Traffic & Transit
There is hope for Prince William County’s bus system.
County officials said it can fund the $9.2 million budget shortfall looming over the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) in fiscal year 2017, that begins July 1.
Prince William Acting County Executive Christopher Martino proposed using half of a $12 million of a pot of state money given to the county from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) for local road construction projects, to fund Virginia Railway Express.
That would leave the full pot of revenues generated in Prince William County by the state’s motor fuels tax solely for PRTC.
The commuter bus agency will continue to face a $10.5 million budget shortfall ($2.1 million each year between 2018 and 2022). The county stopped providing
motor fuels tax general funding to PRTC in 2008, and the agency was forced to rely on a fuels tax reserve fund that built up when fuel prices were sky high. (more…)
Snow showers should pass through the region this evening. While the showers will be light in nature, we all remember what happened last time the forecast called for “light snow.”
The snow should move through this evening late into the afternoon rush hour. Crews with the Virginia Department of Transportation will deploy snow plows to treat the roads early this afternoon, said VDOT Northern Virginia spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.
Crews will also monitor conditions and treat roads where necessary in the Fredericksburg region, too. Stafford County is included in this region. (more…)
Morale among bus drivers at the region’s commuter transit agency is low.
It’s the kind of mood you would expect from employees if your bosses, the heads of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation, are heard in public, and in the media talking about a “doomsday scenario” where operations as you know them could come to an end.
It’s no joke that PRTC faces a $9.2 million budget shortfall every year over the next five years. If state and local leaders don’t find the money, the transit system that thousands of residents, federal workers, and carpoolers (Slugs as they’re called in Northern Virginia) rely on could be blown up, changed, and rerouted to only ferry commuters to Metro stations.
All of this comes at a time when some drivers who trained at PRTC are leaving to make more money driving buses for other agencies. (more…)
New commuter bus service from eastern Prince William County to Mark Center begins today.
Commuter buses will take riders from neighborhoods in Dale City and Lake Ridge to Mark Center, the federal employment hub in Alexandria that is the home to the Department of Defense’s Washington Headquarters Services, and other Department of Defense agencies.
Four trips in the morning and afternoon will be offered to commuters on the both the Dale City and Lake Ridge routes. (more…)
Some relief for cash-strapped OmniRide could come in the form of legislation in Richmond.
A new bill by Sen. Frank Wagner (Norfolk, Virginia Beach) would set the gas tax “floor” at February 2013 rates. That means OmniRide’s parent agency Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission would get it’s 2.1% funding from the state’s motor fuels tax based on 2013 prices, which averaged $3.17 per gallon statewide that year. Diesel fuel averaged $3.36 per gallon statewide.
Compare that to today’s average price at the pump: $1.68 for regular and $2 for diesel, according to today’s AAA’s Fuel Gauge report.
The gas tax is a primary source of state funding for OmniRide, which operates heavily-used commuter buses from Prince William County and Manassas to Washington, D.C. (more…)
The roads last night were treacherous across the region, as less than an inch of snow that fell quickly turned to mush, and then to ice.
Vehicles traveling on Route 610 slipped and slid all over the roadway as drivers tried to make their way home.
I was one of the drivers that never made it home last night.
Several crashes on Route 610, as well as a jackknifed tractor trailer made it impossible to drive Route 610 west beyond Joshua Road. It was one of the more troublesome spots (especially in Stafford County, I’m told) where road conditions deteriorated quickly. (more…)
A snow emergency has been declared in Manassas Park.
Starting 6 a.m. Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, drivers cannot park their vehicles along snow emergency routes.
The parking restriction will remain in effect until 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, according to a statement from City Manager Kimberly Alexander. (more…)
A new OmniRide budget calls for cutting services and raising fares.
Fares could increase by 5% starting in July to offset a $9.2 million budget shortfall for Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, the agency that operates OmniRide commuter, and OmniLink local buses. The fare increase is on top of fares that have already increased by 30% since 2009.
Under the proposed fare increase, new one-way fares would be: (more…)
Construction crews will begin relocating gas lines in Manassas Park on Monday.
The work will take place at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Manassas Drive, and is being done in advance of roadwork to occur in the area.
The work is expected to take place through February, and will occur at multiple locations around the intersection.
Here’s more in a press release: (more…)
It’s time to remove the old Aden Road bridge.
The one-lane wrought-iron truss bridge will be removed from its perch over the Norfolk-Southern railway on Tuesday.
Remediation work to remove lead paint will be performed on the bridge, and then it will be trucked to Florida for a complete restoration. The bridge is 133 years old.
“It’s a community cornerstone,” said Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Ellen Kamilakis. (more…)
Mike’s 610 Diner has been described as a “cheers” of Stafford County.
The small eatery caters to a mostly breakfast crowd, and a stream of regulars — all on a first-name basis — stream in all morning long.
“I love this place… great food,” said Chirs Caldwell, of Aquia Harbour.
The diner may be served a condemnation notice due a road construction project. Stafford County will spend $13 million to widen Garrisonville Road to six lanes between Onville and Eustace Roads. (more…)
The threat of a jest a few flakes falling from the sky overnight was enough to get Virginia highway crews out to treat roads.
Crews were spotted laying down a salt-brine solution on Interstate 95 this morning.
Here’s more in a press release about what the Virginia Department of Transportation is doing ahead of a Alberta Clipper, that could bring some conversational snowflakes to the region today: (more…)
Commuters bound for Mark Center in Alexandria will soon have a two new buses to take them there.
A new ramp from the HOV lanes on Interstate 395 to Seminary Road will open tomorrow afternoon, according to a Virginia Department of Transportation press release.
The new ramp will allow commuter buses to ferry passengers from Dale City and Lake Ridge to the Mark Center federal building. The service will be funded entirely by Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and will be operated by OmniRide.
The Dale City bus will begin picking up passengers at the Dale City Commuter Lot at Gemini Way, then travel Dale Boulevard to Interstate 95. (more…)
There’s a lot of hope in the newly approved budget put forward Thursday night by the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission.
Hope that Prince William County will magically find $6 million to help make up some of an annual $9.2 million budget shortfall, every year over the next five years. Hope the Virginia General Assembly will enact a gas tax “floor” to help the agency recoup and additional $3.5 million it lost when gas prices dropped.
If a floor is not found, there’s also hope that Prince William County will make up the entire budget shortfall, each year for the next five years. Prince William County residents are the majority users of the commuter bus service, while the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park don’t pay for the commuter bus service but do have residents that use it.
If those monies don’t come, transit officials spelled out a doomsday scenario. All OmniLink local bus service in Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park would end. All OmniRide commuter buses to destinations like Washington, D.C., Arlington, and the Pentagon would be converted to serve only as shuttle buses to area Metro stations. (more…)
Submitted News Pedestrian struck, flown to hospital with serious injuries
A pedestrian was struck this morning in front of a Walgreens pharmacy on at Smoketown and Old Bridge roads in Lake Ridge.
Here’s more in a police press release:
Accident Investigation | Eastern PWC: Officers are currently investigating an accident involving a single vehicle and a pedestrian in the 12600 block of Smoketown Rd in front of the Walgreens. One lane of NB Smoketown Rd toward Old Bridge Rd is currently closed at Beaver Pond Rd. The pedestrian was flown to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries. Please use an alternate route and follow police direction. Old Bridge Rd is not affected.
Police reopened all lanes of Smoketown Road at about 9:30 a.m. following their investigation.
*UPDATE Accident Investigation: All lanes of Smoketown Rd from Beaver Pond Rd to Old Bridge Rd have been reopened.
— Prince William Co PD (@PWCPoliceDept) January 6, 2016
New toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 brought more options to commuters when they opened one year ago.
Single drivers can now pay a toll and ride the lanes, whereas before all vehicles had to have at least three occupants during peak times. Today, the toll lanes are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all drivers must have an electronic E-ZPass to use them. A vehicle with three or more occupants still rides free.
The lanes were always designed to move more people than vehicles. But when the newly converted HOT lanes opened, they ended up hurting the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission — the agency that moves nothing but people by providing commuter bus service in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.
The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission lost $1.5 million per year in federal “State of Good Repair” funding when the old HOV lanes were converted to toll lanes. The Federal Government made the change on Jan. 15, 2015, and it affected all transit agencies that operate services on HOT lanes across the country. (more…)
Work on widening U.S. 1 between Mary’s Way and the Occoquan River just kicked into Phase II.
Crews have focused their attention on the area between Route 123 and Annapolis Way, where many buildings have been boarded up or already razed — including an old Taco Bell restaurant and motel — to make way for the wider interchange at Routes 1 and 123.
The first phase of the project includes widening Route 1 from Mary’s Way north to Annapolis Way, and the second phase includes building a new interchange at Routes 1 and 123.
Work on phase 1 on southern end of the project is mostly completed.
The first part of work associated with this project is the undergrounding of utilities, which involves constructing an underground duct bank and includes some demolition of buildings in its location. This work began in February 2015 and scheduled to be completed by early spring 2016.
The widening is scheduled to begin in April 2016.
There is also the demolition of acquired buildings included in the widening. The first phase is widening to six lanes from St. Mary’s Way to the approach to the Occoquan River Bridge.
The second phase would include a new interchange carrying Route 123 over Route 1, and widening Route 123 from Route 1 to just east of I-95.
-Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.
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Route 1 serves as the southern gateway from Fairfax County into Prince Wiliam County, and right now the area is anything but pristine. The boarded up buildings, and illegally dumped arm chair recliners that dot the landscape make Woodbridge look very uninviting.
Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi recently posted details of a question and answer session he had with VDOT about the project. Principi said he was concerned about abandoned buildings being used by squatters, and said VDOT should repost signs noting the buildings are now property of the state.
News How many homes would be lost to a Godwin Drive extension to I-66? This $2.5 million study will tell us in 18 months
Should Godwin Drive be linked with Interstate 66? That’s the question a new $2.5 million study will examine.
Transportation planners from Prince William County and Manassas City will study the “Flat Branch” corridor between where Godwin Drive intersects with Sudley Road just outside Manassas, near Novant Prince William Medical Center.
The route is the same route as the “Tri-County Parkway” would have taken had it been built 10 years ago. The idea — free up some of the congestion that chokes Route 28 that runs parallel to the would-be road.
There are a large number of homes that lie in the path of a Godwin Drive extension, as well as Flat Branch, a creek that has a substantial floodplain around it.
“When it rains it becomes a major floodplain, so I’m not sure the Army Corps of Engineers would be happy if we simply went right through there and built a road,” said Rick Canizales, with the Prince William County Transportation Office.
The study is expected to take 18 months and look at two things: The alignment of the roadway (which route it would take if built) and the impacts of those ailments, such as how many properties would be needed if the road is extended.
The study will determine where the new road would link up with existing Route 28. Some models show the road linking to the artery while other models show a new road linking directly to I-66, or Old Centreville Road that runs parallel to Route 28 between Manassas Park and Fairfax County.
“The study will take 18 months because we expect to have a lot of public input,” added Canizales.
The study is expected to begin in spring 2016.
The study comes more than two years after heated debate over whether or not to build a “Bi-County Parkway” that would link I-95 in Dumfries with Dulles Airport. That road would have converted Route 234 into a limited access highway. The proposed route would cut through a portion of Manassas Battlefield National Park.
At last check, state officials are still considering to build the road.
Transit funding crisis
The cost Prince William County taxpayers shelled out to support the local bus system this year: $15.5 million.
Neighboring jurisdictions in the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park paid a combined $576,000.
Residents from Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park ride both local and commuter buses, but only Prince William County funds the commuter buses.
The numbers are included in a new report on the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commissioned ordered by Prince William officials as they wrangle with how to address a $12 million budget shortfall for the agency.
One option to make up for the lost cash: Ask the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park to pay up.
“Why are we paying for OmnRide service for the City of Manassas?,” Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman At-large Corey Stweart asked of PRTC Interim Director Eric Marx. “We have the authority to stop it, right?’
In a sense, the Board does but it wouldn’t be pretty.
“Those buses operating on a federal subsidy. If you start trying to stop those buses on those routes that operate on federal subsidies, who serve the handicapped, you’re going to be in trouble, or we all will,” warned Neabsco District Supervisor John Jenkins.
Marx told Stewart at the Board that even if OmniRide buses were to stop serving streetside bus stops and commuter lots in Manassas and Manassas Park, city residents would still drive to county commuter lots to board the buses.
Historically, Manassas and Manassas Park have never funded OmniRide commuter buses. It’s one thing city officials are looking into in light of the agency’s budget shortfall.
“The history of PRTC and its bus operations has a long and complex history which pre-dates almost everybody currently serving on [the Manassas City] Council or the [Prince William County] Board. We are researching why things are the way they are but don’t have answers yet,” said Manassas City Councilman Jonathan Way.
PRTC faces a $9 million budget shortfall in 2017, and a $12 million shortfall every year after. Declining revenues from the 2.1% motor fuels tax collected at Northern Virginia gas pumps due to lower fuel prices and more efficient cars, and lower federal and state subsidies leave the agency looking at cutting back service in what it dubs a “transit death spiral.”
The Board of Supervisors must decide to keep its funding of PRTC at current levels, which is not enough to keep the service operating as it does today. The Board will wrangle with the issue over the coming months before a new budget is approved in April.
Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi says the bus system is vital to the region, and he proposed this funding idea to keep the buses rolling:
During the Dec. 8 Board of County Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Frank Principi introduced amended legislation to address the budget shortfall faced by Potomac Rappahannock Transit Commission (PRTC), the bus system relied on by many Prince William County residents for inter and intra county transportation.
Principi’s amended resolution authorizes County staff to consider using 50 percent of the annual funds received from Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) to help close PRTC’s anticipated operational shortfalls in FY17-21. Each year, NVTA disburses 30 percent of its funds directly to member jurisdictions for use in local projects.
If initiated, the County subsidy to PRTC is proposed to begin July 1, 2016, and continue through FY21.
An semi truck reportedly overturned at the intersection of Shelton Shop and Winding Creek roads Saturday.
No injuries were reported in the crash. The road was closed for a brief time while crews worked to upright the overturned truck.
A Stafford sheriff’s deputy was stationed on the northbound side of the two-lane Shelton Shop Road just before the crash and had blocked traffic at 11 a.m. No sheriff’s deputy was present on the other side of the crash, so drivers that turned around to avoid the crash signaled to other to do the same.
The truck appeared to have been traveling on Winding Creek Road. The small two-lane road lives up to its “winding” namesake. The tractor trailer overturned at a sharp curve where Winding Creek intersects with Shelton Shop Road.
Trucks are prohibited from traveling on Winding Creek Road, according to signs posted in the area.
Today’s incident is nearly a repeat of an August, 2014 incident when another semi became stuck at the same intersection and required assistance from the sheriff’s office.
The future looks bleak for transit bus service in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.
The Potoamc and Rappahannock Transportation Commission which operates OmniRide commuter buses and OmniLink local buses faces a $9 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2017. That number grows to about $12 million in FY 2018 and continues in the following years.
Prince William County officials are wrangling with how to pay for the bus service that in recent years had seen a decline in ridership. The question: Should officials reduce bus service forcing more people to drive, carpool, or take Virginia Railway Express to work in Washington? Or should they raise taxes to fund the shortfall?
“You’re in what’s called a transit death spiral,” explained PRTC Interim Executive Director Eric Marx.
With ridership on the decline by 3.6% over last year, cutting services would only increase that number as more and more would flee the bus service for other options or drive themselves to work, he explained.
What’s driving the decrease in ridership? Lower fuel prices, a fluctuating federal government employee transit subsidy that has seesawed between $240 and $130 per month, and recent fare increases, added Marx.
What’s driving the budget shortfall? PRTC operates on funds from the region’s 2.1% motor fuels tax collected at the gas pump when drivers fill up. Lower gas prices, more efficient cars, and less funding from federal and state sources leave PRTC in a lurch.
Prince William County Budget Office chief Michelle Casciato told the Board of Supervisors the county could use its “30% transportation funding” from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission — tax monies given to the locality as part of former Gov. Robert McDonnnel’s transportation reform package passed while he was still in office — to fill the gap.
The county could also impose a new tax on industry and use that money to fund new transportation improvements, as that is what the Board is permitted by law to do with new industrial tax monies, added Casciato.
That’s what they could do. But Casciato told the Board she doesn’t recommend any of those measures.
PRTC and Virginia Railway Express are expected to send their 2017 budgets to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to review by mid-January. The Board must approve a new budget by the end of April.
VRE has also asked for a 5% increase in funding from the counties its serves. As it stands, Prince William County pays the highest jurisdictional amount of funding to VRE because the county generates the majority of riders on the commuter rail system.