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Traffic & Transit

Traffic
Why the $228 million set aside to to repair Memorial Bridge is a win for Virginia commuters

The effort to repair the Arlington Memorial Bridge got a major funding boost from Congress.

The feds will spend $228 million to rehabilitate the 85-year-old bridge linking Arlington and Washington, D.C.

Vital to the region’s transportation infrastructure, 68,000 cars cross the bridge each day. About 58 percent of those are from Virginia.

The rehab project is expected to save taxpayers $35 million and take about a year to construct.

From a press release:

Major construction will start in fall 2018. It will replace the drawbridge span, rehabilitate the concrete approach spans, and replace the concrete deck. Workers will employ accelerated bridge construction techniques, including using prefabricated concrete deck panels. They will reset the stone curbs and light posts and restore the historic stone and metal cladding. The structure of the existing bascule span will be replaced with variable depth steel girders, which will significantly extend the useful life of the bridge while significantly reducing maintenance costs. The NPS will begin minor repairs to the bridge by the beginning of 2018.

Virginia’s congressional delegation worked to secure he funds for the bridge repairs, including Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Barbara Comstock (R, VA-10) and Don Beyer (D, VA-8).

“This is exactly the right thing to do, repairing the bridge now is projected to save $35 million and reduce construction time by a year and a half. It is a win-win decision, making sense financially and for our commuters including many from Virginia’s Tenth District,” stated Comstock in a press release. This is an essential infrastructure improvement for the region, and fortunately, minor repairs will begin in early 2018 and major construction is scheduled to follow soon after in the fall.”

Repairs totaling $5 million to the bridge’s trunnion posts on its drawbridge was scheduled to happen in 2017. They were to follow some $9 million in repairs to the bridge since the aging structure was found to be in trouble in 2009.

From a press release:

Regarded as Washington’s most beautiful bridge, Memorial Bridge symbolically links North and South in its alignment between the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial. The adjacent Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway terminus, the Watergate steps, and monumental equestrian statuary join with the bridge to create a formal western terminus of the National Mall at the edge of the Potomac River.

Designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, the low, Neoclassical bridge is 2,163 feet long and 60 feet wide. Except for the bascule (drawbridge) span in the bridge’s center which is clad in metal, it is constructed from reinforced concrete faced with dressed North Carolina granite ashlar. When it opened in 1932, the bridge was the longest, heaviest and fastest opening drawbridge in the world; the drawbridge last opened in 1961. Today, it carries 68,000 cars per day.

Without a complete rehab of the bridge, officials say the bridge was slated to close to traffic by 2021. According to the National Park Service, if the bridge were to close it would result in $74 million in annual lost revenue for the region due to traffic delays.

Work to keep open the Memorial Bridge has postponed other park service roadway repair projects, including work on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Maryland, a highway linking the two named cities. 

Flickr photo: Tim Evanson

Traffic
Here are the major road projects Prince William County officials requested funding for this week

Commuters on the congested Route 28 corridor are one step closer to getting relief.

In a request to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), Prince William County leaders submitted a list of 11 projects be funded, to include at least $200 million in long-awaited improvements to Route 28 between Manassas and Fairfax County. The NVTA, created by legislators in 2013 with a sales tax hike, called for projects to be funded in its first-ever six-year funding cycle where some $1.5 billion will be awarded for transportation projects.

The Route 28 improvement project is a priority, with up to $3 million going first to fund a required environmental impact study, and later funds being used for project design and construction.

Officials held a series of public hearings in September to discuss improvement options for the corridor which include creating a Manassas bypass, by extending Godwin Drive from Sudley Road to Route 28 at the Fairfax County line, or, the most expensive option, widening Route 28 in Yorkshire.

“What we need on route 28 is more capacity,” said NVTA Chairman Marty Nohe, who also sits on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, representing the Coles District where the Route 28 improvements would take place. “Essentially, we need a bigger pipe for traffic to flow through.”

Fairfax County officials are working on a $68 million project to widen Route 28 from the Bull Run to Route 29.

A widened Route 28 in Prince William could open to traffic as early as 2024.

The environmental impact study could begin as early as next year. When it comes to the Godwin Drive / Manassas bypass, there are concerns the road “would have a significant negative impact on Bull Run Regional Park” where it connects with Route 28 at the Fairfax / Prince William County line.

Interchanges on Route 234

Also on the list was a funding request to convert a series of intersections on another Manassas bypass – Route 234 / Prince William Parkway — from signalized intersections to grade-separated interchanges. These projects also rank high on NVTA’s project review list.

“With Route 234, the road is big enough, but there are too many places that you have to stop at lights,” added Nohe.

Prince William County transportation officials hope to obtain funding to redo intersections at Route 234 at Brentsville Road, at University Boulevard, Sudley Manor Drive and Wellington roads, and at Clover Hill Road.

These new improvements would join a new, $145 million diverging diamond intersection that will be built to replace a traffic signal at Route 234 / Prince William Parkway at Balls Ford Road. Balls Ford Road will also be widened from two to four lanes from Devlin Road east to Sudley Road.

The diverging diamond will be funded, in part, with a $579 million grant from the operators of the soon-to-be-built Interstate 66 E-ZPass Express Lanes. The interchange project ranked the highest on a list of projects vying for the grant funding, according to Nohe, whose NVTA ranked a long list of projects from Arlington and Fairfax counties, Virginia Railway Express, and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission.

Nohe said he’s confident the interchanges would be constructed, albeit in phases, with new junctions reconstructed first at Brenstsville and Sudley Manor Road, with junctions at University Boulevard and Clover Hill Roads ranking lower on the priorities list.

The proposed interchanges have not been designed, so it’s unclear how much they’ll cost, or if they’ll be constructed as diverging diamond interchanges to match Balls Ford Road, and a newly reconstructed junction at I-66 and Route 15 in Haymarket.

Not related to Bi-County Parkway 

This series of interchanges have been on Prince William County Transportation Director Rick Canizales’ radar for years. On Tuesday, he assured Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson that these interchanges “have no relation” to the Bi-County Parkway. Now removed from the county’s comprehensive plan, that road would have converted Route 234 / Prince William Parkway into a limited access highway, linking I-95 in Dumfries to an area in Loudoun County near Dulles Airport.

Nohe echoed Canizales statements in an interview with Potomac Local on Wednesday.

Other improvements 

The county also requested funds to extend Summit School Road near the Sentara Lake Ridge Medical Center to Telegraph Road. Then, Telegraph Road would be widened from two to four lanes, connecting drivers with the Horner Road Commuter Lot.

Prince William officials also endorsed projects to widen Route 1 from Brady’s Hill Road north to Route 234 in Dumfries, and the addition of a third track at the Woodbridge VRE station, in its NVTA funding request.

It’s a competitive funding process where Prince Willima’s projects will be weighed with other jurisdictions submissions. In the coming weeks, officials in Prince William and other jurisdcitions will be asked to rank the projects on thier lists from greatest to least importance. 

Traffic
OmniRide buses to serve Metro stations Thursday afternoon due to National Christmas Tree Lighting

From PRTC OmniRide: 

PRTC’s Emergency Service Plan for Non-Weather-Related Events will be in effect on Thursday, November 30 for OmniRide buses during the afternoon/evening commute for the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.

We know from experience that our buses would face extremely long delays in D.C. during the ceremony due to numerous road closures and heavy pedestrian traffic. As a result, beginning at 2 p.m., OmniRide buses will only pick up from the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station for eastern Prince William County passengers and Tysons Corner Metro Station for Manassas, Gainesville and Linton Hall passengers.

Midday trips meeting at the Pentagon around 12:30 p.m. will operate at the normal times along the regular routes. (These include the D-101T, D-301, L-201, MC-101 and M-201 trips.) All other afternoon/evening trips will depart from the Metro stations. All regular drop-off stops will be served. Services from the Metro stations will continue until 7:30 p.m.except for Prince William Metro Direct buses, which will continue operating until their last published departure time. Mark Center and Tysons Corner OmniRide routes will not operate.

Because this is an anticipated event, OmniRide passengers will pay the current Metro Direct fare: $4.25 cash or $3.45 SmarTrip. Other buses will operate regular service on November 30.

Traffic
New traffic signal with turn lanes and pedestrian improvements proposed at Blackburn Road and Rippon Boulevard

From VDOT: 

The Virginia Department of Transportation is holding a public information meeting Wednesday, Dec. 6 on plans to improve the intersection of Blackburn Road and Rippon Boulevard to improve traffic operations and safety.

The project plans include a new traffic signal with turn lanes and pedestrian improvements at the Blackburn and Rippon intersection.

The public is invited to stop by between 6:30 and 8 p.m. in the library at Freedom High School, 15201 Neabsco Mills Road, Woodbridge, VA 22191to view displays, learn more about the project, preliminary design. The project team will discuss signal and non-signal options at the Rippon Boulevard and Blackburn Road intersection and the Rippon Boulevard and Forest Grove Drive intersection. VDOT staff will be available to answer questions. 

A presentation will begin at 7 p.m.

Comments may be provided at the meeting or sent to VDOT by Dec. 16, 2017. E-mail or mail comments to Ms. Angel Tao, P.E., Virginia Department of Transportation, 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.

View the project page for more details.

Traffic
Prince William police Captain James Carr on driver safety on Davis Ford and Yates Ford roads


In a follow-up post to our Davis Ford and Yates Ford roads Traffic Think Tank, here’s a video we showed during the event on Oct. 19, 2017.

We asked Prince William County Police Department Captain James Carr about traffic conditions and driver safety concerns that he and his officers would like the public to be aware of.

Traffic
With a handful of holdouts in place, commercial property negotiations are heating up along the Route 1 widening project corridor

WOODBRIDGE — The K Tigers Taekwondo dojo dates back to 1979.

The sign hung in the parking lot showing a man doing a high karate kick, though faded over time, is a roadside staple in Woodbridge. Now Prince William County wants to condemn the building at 14230 Jefferson Davis Highway to further the Route 1 Widening Project between Featherstone and Mary’s Way.

The building stands in the way of efforts to relocate utility lines along the road, which must be completed by March 2019 if the project is to stay on schedule. When completed in 2022, Route 1, from Featherstone Road to Marys Way will have six lanes, a sidewalk on one side and a mixed-use trail on the other.

In the early 1990s, Ho An became the fourth owner of the business. He’s looking now to relocate in light of the construction, but the $25,000 relocation costs he said he was offered, on top of the $825,000 offered when the building during a building appraisal, is not enough.

“I don’t’ think its necessary to take certain buildings for the project,” said An, who questions if the county is using the road widening as an opportunity to remove older buildings. “Maybe because it doesn’t look as good as new a new building because the building has been there forever.”

The offer comes after an independent appraisal conducted by a third party, said Prince William County Transportation Director Rick Canizales.

An says he’s looking at two nearby shopping centers in which to move his shop, but the relocation offer won’t cover the cost to install drywall, or a new ceiling at a would-be new location.

On Tuesday, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors executed “quick-take” powers on An’s building, and three other properties in the corridor.

The old OWL VFD Fire Station on Route 1 at 14500 Jefferson Davis Highway which, until recently had been home to an indoor skating park, a Merchants Tire and Auto at 13980 Jefferson Davis Highway, and a 7-Eleven at 13940 Jefferson Davis Highway are all on the county’s condemnation list.

The total sums of cash the county offered for the properties — $600,000, $1.3 million, and $840,000, respectively. The sums equal about four percent of the project’s $88.6 million budget.

So far, no agreement has been made with any of the property owners.

Canizales says the county follows a strict formula when it comes to determining the value of a condemned property. The county is not using the road widening project to remove old or blighted buildings.

“There are 76 properties being affected by this project, and there is only 16 total [property] ‘takes,'” said Canizales. “By federal and state law, we only take what is necessary for the project.”

The direction from the Board of Supervisors means Canizales and his team will continue to try to reach an agreement with the property owners, which could mean offering more money for their properties.

Traffic
PRTC Executive Director Bob Schneider talks transportation on Davis Ford Road

In a follow-up post to our Davis Ford and Yates Ford roads Traffic Think Tank, here’s a video we showed during the event on Oct. 19, 2017.

We asked PRTC Executive Director Bob Schneider about traffic conditions on the two-lane roads and challenges managing mass transit in low population density areas. 

Video transcript: 

For PRTC and OmniRide, our biggest challenge is in the mid-county area and its lack of density.

So we don’t have dedicated transit services in that corridor and instead really rely on road network to get commuters, residents to the park and ride lots.

Some of our top areas are Horner Road. So many of those residents in that community travel to Horner Road to pick up our services, use slugging, or many other means of transportation such as vanpool or carpool.

In terms of safety and transit utilization, there are some big challenges.

First and foremost it’s a beautiful area, therefore, its low density. All that low density makes it really difficult to effectively manage transportation, mass transit issues, and with those being the roads that very little infrastructure in terms of sidewalks, which of course and any pedestrian would want, simultaneously there are not a lot of crosswalks, or very many, if any intersections with traffic signals.

So it makes it very difficult for us in order to manage turns, have that infrastructure that brings pedestrians to the forefront.

One of the best solutions that we’re looking at is two things, one of which is looking at the Horner Road expansion of the parking and ride lot. Is there a chance to improve or increase capacity at the park and ride lot which is a challenge, but all that do is draw more commuters through that corridor or possibly increase congestion.

One of the alternatives would be to look at, is there some way to take advantage of the park and ride lots closer to the interior of the county that are more conducive to travel that we could serve more effectively.

If you think about it, one large commuter bus traveling through an intersection in moves 60 cars at once. That’s the equivalent of what happens when those vehicles move through. Simeltenousuly, that’s the equivalent of 15 cars, four lanes wide four lanes wide on I-95.

That one transit bus removes all those cars, and because we have the occupation of the HOT lanes, we’re able to move residents in and out of D.C. much quicker.

Those are some of the key issues we face along the Yates Ford and Davis Ford corridor.

Traffic
Millions from I-66 E-ZPass lanes will go to benefit VRE Manassas line riders

MANASSAS — Millions of dollars of improvements are coming to the Manassas line of Virginia Railway Express.

And it’s all thanks to the Interstate 66 E-ZPass Express Lanes project.

With Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s acceptance of $579 million from Express Mobility Partners — the operators of the I-66 E-ZPass Express Lanes — Virginia’s commuter railroad will use $128 million of it to fund expansion projects at some of the system’s busiest stations.

Broad Run station 

This end-of-the-line station at Manassas Regional Airport catches commuters from as far away as Front Royal who chose to park and ride a train into Washington, D.C. versus using Metro or driving all the way into work.

Parking at this station is a bear, with drivers being forced to park along streets leading into and out of the station parking lot. Because this station is so over-utilized, leaders nixed a plan for a VRE extension to Gainesville or Haymarket.

As part of the Broad Run station expansion, two new storage tracks will be added to the storage yard, as the commuter railroad needs more places to park its growing number of rail cars and apparatus.

The new tracks will displace existing parking spaces at the station, which are already a commodity. Plans presented by VRE over the summer showed the parking lot expansion would bring 975 new and replacement spaces, increasing the total number of parking spaces at Broad Run to 1,975.

New rail cars

The additional storage space at Broad Run will mean that there will be room to park some nine new rail cars to be purchased.

The new cars will mean VRE will be able to run longer, eight-car trains on the Manassas line to keep up with demand.

Expanded platforms at Manassas station

Some of the funds will also go to lengthening the platforms at the Downtown Manassas station.

The longer platforms will mean the longer eight-car trains will be able to adequately serve riders who board at the Manassas Train Station.

Manassas Park garage

The new money will also mean Downtown Manassas will no longer be the only station on VRE’s Manassas line west of Fairfax County with a parking deck.

A total of $26 million will be used to fund a new parking garage at the Manassas Park station. A $2.5 million study by VRE earlier this year showed the Manassas Park station, with its 600 parking spaces, 700 more are needed to meet the anticipated growth.

Real-time parking information

There isn’t a VRE station within a two-mile drive of Interstate 66. So the railroad wants drivers on the highway to know their options when it comes to parking at one of the stations.

VRE will also invest $5 million in a real-time information service that will show how many parking spaces are available at stations along the Manassas line. The data will be displayed on electronic signs along the I-66 corridor.

“This way, if someone sees that there are 45 spaces left at Broad Run, they may decide to not sit in traffic and instead take the train,” said VRE spokesman Joe Swartz.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to award the funds in January, about two weeks after the start of construction on E-ZPass Express Lanes outside the Capital Beltway, from Gainesville to Dunn Loring in Fairfax County.

It’s also a win for Manassas and Prince William County.

“This exactly what our citizens are looking for when it comes to regional transportation growth,” said Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish. “We’re increasing our density around our VRE stations, and we’re going with more vertical development in our city’s downtown.”

Parrish says increased capacity on VRE will also relieve stress on Metro, Washington, D.C.’s beleaguered subway system. On Monday, Metro closed a portion of its Red Line for a two-week repair, one of the longest of the three-year “SafeTrack” rebuilding program.

Expanding Route 28 in Prince William County and Manassas to match a widening project on Route 28 in Fairfax County is also needed to get traffic moving within the region, added Parrish.

Traffic
Buckhall Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dale Trammel on traffic conditions on Davis Ford

In a follow-up post to our Davis Ford and Yates Ford roads Traffic Think Tank, here’s a video we showed during the event on Oct. 19, 2017. 

We asked Buckhall Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dale Trammel about traffic conditions on the two-lane roads and how it affects public safety and 911 response times. 

Traffic
Crash on I-495 at Van Dorn kills Alexandria man

From Virginia State Police: 

At 3:36 a.m., Thursday (Nov. 23), Virginia State Police were called to the scene of a two-vehicle crash in Fairfax County. The crash occurred on Interstate 495, just south of Exit 173/Van Dorn Ave.

A tractor-trailer, traveling west on I-495, was experiencing some mechanical issues and pulled off onto the right shoulder.  The adult male driver got out of the tractor and walked around to inspect for any damage or obvious mechanical failure.  Once he was satisfied that nothing was wrong, he got back into the cab.  Just as the driver went to put on his seatbelt, he felt an impact to the rear of his trailer. 

A 2013 Honda Civic traveling west on I-495 had run off the right side of the highway and struck the rear of the stopped tractor-trailer. The Honda’s driver, Christopher S. Padilla, 30, of Alexandria, Va., died at the scene. 

The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured.

The crash remains under investigation. The Virginia State Police Motor Carrier Safety Unit also responded to the scene to assist with the crash.

Traffic
Prince William plans diverging diamond interchange at Balls Ford Road


First on Potomac Local 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traffic
Stafford tables talks for regional transportation authority until 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuel costs up this year 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traffic
Will a lack of crossings at the Bull Run River mean higher tolls on I-66?

Will a lack of points in which to cross the Bull Run River lead to congestion, and excessive tolls on the soon-to-be-built Interstate 66 E-ZPass Express Lanes? 

One Prince Willam County resident thinks so, and emailed VDOT (and us) about his concern: 

After reviewing the Transform I-66 design again, I am concerned about the lack of road network capacity over the Bull Run between Fairfax County and Prince William County.

This will lead to excessively high tolls with limited alternatives. I am mainly concerned about the I-66 Westbound Direction where traffic is currently being held back by the light at Braddock and Route 28 and the I-66 merge at the Fairfax County Parkway interchange.

Three lanes from US 29, two lanes from Braddock Road, one lane from Northborne/Walney, and two lanes from Route 28 Southbound will funnel into the five lanes of I-66 and one lane of US29 across the Bull Run. This will lead to significant backups that will limit access to the two Express lane entrances at the I-66/Route 28 interchange.

The NVTA Transaction Plan does not include any additional crossings of the Bull Run other than at Route 28 in Yorkshire. The Manassas Battlefield Bypass is not included in the NVTA Transaction plan.

Please consider applying the I-66 Corridor Improvements Payment to:

– Add a shoulder traffic lane between US29 Centreville and VA234 Business similar to the current shoulder lane configuration along I-66 between US 50 and the Capital Beltway. (Remove Rest Area)

– Add a two-lane road connection (with an adjacent bike facility) between Balls Ford Rd. in Prince William County and Bull Run Dr in Fairfax County over the Bull Run. (Interactive Map)

It should be noted the “Projected Year 2040 Peak Hour Traffic Volume Plots” shows a 2040 volume of 6,990 vehicles in 3 Lanes between US 29 Centreville and VA 234 Business which is not possible. 1,900 vehicles per lane is the maximum. This makes me question all the data projections in this project over the past six years.

Traffic
Changes ahead for OmniRide, OmniLink riders

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission has changes in store for riders on Dec. 4, 2o17 as part of its fall service change. 

From a press release: 

PRTC’s Winter Service Change will take effect on Monday, December 4. New schedule brochures will be available from operators upon request and timetables will be available online starting Monday, November 27.

The following routes will change; routes not listed below will not change.

OmniRide:

  • Dale City-Washington – One later D-100T trip will be added, starting at the PRTC Transit Center at 8:20 a.m.; AM bus stop at 19th & H will move one block south.
  • Dale City-Navy Yard – New routing and new stops in DC, now serving L’Enfant Plaza; first AM trip will start 30 minutes earlier; bus stop at Dale & Greenwood removed.
  • Lake Ridge-Washington OmniRide – AM bus stop at 19th & H will move one block south.
  • Lake Ridge-Pentagon/Crystal City – New routing in Crystal City to serve new stop at 18th Street Bus Bays; new AM stop at Eads & 13th; stops at 12th & Clark and 18th & Crystal eliminated.
  • Montclair-Washington – Will use South Route 1 OmniRide routing on 7th Street in DC; new stops at 7th & Independence.
  • South Route 1 – New stops at 7th & Independence.
  • Manassas-Washington OmniRide – PM bus stop at 19th & H will move one block south.
  • Manassas-Pentagon OmniRide – Last two PM trips will continue to the Cushing Road and Limestone commuter lots.
  • Gainesville-Washington OmniRide – Last two PM Manassas-Pentagon trips will continue to the Cushing Road and Limestone commuter lots; PM bus stop at 19th & H will move one block south.
  • Gainesville-Pentagon OmniRide – Last two PM Manassas-Pentagon trips will continue to the Cushing Road and Limestone commuter lots; one new AM and one new PM trip.

Metro Direct:

  • Prince William Metro Direct – Timetable changes; bus stops on Route 1 at Car Wash and Dunkin’ Donuts removed.
  • Manassas Metro Direct – AM Timetable changes.

OmniLink: 

  • Woodbridge – Woodbridge VRE Station will be served by both A and B Loops; bus stops on Route 1 at Car Wash and Dunkin’ Donuts removed; some timepoints will change.
  • Dale City – Bus stops at Dale & Greenwood removed; new stop at Troupe & Cordelia.
  • Route 1 – Bus stops on Route 1 at Car Wash and Dunkin’ Donuts removed.
  • Manassas OmniLink – Timetable changes to better coordinate with Cross County Connector; bus stop at Sudley & Grant removed.
  • Manassas Park – Timetable changes to better coordinate with Cross County Connector.

Traffic
Virginia State Police crack down on HOV violators ahead of I-66 tolls inside Beltway

Virginia State Police targeted HOV violators on Interstate 66.

From a press release:

With the heaviest-travelled season of the year upon us, Virginia State Police initiated a traffic-safety HOV enforcement operation on Interstate 66 last Friday. The initiative was also in response to the numerous public complaints state police receives concerning abuse of the HOV lanes along the I-66 corridor in Northern Virginia.

During the morning and evening rush hours on Nov. 17, Virginia troopers issued the following summonses as a result of HOV violations on I-66:

1st offense HOV- 165 summonses
2nd offense HOV- 11 summonses
3rd offense HOV – 2 summonses

In addition, state police cited one driver for failing to wear a seatbelt and seven drivers for driving without a valid license. As a result of the traffic stops, state troopers also served two felony warrants and one misdemeanor warrants.

The stepped-up enforcement comes just as state highway officials prepare to user in tolls on new E-ZPass Express Lanes on I-66 inside the Capital Beltway. 

Starting in “early December,” according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, drivers who travel east on the highway between Dunn Loring and Washington, D.C. between the hours of 5:30 and 9 a.m. on weekdays, and in the reverse direction from 3 to 7 p.m. each weekday must have an E-ZPass because both lanes will be tolled.

Just as they are on express lanes on I-96 and 495, single drivers will pay a dynamic toll which will fluctuate depending on how much traffic is using the highway. Vehicles will two or more occupants may continue to use the lanes for free during these times with an E-ZPass Flex.

Today, only vehicles with two or more occupants are allowed on I-66 inside the beltway during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

The toll rules are in effect if you’re traveling to and from Dulles Airport, or if you drive a hybrid car as there is  no exemption based on clean special fuel license plate, according to VDOT.

However, motorcycles will still be able to travel for free without an E-Pass. 

Traffic
Friendly or forceful? VRE discusses how to get Richmond to care about its funding needs

Amtrak launched the “state” trains back in 2009 when Tim Kaine was Virginia Governor.

Called the Northeast Regional, Virginia officials took on a portion of the cost to run passenger service between the cities Richmond and Lynchburg, New York City and Boston. The Lynchburg route was expanded in October to serve Roanoke.

Today, ridership on those two Amtrak routes in Virginia continue to rise.

Here are some stats from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation:

• The Lynchburg route (now the Roanoke route after its extension to the Star City on October 31, 2017) also runs a daily round trip to Washington, D.C. It served 189,811 riders in FFY 2017, increasing by 2.7 percent.

• The Newport News Route, which has two daily round trips to Washington, D.C., served 331,308 riders, increasing by 0.5 percent.

• The Richmond route also features two daily state-supported round trips to Washington, D.C. Ridership on these trains remained relatively steady by serving 174,935 riders.

This comes as good news at Northern Virginia’s commuter railroad — Virginia Railway Express — looks to make new friends this year in a changing General Assembly. A wave Democratic candidates earlier this month washed out longtime Republican delegates in the House.

Railroad officials are putting the finishing touches on the agency’s legislative agenda, which outlines top priorities for the upcoming legislative session in Richmond in January.

They include “fixing” the gas tax by setting a floor that would guarantee a certain level of funding from the state no matter how low gas prices dip. Transit agencies like VRE are reliant on regional gas taxes collected at the pump in Northern Virginia for a large amount of their funding.

VRE is not only looking for the $45 million it needs annually to keep the lights on, it also wants $65 million to improve the system, to expand it, and to attract new riders as part of its 2040 improvement plan.

“When it comes to highways, the state has done all it can to expand capacity,” said VRE chief Doug Allen. “So the Amtrak ridership numbers demonstrate the need for passenger rail service.”

And then there’s the question of how forcefull VRE should be when it comes to pushing Richmond legislators for more funding. Some of what the transit agency is calling for could require a tax increase, on top of a 2.3% hike the local governments like Prince William County will pay to VRE this coming year.

“I think we have a solid agenda and we’ll be lucky to get half of it passed,” said John Cook, a Fairfax County Supervisor who sits on the VRE Operations Board. “Let’s wait six months, see what the climate is like, and then review it again.”

Others like Fredericksburg City Councilman Matt Kelly and Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisor member Gary Skinner, who both sit on the VRE board, are less patient.

“We just cut a ribbon for a two-mile extension of the [E-ZPass] Express Lanes in Stafford County, but it still took me two hours to get home from my meeting in Alexandria. The problem is not fixed,” said Kelly.

Small improvements to the area’s highways like this one are not enough, and the region is losing out on economic development opportunities because companies fear the region’s traffic woes, he added.

In the past, VRE Board members said they’ve been content with playing politics and simply taking the amount of funding they can get from Richmond, and then blame state legislators for not providing enough to improve VRE, so the service can take more cars off area roads.

“We need to stop raising the flag of success over every little [road improvment] and tell the state that this isn’t enough,” said Kelly.

Traffic
Road closures for 72nd Annual Greater Manassas Christmas Parade

From the Manassas City Police Department:

Manassas, VA… On Dec. 2, 2017, the Manassas City Police Department will begin road closures at 8:00 a.m. for the 72nd Annual Greater Manassas Christmas Parade. We anticipate all roads to be back open by 1:30 p.m. The Manassas City Police Department is encouraging residents to be aware of the closures and plan alternative routes in advance.

The following roads will be affected: Route 28 (Centreville Rd), Mathis Ave, Reb Yank Dr, Carriage Ln, Sudley Rd, Quarry Rd, Prescott Ave, East St, Main St, Battle St, West St, Grant Ave, Mosby St, Lee Ave, Peabody Ave, Fairview Ave, Maple St, and Zebedee St. Please see the below map for the planned closures.

Traffic
Governor to break ground on new I-66 toll lanes as profits continue to rise

When businesses owners learned that an interchange would replace four stoplights on Route 28 at Interstate 66, their eyes widened with amazement.

That is part of the grand plan, unveiled to many businesses owners at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, to unclog the choke point while adding high occupancy toll lanes to Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway. The lanes will run from Haymarket in Prince William County to Dunn Loring in Fairfax County. A ribbon-cutting ceremony with Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday.

One of the final design public hearings for the new lanes will take place at Piney Branch Elementary School off Linton Hall Road at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16.

Like express lanes on I-95 and 495 in Virginia, the I-66 lanes will be tolled 24 hours a day. Drivers with three or more occupants in the car will be able to ride free with an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex.

The long-awaited expansion project will bring $3.5 billion in new construction to the region. The project will add four new lanes to I-66 — two in each direction — to help not only move more traffic and add more transit buses to the corridor but to also introduce carpooling — aka Slugging — to the corridor, a form of commuting long successful on neighboring I-95.

“I don’t think you can throw a dead cat on 66 and not hit someone in traffic,” said I-66 Express Mobility Partners spokesman Chris Doherty.

Those partners include Cintra, a Spanish firm responsible for 1,200 miles of managed lanes, including projects in Texas, and Meridiam Infrastructure. And they plan to break ground on the project during

Additional “outside the Beltway” improvements include:

  • 1,500 sparking spaces at University Boulevard in Haymarket
  • 1,500 commuter parking spaces at Balls Ford Road near Manassas
  • New access ramps from general purpose lanes to express lanes at Sudley Road
  • New ramps at Stringfellow Road and Monument Drive
  • Reconstruction of the Route 123 interchange
  • A new diverging diamond interchange at Nutley Street

The I-66 project comes as efforts to convert HOV lanes on I-395 in Alexandria, from Turkeycock to the Pentagon, are underway. Those are the last vestige of the old commuter lanes where vehicles with three or more occupants were permitted to ride from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 3:30 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, leaving the lanes open to all other traffic to use the lanes at all other times for free.

Profits continue to rise for Transurban, the Australian firm that built the express lanes on I-495, and converted the HOV lanes, tolled them, and extended them to Stafford County.

On the I-95 E-ZPass Express Lanes, drivers took 49,000 trips during the second third quarter of 2017. That increased profits for the company 17 16 percent to $84 $24 million for the quarter.

On I-495, drivers took 46,000 trips on the lanes driving up profits toll revenue 32 percent over the previous quarter period last year.

Transurban officials expected to see profits rise slowly in the beginning as drivers learned how to use the lanes and then level off. But that hasn’t happened.

“We thought it would take four to five years to get to a steady state,” said Mike Discenza, Transurban’s U.S. Treasurer. “We’re now five years into operating the lanes.”

Express lanes on I-95 opened in December 2014, and in 2012 on I-495. A study is underway to extend the lanes further south in Stafford County from Garrisonville Road to Route 17, just outside Fredericksburg.

An E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex is required to use the express lanes on I-95 and 495. Vehicles with three or more occupants may use the lanes for free.

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