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Mike’s 610 Diner in path of a wider Road

mikesdiner

Mike’s 610 Diner has been described as a “cheers” of Stafford County.

The small eatery caters to a mostly breakfast crowd, and a stream of regulars — all on a first-name basis — stream in all morning long.

“I love this place… great food,” said Chirs Caldwell, of Aquia Harbour.

The diner may be served a condemnation notice due a road construction project. Stafford County will spend $13 million to widen Garrisonville Road to six lanes between Onville and Eustace Roads. (more…)

News
VDOT treats roads ahead of snowflakes

The threat of a jest a few flakes falling from the sky overnight was enough to get Virginia highway crews out to treat roads.

Crews were spotted laying down a salt-brine solution on Interstate 95 this morning. 

Here’s more in a press release about what the Virginia Department of Transportation is doing ahead of a Alberta Clipper, that could bring some conversational snowflakes to the region today:  (more…)

News
Mark Center ramp opens Monday, then new commuter bus service begins

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Commuters bound for Mark Center in Alexandria will soon have a two new buses to take them there.

A new ramp from the HOV lanes on Interstate 395 to Seminary Road will open tomorrow afternoon, according to a Virginia Department of Transportation press release.

The new ramp will allow commuter buses to ferry passengers from Dale City and Lake Ridge to the Mark Center federal building. The service will be funded entirely by Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and will be operated by OmniRide.

The Dale City bus will begin picking up passengers at the Dale City Commuter Lot at Gemini Way, then travel Dale Boulevard to Interstate 95. (more…)

News
OmniRide short on cash; doomsday scenario unveiled

prtcboard

There’s a lot of hope in the newly approved budget put forward Thursday night by the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission.

Hope that Prince William County will magically find $6 million to help make up some of an annual $9.2 million budget shortfall, every year over the next five years. Hope the Virginia General Assembly will enact a gas tax “floor” to help the agency recoup and additional $3.5 million it lost when gas prices dropped.

If a floor is not found, there’s also hope that Prince William County will make up the entire budget shortfall, each year for the next five years. Prince William County residents are the majority users of the commuter bus service, while the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park don’t pay for the commuter bus service but do have residents that use it.

If those monies don’t come, transit officials spelled out a doomsday scenario. All OmniLink local bus service in Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park would end. All OmniRide commuter buses to destinations like Washington, D.C., Arlington, and the Pentagon would be converted to serve only as shuttle buses to area Metro stations. (more…)

Pedestrian struck, flown to hospital with serious injuries

police-suv

A pedestrian was struck this morning in front of a Walgreens pharmacy on at Smoketown and Old Bridge roads in Lake Ridge. 

Here’s more in a police press release: 

Accident Investigation | Eastern PWC: Officers are currently investigating an accident involving a single vehicle and a pedestrian in the 12600 block of Smoketown Rd in front of the Walgreens. One lane of NB Smoketown Rd toward Old Bridge Rd is currently closed at Beaver Pond Rd. The pedestrian was flown to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries. Please use an alternate route and follow police direction. Old Bridge Rd is not affected.

Police reopened all lanes of Smoketown Road at about 9:30 a.m. following their investigation.

News
PRTC lost $1.5 million when HOT lanes opened on I-95

Exclusive 

New toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 brought more options to commuters when they opened one year ago.

Single drivers can now pay a toll and ride the lanes, whereas before all vehicles had to have at least three occupants during peak times. Today, the toll lanes are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all drivers must have an electronic E-ZPass to use them. A vehicle with three or more occupants still rides free.

The lanes were always designed to move more people than vehicles. But when the newly converted HOT lanes opened, they ended up hurting the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission — the agency that moves nothing but people by providing commuter bus service in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission lost $1.5 million per year in federal “State of Good Repair” funding when the old HOV lanes were converted to toll lanes. The Federal Government made the change on Jan. 15, 2015, and it affected all transit agencies that operate services on HOT lanes across the country. (more…)

News
Woodbridge looks bad now, but new Route 1 improvements on the way

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Work on widening U.S. 1 between Mary’s Way and the Occoquan River just kicked into Phase II.

Crews have focused their attention on the area between Route 123 and Annapolis Way, where many buildings have been boarded up or already razed — including an old Taco Bell restaurant and motel — to make way for the wider interchange at Routes 1 and 123.

The first phase of the project includes widening Route 1 from Mary’s Way north to Annapolis Way, and the second phase includes building a new interchange at Routes 1 and 123.

Work on phase 1 on southern end of the project is mostly completed.

The first part of work associated with this project is the undergrounding of utilities, which involves constructing an underground duct bank and includes some demolition of buildings in its location. This work began in February 2015 and scheduled to be completed by early spring 2016.

The widening is scheduled to begin in April 2016.

There is also the demolition of acquired buildings included in the widening. The first phase is widening to six lanes from St. Mary’s Way to the approach to the Occoquan River Bridge.

The second phase would include a new interchange carrying Route 123 over Route 1, and widening Route 123 from Route 1 to just east of I-95.

-Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.

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Route 1 serves as the southern gateway from Fairfax County into Prince Wiliam County, and right now the area is anything but pristine. The boarded up buildings, and illegally dumped arm chair recliners that dot the landscape make Woodbridge look very uninviting.

Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi recently posted details of a question and answer session he had with VDOT about the project. Principi said he was concerned about abandoned buildings being used by squatters, and said VDOT should repost signs noting the buildings are now property of the state.

News
How many homes would be lost to a Godwin Drive extension to I-66? This $2.5 million study will tell us in 18 months

Godwin Drive

Should Godwin Drive be linked with Interstate 66?  That’s the question a new $2.5 million study will examine.

Transportation planners from Prince William County and Manassas City will study the “Flat Branch” corridor between where Godwin Drive intersects with Sudley Road just outside Manassas, near Novant Prince William Medical Center.

The route is the same route as the “Tri-County Parkway” would have taken had it been built 10 years ago. The idea — free up some of the congestion that chokes Route 28 that runs parallel to the would-be road.

There are a large number of homes that lie in the path of a Godwin Drive extension, as well as Flat Branch, a creek that has a substantial floodplain around it.

“When it rains it becomes a major floodplain, so I’m not sure the Army Corps of Engineers would be happy if we simply went right through there and built a road,” said Rick Canizales, with the Prince William County Transportation Office.

The study is expected to take 18 months and look at two things: The alignment of the roadway (which route it would take if built) and the impacts of those ailments, such as how many properties would be needed if the road is extended.

The study will determine where the new road would link up with existing Route 28. Some models show the road linking to the artery while other models show a new road linking directly to I-66, or Old Centreville Road that runs parallel to Route 28 between Manassas Park and Fairfax County.

“The study will take 18 months because we expect to have a lot of public input,” added Canizales. 

The study is expected to begin in spring 2016.

The study comes more than two years after heated debate over whether or not to build a “Bi-County Parkway” that would link I-95 in Dumfries with Dulles Airport. That road would have converted Route 234 into a limited access highway. The proposed route would cut through a portion of Manassas Battlefield National Park.

At last check, state officials are still considering to build the road.

News
Prince William: We can stop funding commuter bus service in Manassas, right?

Dozens of OmniRide busses are lined up ready to go out on the afternoon runs at PRTC in Woodbridge.

 

Transit funding crisis

The cost Prince William County taxpayers shelled out to support the local bus system this year: $15.5 million.

Neighboring jurisdictions in the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park paid a combined $576,000.

Those cities only pay for OmniLink local bus service, while Prince William County is the majority funder of both the local bus and OmniRide commuter bus service.

Residents from Prince William, Manassas, and Manassas Park ride both local and commuter buses, but only Prince William County funds the commuter buses.

The numbers are included in a new report on the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commissioned ordered by Prince William officials as they wrangle with how to address a $12 million budget shortfall for the agency.

One option to make up for the lost cash: Ask the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park to pay up.

“Why are we paying for OmnRide service for the City of Manassas?,” Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman At-large Corey Stweart asked of PRTC Interim Director Eric Marx. “We have the authority to stop it, right?’

In a sense, the Board does but it wouldn’t be pretty.

“Those buses operating on a federal subsidy. If you start trying to stop those buses on those routes that operate on federal subsidies, who serve the handicapped, you’re going to be in trouble, or we all will,” warned Neabsco District Supervisor John Jenkins.

Marx told Stewart at the Board that even if OmniRide buses were to stop serving streetside bus stops and commuter lots in Manassas and Manassas Park, city residents would still drive to county commuter lots to board the buses.

Historically, Manassas and Manassas Park have never funded OmniRide commuter buses. It’s one thing city officials are looking into in light of the agency’s budget shortfall.

“The history of PRTC and its bus operations has a long and complex history which pre-dates almost everybody currently serving on [the Manassas City] Council or the [Prince William County] Board. We are researching why things are the way they are but don’t have answers yet,” said Manassas City Councilman Jonathan Way.

PRTC faces a $9 million budget shortfall in 2017, and a $12 million shortfall every year after. Declining revenues from the 2.1% motor fuels tax collected at Northern Virginia gas pumps due to lower fuel prices and more efficient cars, and lower federal and state subsidies leave the agency looking at cutting back service in what it dubs a “transit death spiral.”

The Board of Supervisors must decide to keep its funding of PRTC at current levels, which is not enough to keep the service operating as it does today. The Board will wrangle with the issue over the coming months before a new budget is approved in April.

Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi says the bus system is vital to the region, and he proposed this funding idea to keep the buses rolling: 

During the Dec. 8 Board of County Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Frank Principi introduced amended legislation to address the budget shortfall faced by Potomac Rappahannock Transit Commission (PRTC), the bus system relied on by many Prince William County residents for inter and intra county transportation.

Principi’s amended resolution authorizes County staff to consider using 50 percent of the annual funds received from Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) to help close PRTC’s anticipated operational shortfalls in FY17-21. Each year, NVTA disburses 30 percent of its funds directly to member jurisdictions for use in local projects.

If initiated, the County subsidy to PRTC is proposed to begin July 1, 2016, and continue through FY21.

News
Trucks keep crashing at Winding Creek and Shelton Shop roads

windingcreektruck

An semi truck reportedly overturned at the intersection of Shelton Shop and Winding Creek roads Saturday.

No injuries were reported in the crash. The road was closed for a brief time while crews worked to upright the overturned truck.

A Stafford sheriff’s deputy was stationed on the northbound side of the two-lane Shelton Shop Road just before the crash and had blocked traffic at 11 a.m. No sheriff’s deputy was present on the other side of the crash, so drivers that turned around to avoid the crash signaled to other to do the same.

The truck appeared to have been traveling on Winding Creek Road. The small two-lane road lives up to its “winding” namesake. The tractor trailer overturned at a sharp curve where Winding Creek intersects with Shelton Shop Road.  

Trucks are prohibited from traveling on Winding Creek Road, according to signs posted in the area. 

Today’s incident is nearly a repeat of an August, 2014 incident when another semi became stuck at the same intersection and required assistance from the sheriff’s office. 

A dump truck overturned at the same intersection in May injuring four people.

News
Buses in jeopardy: Prince William faced with ‘transit death spiral’

PRTC’s offices and Transit Center are located at 14700 Potomac Mills Road in Woodbridge.

The future looks bleak for transit bus service in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

The Potoamc and Rappahannock Transportation Commission which operates OmniRide commuter buses and OmniLink local buses faces a $9 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2017. That number grows to about $12 million in FY 2018 and continues in the following years.

Prince William County officials are wrangling with how to pay for the bus service that in recent years had seen a decline in ridership. The question: Should officials reduce bus service forcing more people to drive, carpool, or take Virginia Railway Express to work in Washington? Or should they raise taxes to fund the shortfall?

“You’re in what’s called a transit death spiral,” explained PRTC Interim Executive Director Eric Marx.

With ridership on the decline by 3.6% over last year, cutting services would only increase that number as more and more would flee the bus service for other options or drive themselves to work, he explained.

What’s driving the decrease in ridership? Lower fuel prices, a fluctuating federal government employee transit subsidy that has seesawed between $240 and $130 per month, and recent fare increases, added Marx.

What’s driving the budget shortfall? PRTC operates on funds from the region’s 2.1% motor fuels tax collected at the gas pump when drivers fill up. Lower gas prices, more efficient cars, and less funding from federal and state sources leave PRTC in a lurch.

Prince William County Budget Office chief Michelle Casciato told the Board of Supervisors the county could use its “30% transportation funding” from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission — tax monies given to the locality as part of former Gov. Robert McDonnnel’s transportation reform package passed while he was still in office — to fill the gap.

The county could also impose a new tax on industry and use that money to fund new transportation improvements, as that is what the Board is permitted by law to do with new industrial tax monies, added Casciato.

That’s what they could do. But Casciato told the Board she doesn’t recommend any of those measures.

PRTC and Virginia Railway Express are expected to send their 2017 budgets to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to review by mid-January. The Board must approve a new budget by the end of April.

VRE has also asked for a 5% increase in funding from the counties its serves. As it stands, Prince William County pays the highest jurisdictional amount of funding to VRE because the county generates the majority of riders on the commuter rail system.

News
I-66 detour expected at Haymarket next week

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Work on rebuilding the interchange at Interstate 66 and Route 15 in Haymarket continues with some planned lane closures on I-66. 

Here’s what you need to know from the Virginia Department of Transportation: 

Weather permitting, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will close lanes and detour I-66 traffic in the vicinity of Route 15 in Haymarket during overnight hours next week. These closures are needed for crews to place beams for the Route 15 overpass as part of the I-66 and Route 15 Interchange Reconstruction Project.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights (12/15 and 12/16), lane closures are scheduled to begin on I-66 East near the Route 15 Interchange at 8 p.m., with all lanes closed and traffic detoured onto the Route 15 exit/entrance ramps (Exit 40) by 11 p.m. All lanes will reopen by 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

On Thursday and Friday nights (12/17 and 12/18), lane closures will begin at approximately 9 p.m., with all westbound traffic detoured onto the Route 15 exit/entrance ramps (at Exit 40) beginning at approximately 11 p.m. All lanes will reopen by by 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Police will be present to direct traffic. Motorists are advised to seek alternate routes, or should expect delays and allow extra travel time if driving in this area.

News
Tolls on I-66 inside Capital Beltway approved

Dulles Metrorail Megaproject underway at Rt. 66 and 267, Falls Church.

Single drivers who travel Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway during peak hours will soon pay tolls. 

The Commonwealth Transportation Board today approved a measure that allows for the collection of tolls on that stretch of the highway starting in 2017. 

Here’s more from today’s announcement from state officials: 

The CTB approved an agreement with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), in which the Virginia Department of Transportation will deliver and manage the tolling operation, and the NVTC will invest toll revenues in multi-modal improvements to directly benefit users of the corridor.   Last week, the NVTC approved its part of the agreement to invest toll revenues.

The expected benefits of the project include the following:

– Reduce more than 26,000 person hours of delay a day by 2040

– Move more than 40,000 additional people through the I-66 corridor a day by 2040

– Provide reliable travel speeds of at least 45 mph during rush hours in the peak direction

– Provide increased travel choices for single-occupant drivers and transit users

Tolling I-66 inside the Beltway has been a contentious topic over the past three months. Residents, and a majority of elected GOP officials spoke out about the plan to toll inside the Beltway and said it would be an unfair tax on commuters. 

Tolls will be charged during peak times, according to state officials: 

Project description:

– If you carpool today (two or more people in a vehicle), you will continue to ride the lanes for free when dynamic tolling is scheduled to begin in 2017 during morning and evening rush-hours (5:30 am to 9:30 am eastbound and 3 pm to 7 pm westbound).  Solo drivers can ride the lanes in exchange for paying a variable toll based on the distance they travel. Average toll is expected to be $6 a trip.   

– In 2020, lanes will be free to vehicles with three or more people during rush-hours (carpoolers, vanpools and buses) and motorcycles per adopted regional policy.  All others will pay a variable toll.

– The lanes will remain free to all traffic during off-peak periods.  There will be no tolling in the reverse commute.

– All of the revenues raised from the tolls will finance transportation improvements in the corridor.  Estimated toll revenue in 2018 is $18 million.

– Should traffic not flow better in five years, toll revenues will be used to widen I-66 eastbound from the Dulles Connector Road to Ballston.

The new rule approved today allows money generated from tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway to be spent on a variety of transportation improvement projects. 

Virginia State Senators Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun) and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) told Potomac Local today that money should only be used to widen and improve I-66 inside the Beltway.

Both issued these statements in a press release:

“It’s common sense that the tolls paid by drivers should go to road congestion improvements first” Senator Wexton said from her law office in Leesburg. “Commuters need congestion relief now so they can spend time with their families and not stuck in traffic.”

 
“What happens inside the Beltway should stay inside the Beltway; if commuters pay a toll on I-66 inside the Beltway then it should used to improve that stretch of highway — not somewhere else,” Senator Petersen said from his law office in Fairfax City.
Arlington residents have long opposed widening I-66 inside the Beltway.

 

News
Skip the emissions station: On-road vehicle tests now underway

I-95 south in Woodbridge. (Photo: Mary Davidson/PotomacLocal.com)

New technology allows Northern Virginia residents the option to skip the vehicle emissions station. But drivers will still pay the same to have their vehicle emissions tested. 

Here’s more in a press release from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality: 

On-road vehicle emissions inspection sites are being deployed in five cities and five counties in the Northern Virginia area as part of Air Check Virginia – the emissions testing program authorized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The program, called RAPIDPASS Virginia, allows owners of vehicles subject to Air Check Virginia to quickly and easily meet their emissions inspection requirement during daily driving routines.

Motorists simply drive through conveniently located on-road testing equipment positioned throughout Northern Virginia to have their vehicle emissions measured. Owners of well-maintained, clean-running vehicles will receive notification of a passing emissions inspection via mail, or motorists can go online to rapidpass.org and enter their license plate number to check if their vehicle has been processed as clean.

For vehicles identified as clean, owners can conveniently pay their inspection fee on-line or through the mail and proceed with their vehicle registration renewal. Taking advantage of RAPIDPASS allows a motorist to skip the trip to a traditional testing station for the biennial emissions test.

Fifteen RAPIDPASS on-road emissions testing systems are being conveniently distributed across more than 150 roadside mobile inspection locations in the Northern Virginia inspection area counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.

The locations are positioned on frequently used thoroughfares and will be rotated throughout the month. Weekly site locations are posted at rapidpass.org/locations.

“RAPIDPASS is all about giving Virginians a choice that offers convenience and saves time and ultimately maintains the Commonwealth’s commitment to a healthier Virginia,” said ETEST CEO, Lothar Geilen. “RAPIDPASSinspections can be completed in less than a second during daily driving routines. This is a great example of how technology can help improve quality of life in the Commonwealth.”

Participation in the RAPIDPASS program is voluntary; if a motorist passes RAPIDPASS but chooses to test his or her vehicle at an emissions facility, they can simply pay the emissions fee at the station at that time. RAPIDPASS costs the same as a standard emissions test at an emissions testing facility – $28.00. Inspection fee transactions and registration renewals can easily be processed online at no additional cost.

 

News
New $2.8 million Brentsville Road bridge opens

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A new bridge opened today on  Bresntsville Road in Prince William County. 

The new $2.8 million, 2-lane bridge carries drivers over Broad Run. The new bridge replaces an old bridge that dated back to 1957. The old bridge was closed to traffic in June.

A detour was in place that took Brentsville Road drivers around the bridge construction, up Route 234, to Route 28 west. to Bristow Road.

Here’s more from VDOT: 

The two-lane bridge had been closed since late June to complete a $2.8 million project that replaced the superstructure with a continuous structure and repaired the substructure.

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News
Ahead for bus riders: OmniRide Delays Thursday, schedule changes Monday

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

If you’re riding OmniRide tomorrow, get ready for some delays due to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. 

This is the official word sent out to bus riders from the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission: 

This is a reminder that the National Tree Lighting Ceremony is scheduled for the evening of Thursday, December 3, on the Ellipse near the White House. In anticipation of the extreme traffic congestion, PRTC will activate the Emergency Service Plan for the AFTERNOON/EVENING commute on December 3.

Beginning at 2 p.m., OmniRide buses will only pick up from the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station for eastern Prince Willi am County passengers and Tysons Corner Metro Station for Manassas, Gainesville and Linton Hall passengers. Midday trips meeting at the Pentagon at 12:34 p.m. will operate at the normal times along the regular routes. 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 and Manassas Metro Direct buses, which will continue operating until their last published departure time.

Bus fares will be $3.85 cash or $3.10 on your SmarTrip card.

It’s also time for PRTC’s Fall Service Change. The commuter bus operator says to expect changes to some schedules: 

Timetable changes will be made to the following schedules. Routes not listed below will not change.

OmniRide:

-Dale City – Pentagon/Crystal City – Timetable changes.

-Dale City – Navy Yard – Timetable changes.

-Lake Ridge – Pentagon/Crystal City – Timetable changes.

Montclair – Timetable changes.

-Manassas — The route will no longer serve Williamson Boulevard. Additionally, three more AM Manassas OmniRide trips will become express trips, originating at the Portsmouth Commuter Lot. This is in addition to the three express trips on the current AM schedule.

OmniLink:

Woodbridge/Lake Ridge – Timepoint changes from Prince William & Hoffman to Prince William & Hillendale; timetable changes.

-Dale City – The first three weekday inbound trips will begin at Dale Blvd. & Orangewood instead of the Chinn Center. Alternate service from Chinn Center is available on Woodbridge A OmniLink. Timepoints change from Mapledale Plaza to Dale & Orangewood/Dale &Trident.

-Dumfries – First three AM weekday trips and first AM Saturday trip will begin at the Lofts instead of the 7-11 on Fuller Heights Road.

Route 1 OmniLink – Timepoint changes from Dumfries Shopping Center to Fraley & Williamstown.

-Manassas – Timetable changes.

Manassas Park – Timetable changes.

Metro Direct:

-Manassas Metro Direct – Timetable changes.

-Linton Hall Me tro Direct – Timetable changes.

Cross County Connector – Timetable changes.

OmniRide commuter buses provide transit services for those traveling from Prince William County and Manassas to points in Northern Virginia and Washington. OmniLink local buses provide transit services for those traveling inside Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

News
Utility lines break in Woodbridge neighborhood

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A neighborhood street is closed in Woodbridge this morning due to two unity line breaks.

Kentucky Avenue, between Maryland Avenue and Alaska Road is closed to a water main and gas main break, according to Prince William police.

Crews from the Prince William Service Authority are on the scene to repair the water main break. Crews from Washington Gas are here to repair their utility line.

The water main break is not related to the gas main break, and was reported at 5:24 a.m. Monday, stated Prince William Service Authority Spokesman Kennan Howell. Customers in the are without water in their homes at this time. Howell said he did not have information on what caused the break or how long it would take to repair it. 

We’re working to find out what caused the gas break and to learn how many customers are affected at this time.

News
Virginia Railway Express adds new train to Fredericksburg line

Fredericksburg line riders who Virginia Railway Express will see a new train starting Monday.

Virginia’s only commuter railroad added a new morning and afternoon train following the opening of the system’s Spotsylvania station last week. The new morning 304 train leaves Spotsylvania station bound for Washington’s Union Station at 5:23 a.m. The new afternoon 303 train leaves Union Station at 3:10 p.m.

The trains will operate Monday through Friday, like other VRE trains.

Here’s more in a press release:

Starting Monday, November 30, 2015, the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is adding a new round trip train to its Fredericksburg Line. Schedule changes will be made to all Fredericksburg and Manassas line trains to accommodate the increase in service.

“Our Fredericksburg Line riders have been requesting more commuter rail service for a long time and we’re pleased to deliver greater flexibility and travel choices in the I-95 corridor. The opening of our new station in Spotsylvania County and near completion of a third railroad track between our Crossroads Yard facility and Mine Road have allowed us to provide the new train,” said Doug Allen, VRE Chief Executive Officer.

The new round trip Fredericksburg Line train provides an additional early morning and afternoon opportunity for travel between Spotsylvania and Washington D.C.’s Union Station. The new

VRE schedules are being implemented in partnership with Amtrak, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway.

News
VDOT motoring traffic at Potomac Mills, Virginia Gateway to ease congestion for holiday shoppers

The Virginia Department of Transportation has help for shoppers this holiday season, and it’s out in time for Black Friday — one of the buisest shopping days of the year. 

Here’s more in a press release: 

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, the Virginia Department of Transportation will time signals to help move drivers through major shopping centers around northern Virginia.

Using traffic data gathered during last year’s holiday season, VDOT developed time- and location-specific signal-timing plans at 222 intersections.

“Each year, the goal is to accommodate the changing traffic patterns expected around the shopping centers as efficiently as possible,” said Ling Li, Operations Engineering Manager at VDOT’s Transportation Operations Center.

Engineers will also use traffic cameras and traffic sensors to monitor conditions and make adjustments in real time, even on holidays, to help keep traffic moving in especially congested areas such as Tysons, Virginia Gateway and Fair Oaks Mall areas.

Holiday signal timing will be in effect from Nov. 26, 2015 through Jan. 1, 2016 at the following shopping centers:   

  • Tysons and Galleria Shopping Centers
  • Reston Town Center
  • Fair Lakes Shopping Center
  • Fair Oaks Mall
  • Potomac Mills Mall
  • Manassas Mall
  • Springfield Mall
  • Cascades Town Center
  • Potomac Run Center
  • Dulles Town Center
  • Leesburg Outlets
  • Dulles 28 Centre
  • Virginia Gateway Shopping Center

Tysons Displays Refreshed
Also in time for Black Friday, VDOT’s travel information displays at Tysons Corner Mall have been refreshed with a revised, easier-to-read layout. The screens display real-time Metro and bus arrivals, as well as a rotating display of bus locations, travel times, traffic cameras, road conditions and incidents near Tysons.

A new screen is also in place this year near the first-floor food court that exits at parking garage C. The additional five screens are located near the movie theatres, Starbucks, Barnes and Noble and Macy’s. Shoppers are reminded of these tools to help them use Metro or Bus to avoid holiday shopping traffic and congestion in the Tysons area.

VDOT offers shoppers the following tips for staying safe and avoiding traffic:

  • Put down the cell phone, especially while exiting or entering a shopping center and angling for a parking space.

  • Avoid multiple trips to the mall. Consider getting shopping done all in one day, with an early start around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.

News
E-ZPass Express Lanes to be extended south at Stafford, north to D.C.

The E-ZPass Express Lanes on Interstate 95 will be extended in Stafford County, and to Washington, D.C.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced today in a press release that the express lanes in Stafford County would be extended two miles past Garrisonville Road. Two lanes will merge into one, and drivers will be able to continue past today’s final exit point at Garrisonville Road.

Drivers in the Express Lanes regularly sit in congestion at the terminus of the lanes in Stafford County. Those who don’t exit at Garrisonville Road will exit the lanes two miles south into the left travel lane of I-95, much like old traffic pattern at Dumfries before the December 2014 opening of the E-ZPass Express Lanes.

A right exit and flyover were built at Garrisonville Road so traffic exiting the Express Lanes could reenter mainline I-95 traffic into the right lane, not the left. Transit officials before the Express Lanes opening blamed heavy bottleneck traffic at Dumfries, in part on the left exiting – entering traffic pattern that existed there at the time.

The left exiting – entering ramp was closed, and a new right exit-enter ramp was built just before Joplin Road at Quantico.

Here are the full details on the governor’s plan for the Stafford terminus:

I-95 Express Lanes Southern Terminus
The project will extend 95 Express Lanes by approximately 2 miles past the point where the current flyover carries southbound traffic to Exit 143/Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. A single reversible lane would be built, eventually splitting into northbound and southbound merge ramps.

Southbound traffic in 95 Express Lanes will be able to continue driving past Exit 143 at Garrisonville Road. Southbound traffic will merge back into the mainline I-95 southbound lanes approximately 1,500 feet beyond the Garrisonville Road on-ramp to I-95 southbound. Traffic will merge into the left lane of I-95. This spacing will balance local and express lanes traffic entering I-95 southbound.

Northbound traffic can enter the 95 Express Lanes sooner. The new northbound entrance will be located approximately 1,000 ft. before the I-95 northbound off-ramp at Exit 143 to Route 1 at Aquia. Northbound traffic will merge into express lanes from the left lane.

Construction is estimated to begin in 2016 and take two years to complete. Work will primarily take place within the median and within the existing right-of-way. No personal or business property should be affected.

The Express Lanes carry drivers north toward Washington, D.C. in the mornings. The Express Lanes currently end at just before Duke Street in Alexandria. Single paying drivers must exit the lanes in the mornings, but vehicles with three one more occupants may continue using the HOV lanes to get to the 14th Street Bridge in Washington. These lanes are the last vestige of the old HOV system that spanned between Dumfries and the Pentagon.

All drivers who use the E-ZPass Express Lanes must have an electronic E-ZPass transponder in their vehicle. Single drivers pay a toll, and vehicles with three or more occupants in the car ride free with the E-ZPass.

Arlington County officials in the latter part of the last decade protested the conversion of HOV lanes to toll lanes by saying the lanes would mean more drivers would moving through the county, and more pollution from cars.

Then Virginia Transportation Secretary and former Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton struck a deal with the county, and private toll road operator Transurban to build the lanes as far north as Turkeycock Run, just before Duke Street in Alexandria.

Here’s the governor’s plan for the northbound extension:

I-395 Express Lanes Extension

The project will extend the 395 Express Lanes for eight miles north to the DC line. The project will convert and expand the existing HOV lanes on I-395 from Turkeycock Run north to the district to dynamically tolled express lanes.

An additional express lane will be built, providing three express lanes in the corridor.

There will be dedicated funding for new and enhanced transit services and carpooling incentives.

The work will be done by Transurban under the existing contract it has with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Construction is expected to begin in 2017, with the extended lanes opening to traffic in 2019.

Vehicles with three or more people will continue to use the express lanes for free. Solo drivers will have the choice to take general purpose lanes for free or use the express lanes for a variable toll.

News
Fewer hitting roads for Thanksgiving, but expect delays anyway

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The number of Thanksgiving travelers leaving the Washington area is expected to decrease this year.

AAA Mid-Atlantic says fewer drivers will hit the road to grandma’s house for the annual holiday. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year.

It’s not a huge decrease, as AAA notes about 0.2% fewer area residents will leave home this Thanksgiving than did last year. Many area residents travel 50 miles or more to Thanksgiving destinations, and for vacations, states AAA.

Last year, roadways saw the most travelers over the Thanksgiving holiday since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. AAA states that despite improving economy, falling unemployment rates, and fuel prices remain low, fewer people plan to travel.

“Curiously, the number of travelers departing from the Washington metro area will remain flat this Thanksgiving, despite an unemployment rate that continues to decline and the lowest Thanksgiving gas prices in seven years,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “The family car remains the preferred mode of travel for Thanksgiving. The automobile share of Thanksgiving travel has hovered near 90 percent since the recession as budget-conscious consumers have tended toward car trips.”

In 2014, eight people were killed in vehicle crashes on Virginia’s roads and highways. It was the lowest number of deaths recorded over the holiday weekend in a decade.

The number of fatalities from auto crashes in Virginia for 2015, at 652 lives lost, tops the 633 fatalities on state roads by the same time last year. Drivers can expect to see more state police patroling the highways as part of an initiative they’re calling “drive to save lives.”

“State police will have the majority of its uniformed workforce on patrol from Wednesday through Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” said Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Our goal is not to see how many summonses can be issued and traffic violators arrested over the holiday. The purpose of having our troopers out there on Virginia’s highways is to remind the motoring public of the importance of traffic safety and to deter aggressive, dangerous, reckless, and impaired driving. We are prepared to do our job to make Virginia safer, and we thank those people already driving to save lives. But, as evident by the spike in traffic deaths this year, we still need more drivers and passengers to do their part by buckling up, complying with speed limits, sharing the road, and never driving impaired or distracted.”

There is some very good news for travelers in Virginia, from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“VDOT is suspending highway work zones during the five-day peak Thanksgiving travel period to reduce congestion on interstates and major highways. Lane closures will be lifted on most major roads in Virginia from noon Wednesday, Nov. 25, until noon Monday, Nov. 30.”

What times are the best times to travel when headed out of town? In our area, the earlier you can get away Wednesday the better off you’ll be. Traditionally, congestion on Interstate 95 south begins to build between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and remains heavy through the evening, especially through Woodbridge.

Traffic is traditionally light on Thanksgiving Day, and few backups are seen on area highways during peak day hours on the day after Thanksgiving — Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Returning home from Thanksgiving, highway conditions on I-95 become congested during the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday, so you’ll want to leave early. The Virginia Department of Transportation explains this in a video posted below.

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