Traffic & Transit

VRE could face major fines for delaying safety improvements

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Virginia Railway Express (VRE) could face fines up to $25,000 a day starting in 2016.

This is one of the consequences that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) could levy against Virginia’s only commuter railroad for not meeting full federal compliance standards with implementation of “positive train control” by the end of 2015, according to VRE spokesman Bryan Jungwirth.

Positive train control is a combination of technologies that can automatically stop a train to prevent collisions and derailments, like the Amtrak train that derailed outside of Philadelphia in May.

Another possibility is that CSX, the railroad that owns the tracks that VRE’s Fredericksburg line trains operate on, could stop the trains from using the tracks until they are in compliance, stated Jungwirth.

Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which mandated that all ‘Class 1’ railroads install positive train control by the end of 2015, according to documents from the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Will railroads meet the deadline?

According to Jungwirth, many railroads will not meet this deadline.

“Everybody’s been aware of the deadline since 2008…[Congress] set up a compromise [when passing the bill] to have the deadline at the end of this year, but it wasn’t realistic. It’s a massive undertaking to try to do it between 2008 and 2015 – it really couldn’t be done,” said Jungwirth.

When the act passed in 2008, the technology for positive train control didn’t even exist yet, according to Jungwirth.

VRE purchased 19 new locomotives in 2010, which cost $77 million that was funded with state, local and federal government money. The locomotives were built by Motive Power in Idaho.

Jungwirth said positive train control technologies were somewhat available by 2010 when VRE purchased the new locomotives, but they chose not to purchase them at the time.

Additionally, VRE had a $5.1 million budget surplus. $2.5 million was used to acquire the new locomotives, $500,000 went to the company’s insurance trust fund and the remainder went to building a third track in Spotsylvania County.

Jungwirth stated that VRE currently needs to purchase radios and antennas for the positive train control mandate, but that Norfolk Southern, that runs the railroad lines that VRE uses, was also not in compliance with the technology on their tracks.

Amtrak on track to meet deadline

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said that Amtrak would meet the deadline.

“Amtrak is on schedule to activate PTC in the NEC by the federally mandated deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. Amtrak owns relatively few miles of the infrastructure we use – about 97% of our route mileage is owned by other railroads that host our trains. Installation of PTC is the legal responsibility of the railroad that owns the track,” stated Woods.

According to CSX spokeswoman Kaitlyn Barrett, the company is planning to spend more than $1.9 billion for compliance with the positive train control standards, but agreed with Jungwirth that the end of 2015 is an unrealistic deadline.

“More than 550 employees have been hired to focus on PTC, with 1,000 in total working on the system across our network. In 2015, we are planning to spend an additional $300 million in developing and deploying PTC…the industry has been steadfast in its comments that the 2015 deadline is not realistic. Given the complexity of implementation, we feel that extension is fair and reasonable,” stated Barrett.

What happens next?

The only way an extension for the railroads could be granted is an act from Congress.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt introduced the Railroad Safety Act and Positive Train Control Extension Act to Congress in March, but no vote has been called on it yet. If passed, the act would extend the deadline for positive train control implementation to December 2020.

Congress will go into recess in August and September, so the timeline for a deadline to be extended is limited.

Rail companies, including CSX and VRE, are going to legislators to request they support the deadline extension, said Jungwirth and Barrett.

Tractor trailer, vehicle, in serious crash on Route 1 in Woodbridge

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Update

New information from the Prince William police has been released on yesterday’s accident.

According to Prince William police, both drivers were injured. The driver in the red Honda is currently in critical condition at a local medical facility and the driver of the tractor trailer was treated for minor injuries, said Prince William police. 

More from Prince William police:

The tractor trailer was stopped at the intersection of Jefferson Davis Hwy at Mount Pleasant Dr. The Honda, straddling both lanes hit the back of the tractor trailer. Speed and alcohol appear to be factors. The investigation is continuing. The driver of the Honda is a 34 year old man from Alexandria, VA and the driver of the truck is a 48 year old man from Woodbridge, VA.

Original post

There was a serious crash this afternoon in Woodbridge, involving a car and a tractor trailer.

According to Prince William police, the crash took place on Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) near Mount Pleasant Drive. A source told Potomac Local the accident took place in the northbound lanes.

One individual was seriously injured and was flown to a local medical facility, stated Prince William police.

Officers were on the scene to close the road at East Longview Drive. The roadway is now reopened for traffic, stated Prince William police.

The cause of the crash is still being investigated.

PRTC: Service cuts, higher fares, won’t save bus service

Many of the OmniRide local bus routes that serve eastern Prince William County stop at the PRTC Transit Center in Woodbridge.

Officials are trying to figure out how to keep PRTC buses rolling in 2017.

There’s been more talk, but not much action to address the looming $9 million annual shortfall for Prince William County’s transit system.

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) operates bus service and has a hand in Virginia Railway Express. At the PRTC commissioners meeting last week, they talked about an impending $9 million budget shortfall that could halt bus service in its tracks.

PRTC only has until March 2016 to make changes before they’re forced to make some drastic cuts to bus service. Any changes will be implemented in July 2016.

Current funding is not enough

According to PRTC’s Executive Director Eric Marx, the cost for bus services is exceeding their funding. The transit agency’ is funded primarily through a 2.1% motor fuels tax which is imposed on jurisdictions that are members of PRTC, according to spokeswoman Christine Rodrigo.

The motor fuels tax rate is not enough to sustain current bus services, and by 2017 there will be a $7 million shortfall, and an additional $9 million shortfall every year after, said Marx.

“We’ve known about the [budget] concern for quite a while…and then the fuel prices fell, and we lost about 25% of our revenue, which squarely moved the problem up into fiscal year 2017…cuts alone aren’t going to be able to do all we have to do to solve the problem, unfortunately,” said Marx.

According to PRTC’s fiscal year 2015 budget, it receives $11.5 million in federal funding and $3 million from state grants. It also receives subsidies from the localities – $14.7 million from Prince William, $329,800 from Manassas, $245,900 from Manassas Park, $89,300 from Stafford, $28,500 from Fredericksburg, and $84,100 from Spotsylvania.

There are currently three potential scenarios on the table that Marx presented to the commission.

The first would cut 35% of all service – including local and commuter service – across the board, which would save $1.8 million a year and lose PRTC 2,350 riders a day, according to PRTC documents.

The second option would be to eliminate all local OmniLink services, which would save $3.1 million a year and lose 4,300 PRTC riders a day, said PRTC documents.

And the third scenario: cut all local OmniLink service, and eliminate the remaining services in half, which would save only $6.1 million. The transit system expects to lose 7,450 riders a day under this plan, according to PRTC documents.

None of these scenarios would allow PRTC to make up the full $9 million budget shortfall.

PRTC has a few options

Marx stated that PRTC had some options to find some cost savings and generate additional revenue.

An audit from the county’s independent auditor will be done this fall, to take a closer look at PRTC’s budget. Then the Prince William board of supervisors will provide budget guidance in December, and authorize any service reductions in March.

“Because we’ve been as lean and as self-critical as we have when trying to provide as much service, I don’t think there are an awful lot of [efficiencies] out there…we could consider additional revenue sources…any major services are going to result in a large reduction for riders,” said Marx.

According to Marx, PRTC budgets for a 7.5% fare increase to riders every other year, but a more frequent increase is possible – with a potential consequence.

“Obviously we can consider higher fares – again, what that will definitely do – because it will chase people away from the system…we will just chase people away [from riding],” said Marx.

Marx said adding a floor to the motor fuels tax could help alleviate the budget shortfall. This change would need to be made through the General Assembly in Richmond.

“Because of the drop in fuel prices, we lost about $2.1 million per year…and [we’re] going to lose roughly another $3 million in revenue [because of fuel prices],” said Marx.

A floor on the motor fuels tax would provide a bare minimum that PRTC could account for in their budget each year, which currently fluctuates based on the gas prices.

Additionally, Marx asked for general fund monies from the county, and some funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

“Treading water”

Fredericksburg City Councilman Matthew Kelly, who serves on the PRTC Commission, spoke about his concerns on how Prince William County has been handling transit.

“Let’s face it in Prince William; you’ve been treading water on transportation for decades, barely keeping your head above water,” said Kelly.

Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson stated that she had concerns with the lack of riders she has seen on the OmniLink local service.

Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe stated that OmniLink service needs to be preserved as the community continues to change.

“We have some very serious challenges. There’s no question that Prince William County’s going to continue to be in the transit business – both in terms of providing commuter service…but as well as that local service around town, which is going to grow more and more important as the community changes and grows. I don’t know how we’re going to solve the problem…I look forward to doing the work to make sure we continue to keep Prince William County commuters moving,” said Nohe.

Flashing school zone signs still active this summer

When you see flashing school zone signs this summer, you still need to slow down.

According to Prince William police, summer school is in session in several county schools until July 24.

More from a Prince William police release:

That means that motorists must obey the flashing lights that indicate lower speeds for school zones, even if you believe the lights are on in error.

Virginia law states that school zone lights come on 1/2-hour before the school’s first bell (AM and PM) and go off 1/2-hour after the first bell. This occurs during the regular school year, but also during summer school.

The Prince William County Police Department reminds motorists to obey all traffic signs and signals, and to use caution while driving through school zones or approaching stopped school buses that have their lights activated.

They’re moving the Vint Hill Road intersection south, widening Route 28

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Route 28 in Bristow is being widened to four lanes.

The work also includes untangling busy dual intersections at Route 28 at Vint Hill and Bristow roads. Traffic backs up at both of these intersections — that sit about 200 feet apart from each other — during the morning and evening rush hours.

Route 28 will be widened from two to four lanes from Vint Hill Road south to Fitzwater Drive in Nokesville. Crews have already begun demolishing old buildings along the southbound side of Route 28 to widen the roadway.

A key part of this project is building a new intersection of Vint Hill Road at Route 28, about a quarter of a mile south of where Vint Hill Road meets Route 28 today. Moving the intersection will not only help to ease some of the congestion near Bristow Road, but it will also allow for better timing of traffic signals in the area, said Prince William County Transportation Chief Tom Blaser.

The new intersection of Vint Hill Road at Route 28 will allow drivers to head in any direction on both roads. Drivers who use the old Vint Hill Road intersection, to be dubbed “Old Vint Hill Road,” will only be able to turn right from Route 28 onto Old Vint Hill Road, and right from Old Vint Hill Road to Route 28.

A traffic light at “old” Vint Hill Road and Route 28 will be moved to the intersection of “new” Vint Hill Road and Route 28. A traffic light at Bristow Road and Route 28 will remain in place.

Work on this project has required several closures and detours on weekends. Here is information on the upcoming detour for July 17 to July 29: 

Route 28 (Nokesville Road) between Aden Road and Battalion Square will again be closed in both directions Fridayand Sunday nights so that crews can continue storm sewer line work, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.Closure times:

  • 10 p.m. Friday, July 17 to 5 a.m. Saturday, July 18

  • 10 p.m. Sunday, July 19 to 4 a.m. Monday, July 20

Traffic will be detoured via Fitzwater Drive, Kettle Run Road and Vint Hill Road.

Funding for the nearly $25 million project comes from federal and state sources, as well as some developer proffer monies said, Blaser. It’s not being funded with local tax dollars.

The project is set for completion next summer.

Extended trail would link Prince William Forest, Manassas Battlefield National parks

Planners are talking about extending a walking trail that would join two National Parks in Prince William County.

An asphalt walking trail on Prince William Parkway ends at the intersection of Liberia Avenue and Wellington Road in Manassas. Transportation officials last month were directed to find out how much it would cost to extend the trail from that intersection to Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman, At-large Corey Stewart asked for the numbers. The trail would connect to another walking trail on the Route 234 bypass portion of Prince William Parkway, allowing both Prince William Forest Park and Manassas National Battlefield Park to be connected via the county’s expanding trail system.

The county’s transportation department is working to compile the information to present to the chairman. As of now, there is no cost figure or date of when construction on this project could begin, said transportation department chief Tom Blaser.

Prince William County has made the construction of both sidewalks on one side and paving hiking and biking trails on the other standard when it widens or constructs new roads.

The county’s parks department is working in conjunction with the transportation department to find out what it would take to extend the trail.

“Certainly on the wishlist of the master plan is to have connectivity between both Prince William Forest Park nd the battlefield, because what you would end up with is a patchwork of trails that we could market on a master trail map,” said Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Brent Heavner.

Ultimately, whether or not this project goes forward will depend on taxpayer funding. Both Heavner and Blaser said the new trail could run through Innovation Park at Prince William — a key economic development area for Prince William County just outside Manassas, home to the Science and Technology Campus of George Mason University.

Lane closures on Route 28 again this weekend in Bristow

vdotlogoThe Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be detouring drivers on Route 28, while they continue sewer line work.

According to VDOT, Route 28 between Bristow Village Boulevard and Battalion Square will be closed in both directions on Friday and Sunday night.

More on closure times from VDOT:

10 p.m. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Saturday, July 11
10 p.m. Sunday, July 12 to 4 a.m. Monday, July 13
Traffic will be detoured via Fitzwater Drive, Kettle Run Road and Vint Hill Road.

Virginia to mark completion of Gainesville Interchange Project

The construction project that has spelled headache for commuters for the past four years is complete.

Virginia Transportations Secretary Aubrey Lane will visit Gainesville tomorrow morning to note the completion of the Gainesville Interchange project.

And while orange cones dot the roadway here as crews put the finishing touches on the interchange, it’s important to point out that this $230 million project includes four new bridges, and it separates the traffic on U.S. 29 north and south from Linton Hall and Gallerher roads, and a railroad crossing.

So what we have now in Gainesville, traffic on U.S. 29 flows underneath Linton Hall and Gallerher roads, and it flows over a railroad crossing.

Before the interchange was built, that railroad crossing was the site of multiple train vs. car accidents that took hours to investigate, and caused major traffic delays in the area prior to construction of this interchange.

This interchange is located just south of Interstate 66, so this is a very busy and congested area. With the completion of this $230 million project, traffic officials hope traffic will flow a bit better here in Gainesville.

Lane is expected to join several other officials from Prince William County at 10 a.m. at the Virginia Gateway Shopping Center for a ribbon cutting to herald the completion on of the project. The Gainesville Interchange Project is considered one of the largest highway construction project in the state.

In addition to the four new bridges, a five-foot sidewalk, and 10-foot walking path were also built as part of the project. Ten retaining walls and new highway lighting was added as part of the project.

The new Gainesville interchange is the last in a series of improvements that date back to the early 2000s. That’s when a portion of I-66 was widened from U.S. 29 to Sudley Road and a new interchange at U.S. 29 and I-66 was built.

A total of 87,000 vehicles is expected to pass through the interchange by 2035, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

New lane opened on I-495 inner loop to ease congestion

There is a new lavdotlogone for commuters to use on the Capital Beltway (I-495) inner loop.

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the shoulder lane on I-495 has been opened.

VDOT stated that this has been done to improve driving conditions going northbound, when I-495 Express Lanes join the regular driving lanes.

More on the new lane from VDOT:

The 1.5-mile lane will allow traffic to travel on the left shoulder of northbound I-495 from where the 495 Express Lanes end to the George Washington Parkway. The shoulder will be open to all traffic from 7-11 a.m. and 2-8 p.m. on weekdays. A lane-use management system, with green arrows and red “X’s,” similar to the lane-control system on I-66, will alert travelers when the shoulder is open.
In addition to the extra lane, several safety enhancements have been implemented such as upgraded concrete barriers in the median of I-495, new cameras and electronic highway signs to help with incident response and traveler information, and new pavement.
All travelers and buses will benefit from the new capacity and improved merge. There will be no barrier separation between the shoulder lane and the regular Beltway lanes, ensuring easy access for travelers.

I-95 traffic already congested for upcoming July 4 weekend

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For those planning to head out of the area for the Fourth of July weekend – prepare for some heavy traffic.

Currently Interstate 95 going southbound in North Stafford was already seeing congestion at 9 a.m. this morning.

Additionally, there will be some lane changes for those traveling on the I-95 Express Lanes this weekend.

More on the changes from Transurban:

Friday, July 3:  No changes to reversal time.  The reversal from northbound (NB) to southbound (SB) will begin around 11 a.m. with the SB lanes open around 1 p.m.  

Saturday, July 4: 

Reversal from SB to NB will begin at midnight with the NB lanes open around 2 a.m.

Reversal from NB to SB will begin around 7 p.m. with the SB lanes open around 9 p.m.

Sunday, July 5:  Reversal from SB to NB will at midnight with the NB lanes open around 2 a.m.

Monday, July 6:  No changes to reversal time.  The reversal from NB to SB will begin around 11 a.m. with the SB lanes open around 1 p.m.  

SoberRide offers free cab rides on July 4

Make sure 11666199_871854766197291_5909740074273665784_nthat your Fourth of July is both fun and safe.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) is offering their SoberRide program from 10 p.m. on July 4 to 4 a.m. on July 5.

According to a WRAP release, individuals can receive a free cab ride home, up to a $30 fare.

In order to utilize the program, riders must be 21 years and older.

More on July 4’s SoberRide program:

Important note: All requests for SoberRide service must be called to and dispatched from 1-800-200-8294. Do not call a taxi company directly for SoberRide service as the ride will not be covered under this program.

General SoberRide Information
WRAP’s SoberRide , called one of the nation’s most successful free cab ride programs for would-be impaired drivers, has helped to ensure greater Washington, DC residents have a safe way home on high-risk holidays. Since 1993, WRAP has provided over 62,536 safe rides home. Currently, SoberRide operates during the December/January holiday season, St. Patrick’s Day, CInco de Mayo, Independence Day and Halloween.
WRAP’s SoberRide provides a free cab ride home up to a $30 fare.
Callers are financially responsible for anything over $30.

You must be 21 or older to use the SoberRide service. All calls must originate in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland; the Cities of Rockville, Bowie, College Park, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt and Takoma Park in Maryland; the District of Columbia; Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Eastern Loudoun Counties in Virginia; and the Cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas and Manassas Park in Virginia.

You cannot reserve a SoberRide or schedule a pickup in advance. To receive a ride, you must call 1-800-200-8294 (TAXI) during the program hours. A SoberRide call operator will direct your request to the correct participating cab company.

Participating Taxi Companies:
Alexandria Yellow Cab (Alexandria)
Barwood, Inc. (Montgomery County)
Fairfax Yellow Cab (Fairfax County)
Loudoun Yellow Cab (Eastern Loudoun County)
Northern Virginia Checker (Prince William County)
Red Top Cab Company (Arlington County)
Silver Cab of Prince George’s County (Prince George’s County)
Yellow Cab of District of Columbia (District of Columbia)
Yellow Cab of Prince William County (Prince William County)
When waiting for a SoberRide, please watch for a cab from the participating taxi company in the area from which you are calling.

New Virginia traffic laws start today

Starting today, there are some new rules of the road in Virginia.

During their last session, the Virginia General Assembly made amendments to state codes that are meant to increase safety measures for bicycles, postal vehicles, and garbage trucks, among others.

One change is that any vehicle that provides roadside assistance or traffic management aide is now qualified for the “Move Over” law in Virginia, because the vehicle may have blinking or flashing warning lights. The “Move Over law mandates that drivers change lanes to allow certain vehicles, including law enforcement, room on the road to provide assistance.

Another measure is meant to keep postal workers safe. A new regulation passed in the House now requires drivers passing a mail vehicle that has blinking or amber lights on to use caution and a safe speed.

A similar regulation now requires that those passing garbage trucks on roadways that have less than four lanes have to decrease their speed to 10 miles per hour lower than the speed limit. Additionally, drivers must leave two feet of room between where they pass and the left of a vehicle.

An interesting regulation passed this legislative session protects individuals on bicycles and mopeds, as vehicles can now be cited for following too closely.

For those that have been convicted in a federal court for a DUI offense that is similar to one within Virginia law, now has the ability to petition the court in their jurisdiction for restricted driving privileges, which is found in other states. The driving privileges, according to the text of the passed bill, would be restricted to areas including their workplace and church.

Prior to this change, only individuals convicted in a Virginia court of a DUI offense could petition the court.

Manassas City leaders like Georgetown South parking district

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Georgetown South has a unique set of rules that govern who can park in the Manassas neighborhood.

For the past 20 years, visitors and guests of neighborhood residents have been required to obtain a special parking pass from the Manassas treasurer’s office.

The temporary permit costs $10 each, and it’s good for a one-night stay. Each resident is allowed 50 per year.

Some residents want to do away with the parking rules, called a “parking district” by city officials, calling them restrictive and noting they’re the only ones of its kind in the city.

City officials say the parking district is effecting in curbing illegal parking in the city, and that many residents who’ve spoken at various public hearings on the matter want the parking rules enforced.

“I have not seen any advantages of getting rid of the parking district,” said Manassas City Manager Patrick Pate.

A spokeswoman for the Georgetown South did not return a request for comment for this story.

City leaders say the parking district has also been effective in curbing the number of cars and work trucks that are parked in the neighborhood but registered in another jurisdiction, like Fairfax County.

Manassas issues special parking permits to work trucks registered elsewhere to operators who have proven to the city treasurer the personal property tax on the vehicle has been paid to its respective jurisdiction.

City police also support keeping the parking district in place.

“I was troubled to read emails that say the only reason we have this parking district is for revenue generation by the police], and that is not true,” said Councilwoman Sheryl Bass.

The City Council on June 15 had the ability to vote to keep the special parking district in place or to remove it. Instead, the council took the lead of Councilman Ken Elston who suggested city leaders table the issue hold more meetings with Georgetown South community members to hear their concerns on the matter. The first of those meetings was held Monday night, said Pate.

While this is the only special parking district of its kind in the city, leaders have imposed other parking regulations in other neighborhoods. The catch is, the city may only impose such restrictions on publically maintained streets.

“If Georgetown South were built today instead of in the 1960s, it would have privatized streets,” said Pate.

Of the 1,700 parking spaces in Georgetown South, the city issued 2,400 temporary parking permits in the past year, Pate added.

The city is looking at adding a similar parking district on public streets near the Point of Woods neighborhood.

System 2040 plan maps out changes for VRE service

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The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) has a plan that includes adding train lines, stations, and even reverse commute capabilities.

While mass transit is one of the major methods that many area residents use to get to work in the area, there is still a lot of congestion that VRE is trying to combat, according to Director of Public Affairs Bryan Jungwirth.

In order to handle congestion and provide more service to riders, VRE has created a System 2040 plan with service improvements and additions up through the year 2040.

One big component of the plan is reverse commuting, which would alleviate some congestion on the roads for commuters coming in to Prince William and Manassas for work.

Currently there are only three trains that are classified as a reverse commute, according to Jungwirth – one from Union Station in Washington, D.C. at 6:25 a.m. to Broad Run, an additional Union Station to Broad Run in the afternoon and a Broad Run to Union Station train in the afternoon.

“We’ve got some trains that actually can be characterized as a reverse commute, and they’re on the Manassas line,” said Jungwirth.

In the immediate future, VRE will be adding more cars to existing trains.

“The best things we’re definitely going to do – max by 2017 – are adding more cars onto more trains and make the trains longer, which will increase capacity. And that will help with the whole [Route] 66 construction issue,” Jungwirth commented.

There are several station expansions and new platforms on the agenda from VRE, with a Fredericksburg train line being added this summer and Gainesville-Haymarket extension coming, said Jungwirth.

Also coming up in the next few years, are VRE’s plans to add two more tracks and potentially adding a line that goes from Manassas to Alexandria.

“[System 2040] tries to address all of this different elements, because we’re going to need two more tracks going across the Potomac [River] – so either a new bridge or the extension to the existing long bridge. And then we need more train storage up in the [Washington] D.C. area, and we’re looking to expanding where we store our trains. Parking lot expansions – we’re looking at those as well…We could potentially get additional capacity on the Manassas line…we’ve thought about ways we could run more service on the Manassas line and doing what we call a fish-hook kind of service to Alexandria, but it would take a lot of construction to make it even feasible,” said Jungwirth.

Reverse commuting capabilities should start to become a bigger focus towards the end of the System 2040 plan, said Jungwirth.

“I won’t say that reverse commutes aren’t on our list of things to do, because it is in the System 2040 plan, but it’s the latter part of the plan, so we’re talking out to 2030, 2040…all of these other infrastructure improvements would need to occur before that were to happen,” said Jungwirth.

County supervisors talk on how to address $9M PRTC shortfall

Many riders begin and end their commutes, or transfer to other PRTC buses at the agency’s Transit Center in Woodbridge.

County supervisors are talking about ways to handle the Potomac and Rapphannock Transportation Commission’s (PRTC) $9 million dollar annual shortfall.

PRTC provides bus and rail service for residents in Prince William, Manassas and Stafford, including commuter, cross-county and local bus service.

According to PRTC’s Interim Executive Director Eric Marx, the organization is facing this large shortfall and may have to make some drastic cuts to service – including eliminating all local service or severely limiting commuter service – unless additional funding can be found.

Currently PRTC’s revenue sources include some federal and state funds, and a 2.1% motor fuels tax. Previously, the board of county supervisors chipped in money from the general fund, but stopped doing so after the recession hit the county in 2008.

An independent audit, and more talks

Marx has met with the supervisors to discuss the shortfall, and the board’s first step has been to call for an independent audit of PRTC and their budget, to see if efficiencies and cost savings can be found.

“There is an audit that Prince William County is planning, to have their independent auditing firm perform on PRTC, regarding our performance…it will be a way that the county can sort of independently determine how well we are doing. We can say everything we want about how efficient we are, and how productive we are…but having and independent process [provides] verification,” said Marx.

The audit will take place this fall, according to Marx.

While Marx stated that the three scenarios that PRTC has offered to address the shortfall are very real, they were meant to be broad and will receive much tweaking from the board.

 “I’ve spoken with most of the [supervisors]…and all of them have listened attentively and asked some questions. But [we’re] really not at a point that people are making declarations one way or the other. There are three very broad scenarios, developed to illustrate what the extremes would be in terms of how many cuts would need to be made in order to achieve [certain] levels of savings. I suspect that none of those will be implemented exactly as they are…I suspect there will be a fair amount of give or take, with the policy guidance from the elected officials and the board of county supervisors and the county finance staff,” said Marx.

Supervisors share their thoughts

Potomac Local reached out to the county board of supervisors for their thoughts on how to handle the PRTC shortfall.

For Supervisor Mike May, addressing the board’s previous general fund contribution is on the table.

“It’s a significant amount of money and I don’t think the board is going to be able to be in a position to completely backfill a $9 million shortfall. There is a history of using general fund monies to supplement PRTC, and that probably makes some amount of sense – depending on of course, the amount. Historically, it’s been $1 to $1.5 million dollars, and so there’s a significant difference between that and the $9 million shortfall,” said May.

Additionally, May stated that none of the scenarios to cut service that PRTC has put forward would seriously be considered.

“All three scenarios are essentially non-starters. But those all assume a $9 million shortfall, and PRTC resolving it with some level of reductions. I don’t think any of the three will be met with a whole lot of support from the board,” said May.

Supervisor Maureen Caddigan stated that many of her constituents rely on PRTC and that not finding funding sources for PRTC’s shortfall would have a major impact on transit in the area.

 “We need transportation, obviously. If you look at Route 1, and [Interstate] 95 and certainly [Route] 66 – where the jobs are…and the traffic is horrendous, so we need [public] transportation to get people around. The OmniRide is doing wonderful, people are really happy…the concern with some of the money now that is needed is for OmniLink. And OmniLink does take care of our neediest people – the people that don’t have cars…it’s expensive to run the buses, so we are taking a look at it…Route 1 – that is my greatest concern. People get off of 95 and they get onto Route 1, and the traffic is terrible, so I would not cut out any kind of transportation to get people around,” said Caddigan.

According to Supervisor John Jenkins, the General Assembly should play a role in solving the shortfall by putting a floor on the motor fuels tax – one of PRTC’s major funding sources.

“We have a corporate responsibility, with other jurisdictions, and so it’s not one of these things where you can just say, ‘You know, we’re not going to fund it.’ There are two or three options we’re going to look at in the future. We have, over the years, in Prince William County, funded from the general fund, a little bit of the operation of the transportation systems, but I don’t think we can continue to do that in the current scenario. The General Assembly could put a floor on the amount of [motor fuels] tax that’s being cut. One of the things I would like to see done would be for the state General Assembly to come in there and come and give us some real, meaningful revenues to help operate this transit system,” Jenkins said.

May also mentioned seeking outside funding sources, including the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), but that ultimately there would have to be some cuts at PRTC.

“I’m open to working with my colleagues to try and identify funding to help with some of that. I also think we should probably take a look at the possibility of using NVTA funds for a portion of that as well, but there’s probably going to have to be some reductions made on the PRTC side as well,” May commented.

Marx stated that public hearings could be held in the future to hear from county residents, as to how to address the $9 million shortfall.

Changes to 95 Express Lanes schedule for July 4 weekend

On the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, expect to see some changes to the 95 Express Lanes schedule.

According to Transurban – the company that owns and operates the Express Lanes -the lane schedule is being modified on July 4 and July 5 to make it easier for drivers to see the fireworks displays in Washington D.C., and for drivers to return from out of town travel.

More on the schedule changes from Transurban:

Friday, July 3:  No changes to reversal time.  The reversal from northbound (NB) to southbound (SB) will begin around 11 a.m. with the SB lanes open around 1 p.m.  

Saturday, July 4: 

Reversal from SB to NB will begin at midnight with the NB lanes open around 2 a.m.

Reversal from NB to SB will begin around 7 p.m. with the SB lanes open around 9 p.m.

Sunday, July 5:  Reversal from SB to NB will at midnight with the NB lanes open around 2 a.m.

Monday, July 6:  No changes to reversal time.  The reversal from NB to SB will begin around 11 a.m. with the SB lanes open around 1 p.m.  

Automated cars to be tested on 495, 95 Express Lanes

Expect to see automated vehicles on 495 and 95 Express Lanes in the coming months.

Following a proclamation from Governor McAuliffe on June 2, organizations including Transurban and Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute (VTTI), have moved forward on researching and testing automated vehicles.

The project is being called the Virginia Automated Corridors Initiative.

“Automatic-vehicles are the future, and our Commonwealth’s long history in military and private automated and unmanned systems has poised Virginia to lead the way,” said Governor McAuliffe. “As we work to build a new Virginia economy, we have a tremendous opportunity to provide car companies and suppliers of automated vehicles the ideal, real-world environments they need to test complex scenarios prior to putting their vehicles on more roadways,” McAuliffe stated in the proclamation.

According to Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk, the 495 and 95 Express Lanes will be used for testing the automated vehicles.

“What we offered up, in conversations with VDOT and Virginia Tech, is use of our facilities on 495 and 95 [Express Lanes] for the testing of these vehicles,” said McGurk.

Myra Blanco, who works out of VTTI’s Center for Automated Vehicle Systems, stated that the research into vehicle automation has been going on for a long time, but the Governor’s proclamation has given them the green-light on roads in Virginia.

“We have been doing research for a long time, on different levels for vehicle automation…this project was part of the Governor’s proclamation to allow us to do vehicle automation related research on Virginia roads,” said Blanco.

While many people picture cars that can completely drive users on their own, Blanco stated that the technology is not there yet.

“We currently have features in the vehicles that are automated. For example, it’s called ACC – it’s a more advanced type of cruise control…it allows the vehicle to stay within the lane. What people tend to think of are fully automated vehicles. That’s when they start calling them autonomous vehicles – that would be in the future…we’re not there yet. The next [automation] progression would be changing lanes. There’s a lot of research going on, on those types of use cases,” said Blanco.

McGurk stated that the Express Lanes are perfect for testing the vehicles because their industries are similar, and the lanes allow Transurban to create a closed system for testing that won’t impede drivers.

“We’re excited about this technology. In the very long term future, we could possibly see further applications…it’s at the leading forefront of transportation technology and we consider ourselves in that same realm, so we wanted to be supportive,” McGurk said.

McGurk stated there is no firm timeline to begin testing the vehicles on the lanes currently.

Will a $9 million deficit end PRTC bus service in Prince William?

Many riders begin and end their commutes, or transfer to other PRTC buses at the agency’s Transit Center in Woodbridge.

Transit bus services in Prince William County are on the chopping block.

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) currently operates commuter and local bus service for residents in Prince William, Stafford, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

According to PRTC documents, the commuter buses service 7,400 passengers a day, their cross-county services 1,900 a day and their local bus routes service 3,700 residents a day.

The commuter services cover 13 routes and the local services cover six routes.

Many residents rely on PRTC’s services for commuting into Washington D.C. and surrounding areas. It is also a main mode of transport for residents on the local routes.

But right now, PRTC is in financial trouble and is facing a sizable financial shortfall.

It’s $9 million a year, to be exact, according to PRTC’s Interim Executive Director Eric Marx.

“In addition to the fact that we weren’t getting any local supplement – we’ve lost $1.3 million in annual federal funds…the fuel prices have fallen…the result is we’re facing a $7 million shortfall, starting early sometime in fiscal [year] 2017. And it goes up to $9 million [annually] thereafter,” said Marx.

What are PRTC’s funding sources?

PRTC has several funding sources that make up their operational budget, including state and federal funds.

Prince William County’s board of supervisors is also expected to put forward funds for the services, as a majority of the users are county residents, stated PRTC documents.

Another major funding source is the 2.1% motor fuels tax that the county provides to PRTC.

The problem with such a large amount of PRTC’s funding coming from the motor fuels tax is that it varies widely from year to year, based on gas prices. So, the higher the gas prices for drivers, the more PRTC has from the tax revenue to use for their operational budget.

PRTC documents stated that there is a $21 million annual cost for bus and rail services (PRTC also has a hand in Virginia Railway Express operations), but the motor fuels tax revenue alone only raised $12 million – a 25% decrease from last year.

In the past, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors supplemented part of PRTC’s budget with money from the General Fund, which is funded with county tax dollars. The board stopped providing that money  in 2008 when the recession hit.

“The reality is that Prince William County did put money from the General fund [into PRTC] for years and years, but when the recession came along, they cut it out. We had a fuel tax reserve built up at that point…and we were in pretty decent shape at that point. Now we are not,” Marx stated.

What are the solutions?

With a $9 million annual shortfall looming, PRTC needed to come up with potential solutions.

According to Marx, there are three scenarios.

PRTC documents stated that the first scenario would involve cutting services for commuter and local services by 35% across the board. This means there would be fewer buses across the board for commuter, cross-county and local services.

The second scenario would eliminate all local bus services from PRTC’s lineup. And the third scenario would involve cutting all local bus services, as well as cutting any remaining bus services in half.

Marx stated that only the third scenario would allow PRTC to account for the $9 million shortfall in their budget.

Additionally, Marx stated that there was no way to cut expenditures further, or find some savings within their current operational budget.

“We’ve even gone through trims to make sure that we continue to be as efficient as we can be, and make sure that we’re doing the best we can with the resources we’ve got,” said Marx.

Who will it impact?

If the PRTC implements any of the three scenarios, it could negatively impact several Prince William residents.

Commuters would have to turn to alternative methods to get to work, including taking their cars on the road – furthering the congestion issue in the area.

And for those that rely on local bus service as their sole means for transportation, it could have a huge impact.

“If we turn to significant cuts…what would it do? If you take out the local component [of service] – it changes the game,” said Marx.

PRTC cutting their services could also impact residents in some ways they wouldn’t expect – like the bus service’s connection to the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), according to VRE Director of Public Affairs Bryan Jungwirth.

“If transit services are curtailed in this region, it could have a dramatic effect on roadway demand and congestion. The buses are used as a feeder-service as well [for the VRE] on both ends, for many of our riders, so it’s a concern if PRTC were to curtail service – there’d be concern for VRE as well,” Jungwirth said.

What can the local government and community do?

During a presentation given by Marx at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, he called out the board of supervisors and stated that they are a crucial piece of correcting PRTC’s shortfall.

“Here’s the $7 million question – why not just add more bus service? There’s so much need, why don’t we put it out there? The answer is – it doesn’t turn a profit, it’s a public good…the user fees just don’t cover the full cost and they can’t…It’s completely a local policy decision as to how much [bus] service is going to be provided. There’s nobody out there saying, ‘you have to provide X amount of service.’ There’s no federal requirement, there’s no state requirement. It’s purely a local decision as to how much they want to put out there, and what needs they want to serve,” said Marx.

Additionally, Marx pointed to the county’s affluence on a national level, and asserted that the county has a choice to provide funding for their resident’s transportation needs.

“Question whether the 12th or 9th (depending on the source) wealthiest US county truly can’t afford a respectable community transit system,” said Marx.

Crash stalls Vint Hill Road traffic

A crash on Vint Hill Road in near Gainesville stalled traffic about 5:30 p.m.
A crash on Vint Hill Road in near Gainesville stalled traffic about 5:30 p.m.
A crash on Vint Hill Road in near Gainesville stalled traffic about 5:30 p.m.
A crash on Vint Hill Road in near Gainesville stalled traffic about 5:30 p.m.

A portion of the southbound lane of Vint Hill Road at was closed a Burwell Road after a crash occurred.

Police directed Vint Hill Road traffic through the parking lot of the Greenwich Presbyterian Church about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash — a silver sedan and an SUV.

The crash occurred near the Prince William County / Fauquier County line, near Gainesville.

Purple stripes coming to 495, 95 Express Lanes

Starting at the end of June, there will be purple lane striping added to the entry points on 495 and 95 Express Lanes.

According to a release from Transurban, the company that owns and operates the lanes, the new stripes will be added to the inside of the existing stripes at entry points.

The reason for the new lane striping is to minimize confusion for drivers, so they can better distinguish between Express Lanes and the regular Beltway and Interstate 95 lanes.

More on the striping locations from Transurban:

95 Express Lanes
Northbound: 
95 Express Lanes entrance near Dumfries Road
95 Express Lanes entrance near Cardinal Drive
95 Express Lanes entrance near Franconia-Springfield Parkway

Southbound: 
95 Express Lanes entrance between Lorton Road and Route 123
95 Express Lanes entrance north of Edsall Road

495 Express Lanes: 
Northbound 495 Express Lanes entrance near I-95/395/495 interchange
Regular Capital Beltway lanes between the southbound 495 Express Lanes exit and 95 Express Lanes entrance

Closures on Route 28 continue for $69M widening project

vdotlogo600pixelsRoute 28 between Bristow Village Boulevard and Battalion Square will be closed in both directions again this weekend.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) crews will continue work on a new storm sewer line.

The installation of the line is part of the $69.9 million widening project being done on Route 28.

More on the project from VDOT:

Phase One, which involves relocating Vint Hill Road to Route 28’s intersection with Infantry Lane and widening Route 28 to six lanes between Linton Hall Road and the relocated Vint Hill Road, is scheduled for completion in July 2016. Construction of Phase Two, which involves widening Route 28 to four lanes between the relocated Vint Hill Road and Fitzwater Drive, is scheduled to begin in March 2016 and has an estimated completion date of December 2017.

During the closure, all traffic will be detoured via Fitzwater Drive, Kettle Run Road and Vint Hill Road, stated VDOT.

More on closure times from VDOT:

10 p.m. Friday, June 19 to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 20
10 p.m. Saturday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 21
10 p.m. Sunday, June 21 to 4 a.m. Monday, June 22

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