers should expect to pack their patience pretty much all day — between 11 a.m. at 5 p.m — when the north and southbound lanes between Spotsylvania County and Fairfax County are expected to be heavy.

Sunday will also be a congested time to be on the roads. Route 29 through Central Virginia, including Charlottesville, is a preferred alternative, VDOT states.

The holiday getaway will begin this afternoon, and this morning, the operators of the I-95 E-ZPass Express Lanes chimed in:

The warnings come as the number of fatal traffic crashes is up this year in Virginia. A total of 46 people, to include nine pedestrians, have been killed in crashes on state roads in just the past two weeks. There have been 710 deaths on state roads this year, compared to 640 during the same time period last year.

“Tragically, traffic fatalities are on the rise in Virginia,” stated Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent in a press release. “We’ve seen an 11 percent increase over this time last year. With so many people estimated to travel over the Thanksgiving weekend, we need everyone to help prevent crashes by driving smart, buckling up and never driving drunk or drugged. We want everyone to arrive alive and enjoy the holiday.”

During last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, Virginia State Police troopers:
· Cited 9,235 speeders
· Cited 2,928 reckless drivers
· Arrested 132 drunken drivers
· Cited 824 safety belt violations & 286 child restraint violations
· Investigated 1,163 traffic crashes, in which eight were fatal

 

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Ground broken on I-66 toll lanes. Now for the $500 million new money for surrounding transportation improvements.

It’s official: E-ZPass Express Lanes are coming to Interstate 66.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday broke ground for the construction of new toll lanes outside the Captial Beltway from Gainesville in Prince William County to Dunn Loring in Fairfax County.

“Using taxpayer resources wisely to reduce gridlock in Northern Virginia and across the Commonwealth has been a top priority of this administration,” stated McAuliffe in a press release. “The project we are beginning today will increase the capacity of I-66 and give commuters more options for how to get to work, with zero taxpayer investment and a commitment of nearly $579 million from our private partners for even more traffic-reducing projects.

The new toll lanes will be built along 23 miles I-66, where two new lanes in each direction will be placed alongside the travel lanes.

There will be new access points to the express lanes from the travel lanes, reserved space for future transit projects, and at least 3,000 new commuter parking spaces that will accommodate expanded transit bus service in the corridor.

New bicycle lanes will be added in Fairfax County along the corridor, and the long-troubled intersection of I-66 and Route 28 will be rebuilt, removing four traffic signals along Route 28.

As part of the $3.7 billion deal between the state and I-66 Mobility Partners, a partnership between a Spanish firm called Cintra, and a French company called Meridiam, a total of $500 million will be doled out to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority ahead of the toll lanes’ opening. The NVTA, in turn, will then provide funding to projects it reviewed and selected to include a $128 million expansion of the Virginia Railway Express Broad Run station at the Manassas airport, and the construction of a $67 million interchange at Balls Ford Road and Route 234 bypass near Gainesville.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to approve these, and other projects to be funded with the money from the NVTA, on December 6.

But the new lanes and the new money for traffic improvement in the Route 234 corridor isn’t enough for Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman At-large Corey Stewart. He says the state is resting on its laurels when it comes to investing its own money in fixing transportation.

“It only addresses part of the problem. We have major problems at Sudley Manor and Wellington Road, all along Prince William Parkway,” he said. “The state is trying to say we’ve got our share of transportation improvements, when in fact our residents are paying for this with tolls.”

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Support local shops, restaurants, and services for Small business Saturday

“Small Business Saturday” was launched in 2010 by American Express to encourage shoppers across America to focus a portion of their holiday shopping on small, local businesses. The program was initially aimed at helping main street businesses survive the economic downturn and cardholders were offered various perks for shopping small. “Small Business Saturday” has since evolved into an annual event featuring tens of thousands of participating shops, restaurants and service providers throughout the country.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of Manassas and significantly contribute to this historic City’s modern beat. The revenues generated from these businesses are what helps enable the City to provide high-quality public services.

On Nov. 25, Historic Manassas Inc. will celebrate Small Business Saturday by “rolling out the blue carpet” for the local businesses. Events are planned throughout the morning to kick-off the local holiday season and discounts will be offered by many merchants. Come out on Saturday, November 25th and support the local small businesses of Historic Downtown Manassas on Shop Small Saturday!

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Teaching the DAGPAW: Martial Arts and concepts for Life at Manassas Park Community Center

The Manassas Park Community Center offers a variety of martial arts programs for kids of all ages. Master Geoff Mann teaches all of the martial arts classes here at the Community Center. He received his first black belt in 1992 and is a fifth-degree black belt.

Master Geoff has been an instructor at the Community Center for 13 years. That gives him more history at Parks and Recreation than the actual building itself!

Master Geoff explains that the term martial arts initially means “military way of.” The history of martial arts dates back to ancient Greece, Rome, and China. The military of these countries took the fighting and defensive systems of the peasants, adapted, and then incorporated these fighting styles to suit their military needs.

Fast forward to the 1970’s where martial arts legend Bruce Lee became famous for his skills and beliefs that the best fighter is someone who is adapted to any martial arts style while incorporating individual style and not limiting themselves to one practice.

“When I started training in 1985, the MMA club where I was training introduced us to all MMA practices at the time, so we learned a real variety! Now, I teach modern Karate, traditional Tae Kwon Do and I add a little Kempo, Akido, and Jujitsu. My own background and training is inspired by Bruce Lee because we both believe in individual style while emphasizing various martial arts,” he explains.

DAGPAW

Master Geoff tells everyone, students, and parents, that he firmly believes teaching karate and other martial arts is his tool to teach discipline, courtesy, and respect.

“Parents rarely come to me and say they want their kids to defend themselves. Instead, what parents want is for their kids to stay focused and to use their energy learning skills they can use in life. I teach these kids to become better citizens using the concepts of discipline, courtesy, and respect,” he points out.

Master Geoff teaches a theory called, DAGPAW, which stands for discipline, a’s and b’s, goal setting, perseverance, attitude (a good, can-do attitude) and work ethic. To Master Geoff, these are the real benefits of Karate and other martial arts.

“With MMA, the more involved you are, the better off you are. I am also a big believer in having consequences for actions,” he says.

The martial arts uniform is a useful tool to help discipline and focus the children. Mann encourages parents to purchase the uniform to help children achieve their goals. He gives students incentives through the patches on their uniform.

Master Geoff teaches his three to seven-year-old students how to kick properly and gets them to follow those guidelines as closely as possible. He admits there is no one true art form and encourages mixing to adapt to students’ needs and preferences.

“Traditional ways are great, but they might not be practical such as the high jumping kick. This particular kick was originally used to knock people off horses and is not something I use in my classes,” explains Mann.

The MMA classes at the Community Center begins with the Dragon Tots class for students, ages three to four, to learn basic martial arts skills with special emphasis on courtesy, discipline, and respect. This class is on Wednesdays from 12:30 p.m. to 12:55 p.m.

WCRB Mixed Martial Arts are specifically for children, ages six to 13, with or without prior experience, to learn martial arts while emphasizing respect, courtesy, and discipline! This class also combines Master Geoff’s Academic Excellence program to help maximize your child’s learning. The class is on Mondays, from 5 to 5:50 p.m. or 6 to 6:50 p.m.

The Manassas Park Community Center is located at 99 Adams Street in Manassas Park, VA. Managed by the City of Manassas Park Department of Parks and Recreation, the facility is home to basketball courts, a swimming pool, wellness areas, special events, and recreational classes. For more information visit us at www.ManassasParkCommunityCenter.com or call at 703-335-8872.

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Surovell’s short-term 3: Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform, and nonpartisan redistricting

Election Day was an electoral earthquake in Virginia politics.  Fourteen seats in the House of Delegates switched from Republican to Democratic members – the largest switch since 1899.  Two have not yet been certified due to irregularities and three are heading to recounts.  We do not know if any party will control the House and probably will not know until late in the day on the first day of session after the dust has settled.

While the new situation in the House of Delegates will create some uncertainty over the next fifty days, it will create some opportunities in Virginia public policy, but not a wholesale change of direction.  The Senate of Virginia is still controlled by the Republican Party and most major committees have significant partisan majorities. 

Notwithstanding, I am hopeful that in the short-term, we might see some changes in a three areas: Medicaid Expansion, Criminal Justice Reform, and Nonpartisan Redistricting. 

Medicaid Expansion
First, Virginia has foregone billions of dollars over the last several years due to our failure to expand Medicaid.  In addition to billions of dollars, we have lots 30,000 new jobs per year and approximately $200 million per year in savings to Virginia taxpayers. 

Today, nearly 36,000 residents of the 36th District receive their healthcare from Medicaid including 24,000 children.  This means there are likely over 20,000 adults right here within minutes of your home who would receive healthcare if Virginia had taken action. 

The new margins in the House of Delegates make movement much more likely, but not without some changes in our existing program.  In 1985, Medicaid consumed six percent of Virginia’s General Fund Budget – today, that number has grown to twenty-three percent and that is before the coming tsunami of baby boomer retirement home admissions.  We need to bend the Medicaid cost curve, but I am hopeful that we are nearing the end of irrationally refusing federal help to get healthcare to hundreds of thousands of needy Virginians. 

Criminal Justice Reform
Second, Virginia’s residents and jails continue to be burdened by an overly punitive criminal justice system which over-felonizes conduct and clings on to antiquated trial practices.  Virginia’s $200 threshold between misdemeanors and felonies in the lowest in the United States of America and has not been adjusted since 1981.  I will introduce legislation to raise this to $500 and remain the lowest in the United States for the ninth time.  Similar legislation has passed the Senate and died in the House five times.  Hopefully, no longer.

Also, accused persons in Virginia have extremely limited discovery rights in criminal trials.  Legislation to bring Virginia’s criminal discovery rules up to modern standards has also passed the Senate and died in the House.  This year should be different.

Non-Partisan Redistricting
Third, the close margins in the Senate and House of Delegates may finally make it possible to move nonpartisan redistricting legislation through the General Assembly.  Computer enabled partisan redistricting lies at the root of many political problems in our country.  Non-partisan redistricting constitutional amendments have passed the State Senate twice but normally die in committee in the House.  I am hopeful that the new situation in Richmond will move the discussion forward.

I am putting together the 36th District legislative agenda over the next month.  Please send me your legislative ideas and feedback on structuring our $100 billion budget over the next two years.

It is an honor to serve as your State Senator.  Please contact me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any thoughts.

Scott Surovell (D) represents southern Fairfax, eastern Prince William, and northern Stafford counties in the Virginia State Senate. 

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