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Traffic & Transit

Traffic
Anderson calls for working group to address speeding in Prince William County

Anderson

Requests to install speed bumps in neighborhoods have become an all-too-common request for Prince William County Occoquan District Supervisor Ruth Anderson.

From a press release: 

[On Tuesday] at the Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting, Occoquan District Supervisor Ruth Anderson called for County Staff to form a working group to address the countywide residential speeding issue.

Police, County and State Transportation, individual citizens and members of local media will be asked to take part in this group. The directive was supported by all Supervisors present at the meeting.

Anderson stated that this idea came about after analyzing frequent requests for traffic calming measures from constituents.

“Requests for speed bumps and pole mounted speed displays are becoming an increasing trend from community members. I feel it is time to look at this problem from a broader, county-wide perspective to see if there are any best practices with technology, messaging, etc. that might mitigate this public safety problem” said Supervisor Anderson.

The vision is for this working group to recommend creative, best-practice-based solutions to address the problem. Solutions might include better messaging through public advocacy, increased enforcement, new technologies, new state or local legislation and education. Education and enforcement are currently the two main ways to influence driving behaviors.

Under the direction of the PWC Police Department, this group will provide their recommendations to the Board prior to July 1, 2018.

Potomac Local worked with Anderson twice this year to hold community meetings about transportation in the Occoquan District, which includes Lake, and the Buckhall area outside Manassas.

The issue of speeding came up during our meeting on Yates Ford and Davis Ford roads, where it was addressed by Prince William police.

Traffic
Newly elected Gov. Ralph Northam plucks Valentine from CTB to be transportation secretary

Current Virginia Transportation Chief Aubrey Lane will be replaced by Shannon Valentine, of Lynchburg, who currently sits on the state’s Commonwealth Transportation Board.

From a press release: 

Shannon Valentine currently sits on the Commonwealth Transportation Board for the Lynchburg District, having previously served as Co-Director for Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe’s Transition Council for Transportation Policy previously. Shannon was elected to represent the 23rd district in the House of Delegates in 2006.

During her time in the House of Delegates, 2006-2010, Shannon’s legislative priorities included transportation, economic development, ethics and education. She led the bipartisan, legislative effort to invest in intercity passenger rail service for the first time in Virginia’s history and worked to expand clean energy production. 

Prior to her election to the House of Delegates, Shannon worked to revitalize inner-city communities as the Neighborhood Coordinator with the Lynchburg Neighborhood Development Foundation. She worked in non-profit community development and corporate marketing and public relations in the late 1980s and 1990s. 

Shannon currently serves on serval private and non-profit groups across the Commonwealth, including: the Board of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, Lynchburg City School Foundation, GO Virginia, OneVirginia 2021, Converge Virginia, Habitat for Humanity Advisory Council, and Beacon of Hope, an organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing students for post-secondary education. Shannon earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of Virginia, holds an Education for Ministry certificate from Sewanee University, and is a graduate of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. Shannon is from Lynchburg, Virginia.

Traffic
Here’s VDOT’s full report from the first week of I-66 E-ZPass Express Lanes

While tolls on the Interstate 66 E-ZPass Express Lanes peaked last week at $40 to travel the nine-mile stretch of highway between the Capital Beltway and Washington, D.C., VDOT says the average toll price was about $14 roundtrip. 

The agency this morning sent us an email recapping the first week of travel on the I-66 toll lanes, now one of the most expensive tolling corridors in the U.S. 

The email: 

Download the PDF file .

Traffic
Prince William legislator Scott Surovell makes another attempt at hands-free cell phone law

Surovell

You’ve probably done it while sitting behind the wheel, yell “get off your phone” at the slow, a seemingly distracted driver in front of you.

Well, State Senator Scott Surovell (D-36, Fairfax, Prince William) does want you to put down your phone. He’s re-introduced a new hands-free cell phone bill for lawmakers in Richmond to consider during the General Assembly in January.

From Surovell:

“Senator Scott Surovell today introduced SB 74 which prohibits driving while operating a mobile phone unless it is being used in “hand’s free” mode. Sen. Surovell introduced the same bill last year and attempted introduction in 2015 after similar legislation was voted down on the floor of the Senate

That legislation was motivated by the death of 18-year-old Fairfax County resident Kyle Rowley who was killed by a distracted texting driver on Route 7 near Herndon after a driver stuck his vehicle without breaking at full speed with 1,000 feet of straight, clear road leading up to Mr. Rowley’s car. After the driver was acquitted of Reckless Driving due to texting while driving being a secondary offense, Senator Surovell represented the family in a civil proceeding and ultimately led the fight to change the traffic law. Kyle’s parents, John and Meryl Rowley have become leaders in the effort to make Virginia a hand’s free state.”

In 2013, Surovell worked with other state officials to make texting while driving a primary offense.

Since then, cell phone use behind the wheel in Northern Virginia has remained a problem.

“The Alliance applauds Senator Surovell’s efforts to find solutions that will help reduce distracted driving. Recent VDOT statistics show that over a 6 year period, approximately 1 in 6 traffic fatalities in Northern Virginia occurred when at least 1 of the drivers involved was distracted,” stated Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance President David Birtwhistle in an email to Potomac Local. “Many more traffic incidents impacting the efficiency of the transportation network are caused by distracted driving. Northern Virginia’s congestion issues will not be solved by such legislation, but every effort to reduce the number of incidents and save lives matters.”

More from Surovell:

“Virginia first prohibited texting while driving in 2009, but only made it a secondary offense punishable by a small fine. In 2010, Fairfax County Police reported writing fewer than 50 tickets for texting while driving because of loopholes in the law and the fact that it was a secondary infraction.

Since 2014, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reports 576 collisions and 283 injuries where driving texting was verified as part of the collision.

In 2014 alone, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported that more than 24,000 crashes in Virginia were attributed to distracted drivers.”

It’s a changing political climate in Richmond and the delegate who led the charge to ban texting while driving in 2009, Richard Anderson (R-Prince William County) says the bill could face some opponents, as it did last year.

In 2009, Anderson also had one opponent in his effort to ban texting while driving seven years ago.

From Anderson:

“The only group that had problems were Virginia ham radio organizations that were concerned that my bill would preclude the use of ham radio by their members during emergency and disaster relief operations. The bill had an exemption for them, which removed their opposition/concerns.

In the final analysis, the objection came from within the General Assembly itself. Some members were concerned that the bill was simply unenforceable. Others were concerned that the bill constituted excessive government intrusion into the passenger compartment of privately-owned motor vehicles (a view that doesn’t square with the prohibition against the consumption of alcohol by motor vehicle operators).”

Traffic
Thousands of Virginia bridges get low grade despite VDOT assurances they’re safe to use

It’s difficult to avoid driving over a bridge in Virginia, and motorists often don’t give them a second thought. Drivers are unaware that some of the structures they have come to trust are in a troubling state, especially in the southwestern part of the commonwealth.

Of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s nine districts, Bristol has the highest number of bridges and culverts rated D or lower on the agency’s “health index,” an indication of the overall soundness of a structure. (Culverts are tunnels that allow streams or drains to flow under the road.)

Data obtained from VDOT shows that 451 bridges and culverts of over 3,400 in the Bristol district have that low grade, and 182 structures were deemed structurally deficient, or “poor.” The worst structure, a bridge in Scott County, has a grade of 12 on a 100-point scale – a solid F.

Even so, state officials say motorists should not worry.

“Scary terms aside, if there were a problem out there, [the bridges] would be investigated and closed,” said Michelle Earl, communications manager for VDOT’s Bristol district. “This is nothing we toy around with.”

Many bridges across the state need major repairs and possible replacement. While the vast, rural Bristol district has more than its share of such bridges, it is aggressively attacking the problem, officials say.

Gary Lester, a bridge engineer for the Bristol district, said there are many reasons for a high number of bridges with low grades, but two stand out: Bristol has more bridges than any other VDOT district, and because of the area’s geography, they are built differently than anywhere else in the state.

The Bristol district is a mountainous region with many streams to cross, and winters are harsh. This means that more salt is used on the roads due to snow, which corrodes the exposed steel in the simply designed bridges.

“In the past, we’ve used a lot of steel beams with timber decks because those were the cheapest and easiest for our crews to put in at the time,” Lester said. Most of the bridges were constructed in the early- to mid- 20th century.

The bridges needed to go up fast, so they were designed differently than those in Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg or Hampton Roads – districts that have the fewest structurally deficient bridges. Those bridges have a design life, or the time in which the bridge is structurally sound, of 50 to 100 years. Bridges built with just steel beams and timber decks in the Bristol district have a design life of about 25 years and need costly rehabilitation much more often.

Dr. David Mokarem, a research associate at Virginia Tech, said VDOT’s health index is determined by the overall condition of all of the bridge’s parts. He said that traffic, load capacity and the geography of the district are factors in determining the grade.

Age and design life are also important factors. The needs for each district also depends on how much the bridges are used, so it makes sense that the more populous northern and eastern areas of Virginia see most of the funding from VDOT. That doesn’t mean that Bristol’s situation can be ignored.

“If [the grade] is 65 percent, that’s low,” Mokarem said. “They need to be fixed, repaired … something needs to be done.”

Lester is addressing the need in his district by looking at his bridges differently. He said he focuses on the structurally deficient bridges. This means that the bridge either can be crossed only by light vehicles and loads or cannot be used at all until it is rehabilitated or completely reconstructed.

The formula for determining structural deficiency is more accurate than the health index, Lester said. The formula, based on federal guidelines, divides the bridge into its deck structure and substructure and carefully calculates the health of those two parts.

The rating is out of nine. Once a bridge receives a four or below, it is considered structurally deficient and must have signage to advertise its load capability. To put that rating in perspective, a brand-new bridge with a few cracks is given a score of eight.

Every bridge is inspected every two years, and if they are structurally deficient, they are inspected once a year or more, Earl said.

VDOT had a goal over the past five years to decrease the number of structurally deficient bridges in each district by 15 percent. Bristol was the only district to exceed that goal. The district is replacing those bridges with ones that have a design life of 100 years.

“We’re looking at the overall load on a bridge before they go structurally deficient, and we’re looking at the condition of the joints to improve those so they don’t leak any water to get down into the structural elements, which will be a new performance measure,” Lester said. VDOT plans to announce these new performance measures in the next few weeks.

As the measures take effect, Lester said that the number of bridges determined to be structurally deficient should go down each year. The district will continue to work hard to bridge the structural and financial gaps.

“There’s new funding available to help improve bridges,” Earl said. “Public safety is our ultimate goal, so if there was an issue out there, it would get closed.”

Traffic
Deep pothole plugged behind Woodbridge Target, Value City Furniture stores

Remember that growing pothole we reported this past summer in Woodbridge? 

The nearly 10-foot deep hole was located behind a Target and Value City Furniture stores in the Parkway Crossing West Shopping Center in Woodbridge.

We received an email today from Prince William County Occoquan District Supervisor Ruth Anderson telling us the that the hole is gone. It also included a photo of the newly patched hole.

From Anderson: 

Photo by Bill Milne today. Sink hole off of Telegraph Road appears to be fixed.

No word yet on who patched the hole. Over the summer, Anderson’s office pleaded with property owners to fix the pothole that had been preventing traffic through a portion of the shopping center’s parking lot.

Anderson also asked Prince William County staff to find out who was responsible for the fix.

 

Traffic
Here’s a look at tomorrow’s I-66 (outside the Beltway) today

Work is underway to add new E-ZPass Express Lanes to Interstate 66 Outside the Beltway, from Gainesville in Prince William County to Dunn Loring in Fairfax County.

The new lanes will be similar to those on I-95, 495, and soon on 395 that will allow vehicles with three or more occupants to travel free with an E-ZPass Flex electronic transponder. Single drivers with an E-ZPass Flex or standared E-ZPass may choose to pay a toll to use the lanes. 

The video in this post was provided by I-66 Mobility Partners, the private consortium working to build the new lanes, to give drivers on the general purpose lanes and on the paid and ridesharing E-ZPass Lanes a view of what the newly reconfigured road will look like when it opens by the end of 2022.

From the Virginia Department of Transportation: 

The project will modify nearly 23 miles of I-66 providing two express lanes in each direction alongside three regular lanes from I-495 to University Boulevard near Route 29 in Gainesville, with dedicated express lanes access points, and space in the median reserved for future transit. In addition, the project consists of 4,000 park and ride spaces, new and expanded commuter bus service throughout the corridor, safety and operational improvements at key interchanges, auxiliary lanes between interchanges, and bicycle and pedestrian paths and connections.

Under a 50-year partnership agreement that protects the public, I-66 EMP assumes responsibility for all costs to design, build, operate and maintain the 66 Express Lanes. This agreement requires zero public investment and requires EMP to pay $800 million for transit service in the corridor and $350 million in other projects to improve the I-66 corridor over the next 50 years. The project’s financial close was reached on November 9, securing the funding necessary to move forward.

The tolls that debuted on I-66 inside the Beltway from Lee Highway to Rosslyn, from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays, are part of a seperate project paid for an operated by VDOT.

As part of that project, a new four-mile lane will be built on I-66 east from the Dulles Connector Road to Fairfax Drive in Fairfax and Arlington counties. The $86 million contract for that project for that project was awarded on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, four days atfer tolls went into effect on I-66 inside the Beltway. 

I-66 inside the Beltway is now the only highway in the U.S. that is tolled on all lanes during peak periods. Tolls collected on this portion of the highway will go to fund transit improvements along the corridor with the idea of taking more cars off the road, making more room for those who choose to pay the toll or carpool on the lanes.

Lawmakers say the tolls — as much as $40 one way during its first week — are too high, and they demanded the state temporality halt tolling on I-66 inside the Beltway until a new agreement can be reached. 

Traffic
VDOT’s Fredericksburg regional office says they’re ready for weekend snow

From a press release: 

Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) crews have staged equipment and materials across the 14-county Fredericksburg District to quickly respond to any slick or hazardous road conditions that could develop due to anticipated snowfall and freezing rain tonight and Saturday.

Drivers are encouraged to closely monitor news and weather reports, and to check real-time road conditions on 511Virginia before starting a trip. 

Travel may quickly become hazardous Friday evening once snow begins to fall and accumulate on the road surface. Drivers should plan to arrive at their destination before snowfall begins, or delay their trip or use caution if conditions deteriorate.

Conditions may become slippery first on bridges, overpasses and ramps.

Districtwide, VDOT has nearly 1,100 trucks available for winter 2017-2018 to plow roads and spread sand and salt once snow or freezing rain begins falling. Sand and salt are applied once a storm is underway to melt ice and provide motorists with addition traction. Crews will begin to plow roads once 2 inches of snow has accumulated.

During weather emergencies VDOT crews work 24 hours a day, in 12-hour shifts, until all roads are passable and safe for travel.

Traffic
Poll: Will I-66 tolls force a change in your commuting habits?

If the new tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway are designed to push drivers out of their cars and on to transit, it doesn’t appear to be working. 

On Thursday, we asked Metro if it has noticed a spike in ridership on the Orange and Silver lines, which serve Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Surely if drivers were going to ditch their trips on the Dulles Toll Road or I-66, Metro would be a prime option, right? 

“We have not seen any significant change in ridership at Virginia Orange Line stations this week,” stated Metro spokesman Ron Holzer in an email to Potomac Local. 

OK, fine. But what about OmniRide commuter buses. If I live in Manassas, Gainesville, Haymarket or elsewhere in Prince William County I’m going to park at a commuter lot and get on a bus. 

“Our Planning Department hasn’t had a chance to look at ridership figures since Monday’s opening of the I-66 Express Lanes inside the Beltway. Our data is one day behind, so if we looked at ridership figures today, we would see the results only for Monday and Tuesday,” stated OmniRide spokeswoman Christine Rodrigo in an email.”

“It actually may be difficult to determine what impact the Express Lanes are having on our ridership initially because ridership typically drops in December as people take vacation time, particularly those who must use vacation days before the end of the calendar year. We should have a much better sense of how the new toll lanes are affecting ridership in January and February when people resume their regular work schedules and have considered all their commuting options.”

It’s much of the same story at Virginia Railway Express — no anecdotal notice of increased ridership on the system’s Manassas line. However, the commuter rail service says it takes several weeks to finalize the number.

As for Slugs, well, unlike I-95, the system has yet to develop along the I-66 corridor.

The only thing that did increase is the volume of traffic on the arterial roads like Routes 7, 29, 50, 123, and 193.

So, will the tolls force you from your car? 

 

Traffic
OmniRide aims to grow. But first, 12 people must go.

Anonymous letter prompts investigation into discrimination claims 

WOODBRIDGE — An anonymous letter that surfaced less than a week ago has now prompted a two-month investigation into allegations of systemic discrimination at OmniRide.

Chairman of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission Frank Principi, the group that oversees OmniRide and OmniLink commuter buses, said he would engage the Prince William County Government’s equal opportunity employment office, all in an effort to bring in a third-party to investigate the claims.

The letter has not been made public by the transit agency. It comes as the firm looks to consolidate its dispatch operations, fix inefficiencies, and stop redundancies as the organization looks to evolve from a commuter bus company to a full-fledged transit agency.

Under OmniRide Director Robert “Bob” Schneider’s plan, the jobs of 12 full-time employees and one part-timer, to include seven radio dispatchers, a manager, bus monitor, and transit operations planner employed by OmniRide, would be eliminated. The dispatch and bus monitor jobs would be handed over to First Transit; those employees are potentially going to work for the Ohio-based firm contracted to operate OmniRide and OmniLink buses.

The consolidation would save the transit agency nearly $1 million over the next year. Employees who are let go from the organization would be paid four weeks severance pay and full medical and dental through March 2018. 

Additionally, per PRTC’s personnel policy, employees would receive payment for unused sick leave at 25% for each hour over 450 hours accrued.

The reduction in force, now delayed, was to have taken effect January 13.

More than 50 people, most of them OmniRide and First Transit employees, packed the PRTC Commissioners meeting Thursday night to express their disapproval of the Schnieder’s plan.

“These people who live here and have their big homes, and work at the Pentagon, I don’t know why they can’t get together and solve this,” said bus driver Emory Large. “We provide a great service for this county, and many of us can barely afford to live in this county.”

Others warned that privatizing the dispatch jobs could lead to poor customer service.

“We need control,” one employee told the commission. “When you contract it out, it saves you money, but you lose control. Our people have the experience with the equipment.”

Prince William County NAACP Chapter President Cozy Bailey also spoke, calling for a fair and timely investigation.

Scheider says those whose jobs are on the chopping block perform redundant tasks or ones that could be contracted out to save money.

“For instance, you have a window dispatcher who gives dispatch orders to drivers in the morning, and then has fewer things to do during the day after the buses leave the lot,” he explained.

However, Schneider is taking the discrimination claim seriously.

“We want this to be a great place, where people feel comfortable going to work, so if there has been ‘systemic’ discrimination…, we want to investigate those claims,” he said. “We don’t want future actions to be viewed through an ‘inappropriate’ lens.”

Principi told the crowd his commission would work to address employees concerns, as well as see that a fair investigation is carried out.

“I see that will most likely discuss this again at our February meeting. Interviews of employees need to be conducted, records reviewed,” said Principi. “It’s hard to say it will conclude in February. It may take longer.”

t’s the future that OmniRide is looking forward to with the staffing reductions and by modifying some jobs and adding other new positions.

The cost savings from the 14 staff reductions salaries of those would fund the new positions.

Existing modified positions include:

  • Human resources manager
  • Director of planning
  • Director of mobility services
  • Quality assurance specialist
  • Transit planner

New positions include:

  • Chief development officer
  • Chief financial officer
  • Planning specialist
  • Web designer
  • Support services manager
  • Data analyst

In October, the commission directed Schneider to develop a plan for what OmniRide will look like in 2020. Part of that vision is examining, and making tweaks to the staffing structure at the transit agency.

Traffic
Northern Virginia Democrats say halt I-66 tolls. VDOT says tolls are not as high as you think they are.

So far, the McAuliffe administration’s response to outrageous tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway has been: put another body in the car, chose not to pay the fee, and move on.

Those one-way tolls that reached $40 on the nine-mile stretch of highway from Dunn Loring to Washington, D.C. now rank as some of the highest in the nation.

“That response is part of the problem. People are adjusting their morning schedules to get to work early to get back home to their kids, or, in some cases, a second job, this sort of approach to say ‘they have their options,’ we’ll you just expanded 180 minutes a day available to these folks who are hard-working, and trying to get back home to their families. That’s just not fair,” said Virginia State Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William County, Manassas, Manassas Park)

The Democrats penned a letter to Virginia State Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane and read a portion of it aloud outside the Northern Virginia headquarters of the state’s department of transportation Thursday afternoon.

Democrats say they were told the roundtrip tolls on the new I-66 E-ZPass Express Lanes inside the Beltway wouldn’t exceed $17 roundtrip, not $40.

A press release on Thursday seemed to indicate the Democrats were suffering sticker shock and that, on average, the price is lower than $17. 

From VDOT: 

“After nearly four full days of Express Lanes on I-66 Inside the Beltway being underway, the Virginia Department of Transportation reports that morning and afternoon commutes on Monday, Dec. 4, were faster than the same time last December.  The average round-trip toll price during peak hours was $14.50, with the average morning toll during peak hours of $10.70 and average afternoon toll during the peak hours of $3.80.  This toll rate during peak hours is lower than the estimated average toll rate of $17.00 during peak hours discussed in 2015…”

Though they were ‘briefed extensively” in 2016 on the project, according to Delegate John Bell (D-Loudoun, Prince William), they never heard anything about the time restrictions on the lanes being expanded in the morning and afternoon. They want them returned to the way the used to be a week ago before the E-ZPass requirement — vehicles with two or more occupants (HOV-2) ride free between 6:30 and 9 a.m., and 4 to 6:30 p.m.

They were also a promised the addition of new eastbound lane between the Dulles Connector Road and Ballston before the start of tolls, they said.

The tolls took effect on Monday and required all drivers who use I-66 inside the Beltway between the 5:30 and 9 a.m. and 3 and 7 p.m. to have an E-ZPass. Single drivers pay a dynamic toll which changes depending on how many cars are using the lanes. Vehicles with two or more occupants ride free with an E-ZPass Flex.

Today, 16 Democratic legislators in McAuliffe’s party called for a halt to the tolling until a better deal can be worked out.

“You have to have new capacity before tolls being charged,” said McPike. “You want to see what you’re paying for.”

And, almost as if someone inside the VDOT offices was listening to him, the state agency announced — today — the awarding of a new contract to build that new lane.

From a VDOT press release:

On Thursday, Dec. 7, VDOT awarded an $85.7 million contract to Lane Construction Corporation of Chantilly to add an additional through lane along four miles of eastbound Interstate 66 between the Dulles Connector Road (Route 267) and Fairfax Drive (Route 237) in Fairfax and Arlington Counties.

The project includes ramp modifications at Exits 69 and 71, rehabilitation and/or repairs to bridges, construction of noise barriers eastbound and westbound and widening bridges and constructing a new grade-separated crossing of the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail at Lee Highway.

Additionally, an auxiliary lane will be added to the existing I-66 eastbound exit ramp and a slip ramp will be constructed from the I-66 eastbound exit ramp to the Route 7 southbound entrance flyover ramp, providing more direct access to the West Falls Church Metro Station Parking Garage.

The additional eastbound lane will be open to traffic in fall 2020 and the overall project is expected to be complete in fall 2021.

The Democrats also want the hybrid vehicle exemption restored so that drivers with clean, special fuel license plates can continue to use the lanes for free, as motorcycles do.  They also called for the construction of new commuter parking spaces along I-66 outside the Beltway, and new commuter bus service — all of which is planned as part of the separate I-66 outside the Beltway project started last month) before tolls are collected inside the Beltway.

But VDOT maintains it has already invested $10 million since July 2016 to fund as many “meaningful” multimodal transit projects to help commuters get out of the lanes and onto a bus. The move was designed to take cars off the highway to clear the way for those who wanted to pay to use the Lexus lanes.

From VDOT: 

The initial projects, which are in effect now, encompass Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington counties and the City of Falls Church. Transit services include three new bus routes, increased service on two existing routes and last-mile connections to Metrorail stations, new bikeshare stations near Metro, as well as a new park-and-ride lot in Aldie that will support current and future bus service. Additional projects launched include real-time traveler information and transportation demand management services that provide incentives to use transit or carpools.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission has called for a new round of funding for transit projects that will be funded by the tolls being collected now on I-66 inside the Beltway. 

For drivers who travel from Leesburg, Ashburn, and Sterling, many of whom use the Dulles Toll Road, they already pay $18 in tolls before they ever get to I-66.

“Let’s call this plan what it is, the way that’s it’s been rolled out. It’s highway robbery,” said State Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun, Fairfax) who represents the area.

If the Democrats are successful in convincing McAuliffe administration in halting the tolls, Potomac Local asked if those who have already paid into the toll system should get their cash back.

“I was afraid that question was going to be asked, and I think the short answer is to wait and take this piece by piece,” said State Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) “I don’t know how much money has been collected, I don’t know if it’s in escrow, I don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but we need to take it piece by piece and the first piece is we need to suspend the tolls until we figure out what’s going on.” 

More from VDOT: I-66 E-ZPass toll lanes user stats collected on Monday, the first day of tolls: 

Further analysis of the Monday morning rush hours indicates the following:
  • A total of 13,473 vehicles used I-66 Inside the Beltway between the hours of 5:30-9:30am;
  • Of this total 5,082 or 38 percent were carpoolers who traveled free;
  • Only 39 vehicles, or 0.29 percent, paid the posted highest toll of $34.50;
  • 34 percent of vehicles paid less than $10; and,
  • Travel times were 10-12 minutes compared with 15-30 minutes last December.
Further analysis of the Monday afternoon rush hours indicates the following:
  • A total of 16,307 vehicles used I-66 Inside the Beltway between the hours of 3:00-7:00pm;
  • Of this total 4,964 or 30 percent were carpoolers who traveled for free; and,
  • Travel times were 10-12 minutes compared with 10-20 minutes last December.

Traffic
The search for a body will close a portion of the I-95 E-ZPass Express Lanes on Friday

Police will close down a portion of the Interstate 95 E-ZPass Express Lanes in Stafford County. 

Investigators will search for the remains of Pamela Butler, who disappeared from Washington, D.C. in 2009. 

From Virginia State Police: 

On Friday, Dec. 8, the Virginia State Police will be assisting the Metropolitan Police with a criminal investigation. The state police activity will require a limited portion of the Interstate 95 Express Lanes in Stafford County to be closed beginning at 10 a.m. Friday. The Garrisonville Road access points to the Express Lanes will be closed for the duration of the police activity, which is anticipated to last a few hours.

The police activity will not impact the general purpose lanes of Interstate 95 in Stafford or Prince William counties.

 

Traffic
Your Virginia state inspection sticker is moving to the left

From  a press release: 

Effective Jan. 1, 2018, Virginia state inspection stickers will no longer be affixed to the bottom center of a vehicle’s windshield. Due to new innovations in the automotive industry, the state inspection stickers will be placed in the bottom left corner of the windshield, when viewed from inside the vehicle. This change in location will also apply to the placement of any other authorized stickers. There have been no changes made to the size or appearance of the existing vehicle inspection sticker.

The relocation stems from the fact that automobile manufacturers now offer crash avoidance technology in many of their vehicles.  In such vehicles, the new technology utilizes the center of the windshield. Therefore the placement of items in that area, including stickers, could prevent crash avoidance systems from operating properly.

“The core mission of the Virginia Safety Inspection Program is to promote highway safety and the crash avoidance technology is another tool provided by manufacturers to ensure vehicles operated on the roadways are safe at all times,” said Capt. R.C. Maxey Jr., Virginia State Police Safety Division Commander. “Therefore, we immediately began evaluating the situation and set forth to make the necessary changes to the Motor Vehicle Safety Inspection Manual, which governs the placement of the safety inspection sticker on all vehicles.”

Existing Virginia vehicle inspection stickers are to remain in their current position – in the bottom center of the windshield. Once a vehicle is inspected and issued a 2019 sticker, the new inspection sticker must be placed in the lower left corner, which is consistent with other states across the nation.

The Virginia State Police Safety Division began Dec. 2, 2017, notifying all Virginia certified inspections stations of the placement change that is to take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Traffic
VDOT treating roads in Northern Virginia ahead of potential winter weather

From a press release: 

Crews are using opportunities between rush hours today and Friday, while temperatures are favorable, to treat roads with anti-icing materials in northern Virginia in anticipation of potential winter weather during the Friday afternoon rush hour and on Saturday. Drivers are encouraged to monitor the National Weather Service’s forecast by visiting weather.gov.

Throughout Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington* counties (*Arlington maintains own secondary roads) crews treat about 2,150 lane miles with brine or liquid magnesium chloride in advance of potential winter weather. This includes interstate, primary, and high-volume secondary roads, particularly ramps, bridges, and other critical areas prone to freezing. Once completed, drivers may see white brine lines on roads that have been treated.

The Virginia Department of Transportation asks drivers to give tanker trucks and trailing safety vehicles room to work. Anti-icing vehicles are heavy, not as agile as passenger vehicles, and require a larger turning radius. Also, drivers who follow too closely may experience reduced visibility due to the liquefied salt in the brine mix.

Ahead of any wintry precipitation, VDOT reminds drivers to fill their gas tanks, slow down, be aware of potential slick spots such as shaded areas and bridges, and to use the following resources:

This is also the perfect time to place or update an emergency kit in your car. Recommended items can be found at: www.ready.gov/car

Traffic
Here comes a wider, six-lane Fairfax County Parkway

A portion of the congested Fairfax County Parkway, which was once planned as an outer beltway for Washington, D.C., will be widened to six lanes.

The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to widen about five miles of the parkway between Routes 123 and 29. Additionally, an interchange will be added at Popes Head Road, where today a signal light causes major backups during the morning and afternoon commutes.

A public information session hearing on the $191 million project is scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, at the Northern Virginia Department of Transportation Northern Virginia Headquarters at 4975 Alliance Drive in Fairfax.

There you can learn about the project that is expected to open in late 2023.

For Fairfax County Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the start of the project couldn’t come soon enough.

“Yesterday would have been perfect,” quipped Herrity.

The majority of the funding for the project has been secured through state and local sources, to include Smart Scale money and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority funds. Officials still seek about the $94 million or the second phase of construction and hope to get it from the same mix of funders.

When the project is complete, “you’ll be able to go all the way from Route 123 to Route 50 without a traffic stop,” added Herrity.

Fairfax County Parkway was originally envisioned as one of two outer beltways for Washington, D.C. that were supposed to have been opened by 2000, added Herrity.

Traffic
How a displaced left-turn intersection and others could improve traffic flow on Route 234

Here’s a proposed solution to improving traffic flow on Route 234 in Prince William County:

Reduce the number of phases that drivers must sit through at traffic signals to turn left or right. That, in theory, will make traffic flow better and faster on Route 234 near Manassas.

Potomac Local recently reported Prince William County would spend $145 million on a new diverging diamond interchange at Balls Ford Road. The new junction will remove a signal light and create a grade separation allowing vehicles bound for I-66 to keep going. Balls Ford Road will be widened, and the diverging diamond will better control left turns from Balls Ford into Route 234.

Prince William County officials last week submitted funding requests for intersection improvements on Route 234 at Brentsville Road, Clover Hill Road, University Boulevard, Wellington Road, and Sudley Manor Drive.

Interchanges can be costly and time-consuming to build. So, thanks to Prince William County resident and author of the NOVARapidTransit.org Mark Scheufler, we have a map and an explainer for some of these cost-saving ideas for intersection improvements along the corridor.

Brentsville and Dumfries roads

Using Fairfax County Parkway as an example, here’s how the intersection of Prince William Parkway (Route 294/234) and Brentsville Road could look.

If you’ve ever tried to get to the Prince William County Fair on a weeknight, you know how bad of an intersection this can be.

Today, there are two sets of traffic signals — one at Prince William Parkway and the other at Dumfries Road.

A new proposed design would tie the two roads together by adding two new ramps, and two new bridges. The new ramps would allow drivers to exit and enter Route 234, as well as provide access to Prince William Parkway and Dumfries Road.

Two new bridges would carry traffic on Prince William Parkway (Route 294) across 234 and onto Brentsville Road, and from Dumfries Road to the access ramp.

The configuration is similar to an interchange at Fairfax County Parkway and Fair Lakes Parkway in Fairfax County, which, before this design was implemented, used to rank as one of the dangerous intersections in the U.S.

Clover Hill Road

Further north on Route 234, Scheufler’s design might have you thinking you’re driving in New Jersey, not Virginia.

The main problem at this intersection, Scheufler argues, is that most of the drivers exiting the Wellington neighborhood via Clover Hill Road aren’t crossing Route 234 to get to the Manassas Regional Airport, but rather are turning left or right to get on the highway.

Removing the signal phase that allows traffic to cross over Route 234 would help to increase traffic flow on the highway, but new configuration would have some drivers do a U-turn.

Drivers that want to turn from Route 234 onto Clover Hill will still be able to do so at a traffic light. However, drivers turning from Clover Hill onto Route 234 north or south would turn right on Route 234. If they want to changes directions — say the driver was headed out of the Wellington neighborhood, turned on Route 234 north, but wanted to go south — the driver would get into a left U-turn lane, turn around, and head south.

Drivers leaving the Manassas airport from Clover Hill wanting to use Route 234 to access I-66 would make a similar maneuver.

He estimates the improvements at Clover Hill would be cheap when compared to the Balls Ford Road $145 million diverging diamond, at just $10 million.

University Boulevard

There’s an interchange design that’s pretty uncommon in our area called the “quadrant intersection,” where left turns are prohibited at the main intersection. Here, drivers must use a connector road to make all left turns.

Scheufler says the junction of Route 234 and University Boulevard is ripe for a quadrant intersection. A connector road would be built next to Cannon Creek Lane, the entrance to George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus.

This design is similar to what was proposed in 2013 in at Routes 1 and 234 but never built, for the extension of Route 234 into the Potomac Shores neighborhood.

Sudley Manor and Wellington

And for an intersection design completely foreign to Prince William drivers — the continuous flow intersection, or Displaced Left-Turn intersection. Here, for example, drivers on Route 234 north that wanted to turn left on Sudley Manor Drive would get into a left turn lane on 234, crossover 234 into a turn lane and continue the turn onto Sudley Manor Drive.

The same maneuver would be true for traffic on 234 in the opposite direction. Traffic lights would not only control the left turns from 234 but the movements for drivers on Sudley Manor Drive.

Shown at the intersection of two main roads in Miamisburg, Ohio, the idea behind this intersection is to have the traffic signals at the left-turn crossovers, and at the main intersection work together to minimize stops.

As for Wellington Road, a new bridge would replace the traffic signalized intersection forcing drivers from Wellington Road to access Route 234 by using Sudley Manor Drive.

“Without the bridge for Wellington, the whole idea for the Displaced Left Turn at Sudley Manor Drive gets kind of messy, so we need the bridge in place for all of this to work,” said Scheufler.

Scheufler estimates these improvements, when bundled together, would cost $130 million. Afterward, the road could be widened to six lanes, or full-blown interchanges could be built to improve traffic flow if needed.

Traffic
Two face charges in armed robbery outside PRTC Transit Center

From Prince William police: 

Armed Robbery Investigations *ARREST | Armed Robbery *NEW INCIDENT – On December 4 at 12:01PM, officers responded to the PRTC Terminal located at 14700 Potomac Mills Rd in Woodbridge (22193) to investigate a robbery.

The victim, a 15-year-old male juvenile, reported to police that he was waiting for a bus in the above

Nedd

area when he was approached by two acquaintances. During the encounter, one of the acquaintances brandished a handgun and demanded the victim’s property. The suspects then took the victim’s cell phone before fleeing the area on foot.

A police K-9 responded to search for the suspects who were not immediately located. A short time later, a witness located the suspects in a nearby business and contacted police. Officers arrived and detained both the suspects, identified as Aariq Michael NEDD and a 17-year-old male juvenile, without incident.

Upon further investigation, detectives with the Robbery Unit determined that NEDD and the 17-year-old male juvenile along with a third suspect, identified as Charles Leonard GASKINS, were involved in several other robberies which occurred in the Woodbridge area since October. Following the investigation, detectives obtained multiple warrants for GASKINS who was arrested without incident following a search warrant which was executed at his residence. The investigation continues.

                Arrested on December 4:

                Charles Leonard GASKINS, 18, of 1338 Cranes Bill Way in Woodbridge

Charged with 6 counts of robbery, 6 counts of conspiracy to commit a robbery, and 6 counts of use of a firearm in commission of a felony

                Court Date: January 16, 2018 | Bond: Held WITHOUT bond

 

Aariq Michael NEDD, 18, of 15429 Marsh Overlook Dr in Woodbridge

Charged with 5 counts of robbery, 4 counts of conspiracy to commit a robbery, and 3 count of use of a firearm in commission of a felony

                Court Date: January 16, 2018 | Bond: Held WITHOUT bond

 

17-year-old male juvenile of Woodbridge [Juvenile]

Charged with 6 counts of robbery, 6 counts of conspiracy to commit a robbery, and 6 count of use of a firearm in commission of a felony

                Court Date: Pending | Bond: Held at the Juvenile Detention Center

Traffic
Riding the bus in Dumfries on Saturday? Expect delays, missed stops.

The annual Dumfries Christmas Parade on Saturday will cause some delays for riders of the local OmniLink bus.

From the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission: 

OmniLink buses on the Route 1 and Dumfries routes will detour and miss multiple stops on Saturday, December 9 due to road closures for the Town of Dumfries’ Annual Christmas Parade.

Main Street will be closed from approximately 10:00 a.m. to approximately 2:30 p.m. Northbound buses will follow normal routing, but southbound buses will detour.

Route 1 OmniLink Missed Stops:

-N. Main St at Graham St (Stop #279)
-N. Main St at Washington St (Stop #378)
-S. Main St at Lansing Ct (Stop #298)
-S. Main St at Curtis Dr (Stop #379)
-S. Main St at Quantico Gateway Dr (Stop #1837)

Route 1 OmniLink Alternate Stops:

-Route 1 @ Dumfries Rd (Stop #377)
-Williamstown Dr @ Fraley Rd (across from inbound stop)
-Old Triangle Rd @ Fort Sumter Ct (across from inbound stop)
-Old Triangle Rd @ Sedgewick Pl (across from inbound stop)
-Old Triangle Rd @ Graham Park Rd (across from inbound stop) 

Dumfries OmniLink Missed Stops:

N. Main St at Graham St (Stop #279)
-N. Main St at Washington St (Stop #378)
-S. Main St at Lansing Ct (Stop #298)
-Graham Park Road before Old Triangle (Stop #1755)

Dumfries OmniLink Alternate Stops:

-Route 1 @ Dumfries Rd (Stop #377)
-Williamstown Dr @ Fraley Rd (across from inbound stop)
-Old Triangle Rd @ Fort Sumter Ct (across from inbound stop)
-Old Triangle Rd @ Sedgewick Pl (across from inbound stop)
-Old Triangle Rd @ Graham Park Rd (across from inbound stop)
-Old Triangle Rd @ Sound View Circle (Stop #1756)

Traffic
An investigation into new tolls on I-66? There’s now a call for one.

A Prince William County leader is calling for an investigation into new tolls that took affect on Interstate 66 on Monday.

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland, like many drivers, was apparently shocked when tolls to use the nine-mile stretch of highway between Dunn Loring and Washington, D.C. shot above $34 on Monday.

Many Prince William County commuters use I-66 to get to work at job centers in Washington and Arlington.

Candland’s office penned this press release:

When the enacted tolling proposal was presented to the Legislature and the public the proposal stated the highest price a commuter would expect to pay for a round-trip commute would be $17. This has already proven to be false as the peak fare in the first day of tolling topped $69 round trip. The following day tolls topped $40 for a one-way trip — for a total of as much as $80 for a round-trip commute.

We believe that the information circulated by the McAuliffe Administration, VDOT, and regional transportation officials has proven to be grossly and wildly incorrect, and calls into question the integrity of the current approval for this project.

Supervisor Candland urges an investigation into the now-discredited public relations campaign that secured the approval of this tolling plan, and a serious review be conducted on placing caps on the daily round-trip tolling to protect commuters when the tolling is restarted.

In 2015, the now outgoing Delegate Bob Marshall was ringing warning bells about the plan to toll I-66 inside the beltway, warning that the toll rates could be as high as $17 a day. 

The newly converted toll lanes are the actual, only lanes of I-66 inside Beltway. The tolls are in effect weekdays from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.

Drivers must have an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex to use I-66 during these times. Vehicles with two or more occupants, with an E-ZPass Flex may ride free.

It’s a departure from the old system where anyone on the lanes during the morning or afternoon rush hour must have two occupants in their car and no E-ZPass. 

While it is too early to tell how the new tolled lanes on I-66 inside the Beltway will affect businesses, similar E-ZPass Express Lanes on I-95 and 495 have helped some companies that operate fleets of vehicles.

“We’ve seen decreased travel times on Interstate 95 because of the lanes,” said Brendon Shaw, with the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. “Some businesses require their truck drivers travel in the express lanes and pay the toll rather than sit in traffic.” 

For some, paying the toll is cheaper than paying overtime to workers who are stuck in traffic, and risk a late delivery if travel conditions on the highway are slow.

We’ve asked the Virginia Department of Transportation, the operators of I-66 inside the Beltway, to respond. We’ll post any comment here once received. 

Tolls inside on I-66 inside the Beltway are just the beginning. Last month, Gov. Terry McAuliffe broke ground on the $3.5 billion “I-66 Outside the Beltway” project that will bring two new toll lanes in each direction on I-66 between Gainesville and Dunn Loring. 

The project includes new money for commuter parking with the idea of introducing “slugging” or carpooling to the corridor. It will also bring the reconstruction of the I-66 / Route 123 interchange, and a new diverging diamond interchange at Nutley Street. 

The “outside” project is being paid for and maintained by I-66 Mobility Partners, a consortium of Meridiam, a French firm, and Cintra, of Spain.

Update

From Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Holland:

“As you’ll see in the release, there have been a range of toll prices throughout each rush hour period. Throughout the project’s development and initial period of operations, we have worked to inform the public and stakeholders about the new rules of the road on I-66 Inside the Beltway during rush hour. This includes a new choice that single-occupant drivers can make to travel the lanes by paying a toll. Solo drivers could not use the lanes previously during rush hours, so this is a new choice that is being provided. 

The congestion-based tolling is dynamic and is designed to move more people by making carpools and bus service more reliable, and giving drivers a choice to pay for the reliable trip. Prices will change based on real-time traffic volumes in order to manage demand for the lanes and keep traffic moving.

Throughout all stages of the project, we have consistently worked to inform the public and stakeholders that toll prices will fluctuate and will increase as congestion increases. This is necessary to keep too many people from using the lanes, so that the toll-paying drivers, carpools and buses who are on the lanes, have a reliable and faster trip. Again, paying the tolls is a choice that some drivers are making in order to be assured they will have a better and more reliable trip. As you will see below, drivers and carpools alike have already experienced improved trips in the two days the express lanes have been in effect.”

From Delegate Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax, Prince William): 

“After several months of discussions, an agreement was reached with Governor Terry McAuliffe that allowed tolling to proceed in exchange for widening I-66 inside the beltway. It wasn’t a perfect deal, and many of us across the region were skeptical, but we moved forward in hopes that this would offer a better commute for our constituents and Northern Virginia drivers.

Throughout those discussions, Governor McAuliffe and Transportation Secretary Layne made repeated assurances and commitments, in both public and private, that the toll rates would be reasonable. Numerous public documents advertised $6 to $7 tolls on average. We worked in good faith with this administration and trusted their assurances, but what we’ve seen over the last couple of days is unacceptable.

Working with my colleagues in the House, we will begin looking for a realistic public policy solution that helps lower the cost of commuting for single-occupancy vehicles on I-66.”

 

Traffic
Despite a brand new portion of trail, there’s no room to walk on Catharpin Road

There are pedestrian connection problems between Haymarket and Gainesville.

“I’ve don’t know if you’ve been down Catharpin Road, between the bridge and Route 55, but there is nowhere to walk,” said Prince William County Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland.

No, I hadn’t ever walked down Catharpin Road, but I knew the bridge Candland referenced was recently built. So I decided to take a walk.

Catharpin Road is a two-lane thoroughfare linking the busy Heathcote Boulevard with Route 55, the John Marshall Highway. The bridge carries cars and pedestrians over Interstate 66.

As more homes pop up, and they are, more people are choosing to use Catharpin Road to walk to where they’re going, as referenced by the beaten down path on the northbound side of Catharpin Road.

I parked my car at a nearby Harris Teeter grocery store, and then walked along Catharpin headed to the bridge. Candland was correct when he said there is no room to walk along the street the closer to you get to the bridge.

I tried to say out of the road and walk in people’s front yards. However, that became impossible the closer I got to the bridge. Drivers had to dodge me, a pedestrian walking in the lane.

The new, two-lane bridge opened in August as part of $65 million projects to widen I-66 between Route 29 in Gainesville and Route 15 in Haymarket. As bridges go, it’s a nice one, complete with a 10-foot shared use trail on the northbound side of the bridge.

But the trail nearly starts and stops on the bridge, and there’s no connection to another shared-use path about 650 yards away near the Harris Teeter.

This problem is commonly referred to as “sidewalks to nowhere.” In some cases, developers, and in the case with the bridge the Virginia Department of Transportation, will have to build a sidewalk or trail and not connect it to anything, because it’s either not apart of the project, or funding ran out.

But there’s an effort underway to get new funding to complete the trail. Prince William County officials applied for funds, including state grants, to finish the trial.

The total estimated cost of the completed trail is $2.6 million.

“The proposed 10’ wide asphalt trail will be on the east side of Catharpin Road, from John Marshall Highway (Route 55) to the existing bridge on I-66. The trail will continue from the existing bridge on I-66, 660’ north to tie into an existing trail, for a total length of 2,250 [feet],’ Prince William County Regional Transportation Planner Paolo J. Belita penned to Potomac Local in an email.

The county has yet to hear if the money has been awarded, so, there’s no timeframe on when the trail will be completed.

“This trail will better connect employment centers to where people live,” added Candland.

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