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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.

News
How a VRE extension to Haymarket and Gainesville could bring the closure of a popular Manassas line station

The Broad Run Station is the first stop on the Manassas commuter rail line on weekday mornings and the last each weekday afternoon.

And it could become a thing of the past.

Virginia Railway Express is conducting a study of a proposed 11-mile extension of the system’s Manassas line to Gainesville and Haymarket called the GHX. If service is expanded, trains will travel along what’s known as Norfolk-Southern’s “B line” from Haymarket to Gainesville, to Innovation Park at George Mason University Science and Technology Campus, and then travel the main line through Manassas onto Washington D.C.’s Union Station.

The 2-year GHX study will indicate how much it would cost to expand the state’s only commuter railroad, and identify any impacts to the environment that could be caused by an expansion. Up to two additional tracks could be needed to accommodate the extra passenger trains — up to two an hour during peak periods – as well as the existing freight traffic that currently uses the line.

Extra trains would mean VRE needs more placed to store them. An existing storage yard at the Broad Run / Manassas Airport station in an obvious choice. That yard would need to be expanded, leaving little room left for the rail station.

“We’re up against the airport on one side, and a flood plain on another,” said VRE CEO Doug Allen. The two-lane street Piper Lane leading to the station is often flooded out after rains when Broad Run spills its banks.

The study will examine whether or not to move the station further east along the line, to somewhere near the Prince William Chamber of Commerce building on Capital Court, or further west of the airport. The study could also suggest closing the station altogether, and that would mean those who use the station today would need to drive about three miles north to a new station that would be built at Innovation Park.

The Broad Run station is popular with not only Prince William County and Manassas residents but also those who drive in from neighboring Fauquier County and points west to access the VRE system. VRE would need to negotiate land deals for the three new stations. The commuter railroad would most likely need to buy land in which to build the stations.

Allen said a spur off of the B line into Innovation Park would be necessary to make the station more convenient for riders to access. That would allow riders to walk to nearby destinations like the University, Freedom Aquatics and Fitness, and Hylton Performing Arts centers, as well as the many life sciences labs and offices popping up in the area.

If reverse commuting service from Washington on the Manassas and Fredericksburg lines is implemented, trains could bring students and employees to Innovation Park, increasing the need for walkability.

VRE on November 16 opened up it’s first new station since the original commuter rail system opened in 1992, in Spotsylvania County. It sits on 22 acres of land — most of which is used for riders who park their cars during the day and catch the train to work.

“It’s big,” said Allen, of the Spotsylvania property.

The Gainesville-Haymarket study will determine how much land would be required for the three new proposed stations on the B line. Those stations could be the same land footprint as the Spotsylvania station.

News
Street improvements will help pedestrians access Potomac Mills area

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Prince William transportation officials will spend $700,000 to improve the pedestrian crossing at a busy Woodbridge intersection.

New sidewalk ramps will be installed at the busy intersection of Smoketown Road, Opitz Boulevard, and Gideon Drive. The ramps will make it easier for pedestrians to cross the six-lane street to provide better access to Potomac Mills mall, said Rick Canizales, with the Prince William County Department of Transportation.

A total of $545,000 in funding for the project will come from the state, from Virginia’s Transportation Alternatives Program. The remainder of the funds will come from the Occoquan District and Neabsco District supervisors offices.

Potomac Mills mall has 1.6 million square feet of retail space and is one of Virginia’s busiest shopping destinations.

News
Is reverse VRE train service to Manassas in the future? Maybe by 2040 or sooner

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The Virginia Railway Express has grown since its inception in the early 1990s.

Today it carries more than 18,000 passenger trips. Trains on the system’s Fredericksburg and Manassas lines are packed with commuters each weekday, headed from the Virginia exurbs to employment centers in Alexandria, and in Washington, D.C.

A new Spotsylvania station opens on the Fredericksburg line today. It’s the first expansion of the system since VRE opened in 1992.

And a study is underway that will tell VRE how much it will cost, and what will be the impacts to the environment and surrounding area if its Manassas line is extended to Gainesville and Haymarket.

The extension is part of VRE’s 2040 System Plan — a blueprint for how Virginia’s only commuter railroad will grow over the next 25 years. It includes plans, in the near term, to extend the length of trains to accommodate more riders and expand parking at stations.

Between 2021 and 2040, VRE wants to add reverse service to growing employment centers like Quantico, Fort Belvoir, and near Manassas at Innovation Park at the George Mason University Technolgy Campus. Up two two trains per hour would leave Washington and travel to Virginia, according to the plan.

Reverse VRE service is something for which riders have long asked. Residents and officials continue to cry for a Metro rail extension to Woodbridge that would provide more frequent rail service to and from Washington.

Today, when morning VRE trains reach their final stop in Washington, locomotives and cars are parked until needed again for afternoon service.

Reverse VRE service would have positive effects for businesses in the region as they would now have the ability to draw from a workforce that would commute from Washington and Maryland. Reverse service could also be a good thing for tourism.

“When you think about the 4th of July here in Manassas, we’ve got 70,000 people in town, and the option for them to take a train would save them the trouble of parking and navigating closed streets, and it could make more people inclined to come and visit,” said Manassas Economic Development Director Patrick Small.

Tourists in Washington could also hop a train to the Civil War history capital, visit the city museum, and then stroll downtown shops and restaurants, he added.

VRE is a tool in an overall package Small uses when trying to talk CEOs into locating or relocating their businesses to the city. Manassas has two VRE stations, and they can be conveniently used by executives who need to get to Arlington or Washington for a morning meeting and back again.

If a VRE station is going to be built at Innovation Park — one of three potential stations on an extension of the Manassas line to Haymarket and Gainesville — the trains are going have to come closer to the campus and businesses there.

The extension would operate on Norfolk-Southern’s B-line, used today by freight trains. The B line spurs off the Norfolk-Southern main line at Wellington Road in Manassas and heads west.

 The B line runs near Innovation Park, but the tracks are located outside what is considered by transit planning professionals and a comfortable walking distance for riders leaving the train station to their final destinations in the office, the classroom, or the gym.

“We’ve asked VRE to considering creating a loop where the train tracks would run into Innovation Park to allow for easier pedestrian access, if a station is built. The track is too far north of where you would ideally would like it to be if a station were to be built there today, and that becomes a deterrent for people,” said Rick Canizales, with the Prince William County Transportation Office.

If you drew a concentric circle around a new VRE station, people would be willing to walk about a half a mile distance away from the station. Not much further.

The frequency of the reverse train service also matters.

“If the reverse commute happens, it’s going to take a while to build,” added Canizales. “Public transit service is built on accessibility, frequency, and reliability. It’s that’s not there immediately, it’s going to take a while to build it up.”

Manassas will also begin development of its Gateway project — a mixed use center to include office, retail, a hotel, and homes near Innovation Park. Shuttle services could be started to get visitors or employees to and from an Innovation Station, or an existing VRE end-line station at Broad Run, at the Manassas Regional Airport.

Part of the Haymarket – Gainesville extension study will examine what to do with the Broad Run station. If the Manassas line is extended more train storage will be needed in the area, and the Broad Run station could be relocated or closed, forcing riders to use a new station at Innovation Park.

The Manassas Regional Airport is one of three major employment hubs in Manassas, to include Novant Prince William Hospital, Micron, and the BAE complex on Wellington Road.

“It would be a shame of workers couldn’t use a reverse train to get to the airport,” said Small.

News
How VDOT will use a jet snow melter to fight Old Man Winter

Coming to a commuter lot near you this winter (if it snows): A jet-powered snow melter.

The Virginia Department of Transportation gave us an annual look at how they plan to do battle with Old Man Winter this year. It’s the agency’s job to keep more than 17,000 lane miles in Prince William, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties clear of snow and ice. About half of those roads are major highways and heavily-traveled arterials while the other half is neighborhood streets.

VDOT last year spent $128.5 million on snow removal in Northern Virginia — more than double the $50.5 million budget. This year, VDOT has $70.7 million to spend on snow removal. A series of winter weather outlooks published this week, including one on Capital Weather Gang, indicate at least one major winter storm for our region this season.

The state has an online website that tracks what streets have been plowed after it snows. It’s a popular feature that VDOT continues to urge residents to use.

“Each year, we strive to improve our winter operations both on the road and behind the scenes,” said Branco Vlacich, VDOT’s maintenance engineer for northern Virginia in a statement. “We continue to encourage residents to use the website for real-time information on their neighborhoods during snow storms. Over two years, we’ve seen hits to the site increase while customer calls decrease, as residents check road conditions, locations of our trucks and the progress of our crews.”

Residents in Prince William, Fairfax, and Loudoun may go to the site, enter their address, and see whether or not plowing in their neighborhood has begun or has been completed. They can also track the locations of snow plows.

The agency also listed some tools in the snow removal fight to be used this year:

A jet-powered snow melter for park-n-ride lots where snow piles can block spaces.

Seven high-pressure flush trucks clear snow and ice around the bollards separating the I-495 Express Lanes and regular lanes.

Two front loaders with 20-foot blades plow interstates during severe storms.

Speed-activated anti-icing equipment puts the right amount of material on the road.

VDOT will also continue to pre-treat 850 miles of highway before the first snowflake falls.

350 lane miles on interstates—including bridges and ramps prone to freezing such as the Springfield interchange and Capital Beltway at Route 1—with liquid magnesium chloride.

500 lane miles on major roads, such as Fairfax County Parkway, routes 1, 7, 28, 29, and 50, are pre-treated with salt brine. Brine (77 percent water, 23 percent salt) prevents ice from bonding to the road surface, reduces the need for salt to melt ice, is kinder to the environment and can lower snow removal time and costs.

The agency will also deploy more employees to monitor snow plowing operations, and will continue a 2-year test a brine mixture that is used to pre-treat roads. Using brine to treat roads has been successful in western U.S. states and it could reduce the need for salt use here in Virginia, according to a VDOT statement.

News
Ashton Avenue reopens to traffic

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Update Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015

Repairs to a culvert on Ashton Avenue are complete. The road reopened to traffic this afternoon, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Original post

Ashton Avenue near Manassas will stay closed for about week longer than planned. 

Crews are working to repair a culvert near the intersection of Ashton Avenue and Sudley Manor Drive. 

Here’s more in a press release: 

Ashton Avenue will remain closed to through traffic between Crestwood Drive and Lomond Drive through about Nov. 18 as crews finish replacing a damaged culvert, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The road was originally scheduled to re-open after two weeks with work continuing under daily lane closures. Extending the closure for a little more than a week will allow remaining work to be completed faster and more safely. The road has been closed to through traffic since Oct. 26.

Drivers are asked to continue to avoid the area, take alternate routes to minimize impacts or use the posted detour:

Traffic on Ashton Avenue is detoured via Lomond Drive, Route 234 Business onto Crestwood Drive (see map). Detour signs are in place to guide motorists. Drivers still have access to local residences and businesses.

VDOT signal engineers are monitoring traffic and adjusting signal timing as needed.

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News
New bridge would carry drivers over Haymarket train tracks

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If you could drive over train tracks on Route 15 in Haymarket rather, would that improve your commute?

Prince William County will request $45 million in state transportation funding to build a bridge that will carry vehicles on Route 15 over train tracks near the interseciton of Route 55 in Haymarket. Today, traffic backs up here during the morning and evening rush hours.

The four-lane bridge would be located near a stretch of Route 15 recently widened from two to four lanes, in front of the Villages at Piedmont neighborhood. County officials late last month celebrated the completion of the widening project, which was funded and constructed by the home developer — not the county or state. This highly traveled stretch of road links Routes 29 and 55.

The bridge would also be built next to a new diverging diamond interchange that will carry cars on Route 15 over Interstate 66. When completed next year the DDI will be unlike anything in the region.

Prince William County transportation planners wanted to widen the entire stretch of Route 15 between Routes 55 and 29. The county’s comprehensive plan calls for widening this stretch of road and adding a four-lane bridge. But the project proved to be too costly in the near term, said Marty Nohe, who serves on the county’s Board of Supervisors and is Chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

“It’s a very expensive project, and it did not score as well as a lot of other projects of the same magnitude,” said Nohe.

It’s the Authority’s job to award state transportation dollars to projects that reduce the largest amount of congestion relative to overall cost. On a scale of low, medium, and high, widening Route 15 in Haymarket scored on the low range of the medium scale, said Nohe.

When Prince William County transportation officials go back and request money for the project in the fiscal year 2017 budget, they will ask for enough money to fund the bridge. That could help the project score better, said Nohe.

The Route 15 bridge project would also compete with other transportation projects like widening of Routes 1 in Woodbridge and Route 28 near Manassas, as well as other transportation projects in Northern Virginia outside Prince William County, Nohe added.

News
Truck crashes into house on Pine Street near Manassas

A truck crashed into a house on Lake Drive about 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Rescue crews were called to the house near the intersection of Lake Drive and Pine Streets in Yorkshire. No injuries were reported in the crash, according to David Byrd who was on the scene following the crash.

The truck slammed into a the house located at 7449 Pine Street.

Byrd tells Potomac Local the driver of the truck lost control of the vehicle when turning at the intersection of Pine Street and Lake Drive. There were wet leaves on the street, and that could have led to slippery conditions on the road, added Byrd.

Neighbors came to the assistance of the homeowner who now has an unexpected pickup in the side of their home. Many offered to help the homeowners with their dogs and offered the residents of the house a place to sleep, added Byrd.

Byrd provided to the photo of the truck into the house to Potomac Local.

News
Road crews to work on Arkendale Road ahead of coming state park

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Work will soon begin to improve Arkendale Road in a rural section of Stafford County along the Potomac River. 

The narrow road will be the main link to a new Widewater State Park once the park is developed. 

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

Motorists will encounter rough pavement on Route 633 (Arkendale Road) in Stafford County for three weeks while the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) repairs the roadbed and travel surface.

Message boards will be posted to alert motorists to the rough driving conditions. Repair work is estimated to be completed by late November.

During 2016, Arkendale Road will be resurfaced from Widewater Road to Brent Point Road, a distance of 2.1 miles, to improve motorist access to the future Widewater State Park.

Approximately 370 vehicles a day travel Arkendale Road.

Those who live in the Widewater area have long been concerned about the narrow roads.

Next year, the road will be slightly widened as part of the resurfacing work to be done next year, said VDOT spokeswoman Kelly Hannon. Transportation officials will then decide if they will add a double yellow line on the road after street resurfacing is complete.

News
Prince William Board opposes VDOT taking Heflin Farm for commuter lot

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Prince William County urges parking decks over commuter parking lots 

Jeanie Heflin will sleep a bit better tonight knowing local officials don’t want to see the demise of her farm.

Now she and her husband wait to see what the Commonwealth Transportation Board does — the group in Richmond that could decide to turn her 80-year-old farm in Haymarket into a commuter lot to serve Interstate 66.

“It would destroy our farm,” said Heflin. “The parking lot would cut across the middle of our land, and would couldn’t graze cow in the parking lot.”

The Prince Wiliam County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting this morning to draft a resolution to oppose the commuter lot being located on the Heflin Farm, located on Antioch Road. The resolution will be sent to the Virginia Department of Transportation — they agency that notified the Helfin’s they wanted to take a portion of their property by eminent domain.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board meets tomorrow, October 27, where they will review the resolution.

If built, the commuter parking lot would be one of several new improvements to I-66 outside the Capital Beltway, from Route 15 in Haymarket to I-495 near Tysons Corner. Two new toll lanes are planned, along with new commuter bus service, and new and expanded park and ride lots.

Prince William County transportation officials say they have urged VDOT to built parking strucutres instead of commuter lots. As the land in the county has gone up in value, the county stands to lose more in tax revenue if that land is used for a single commuter lot, they said.

A parking structure costs nearly double what it would cost to build a commuter lot – between $15 and $20 per space. But a parking deck would lead to better, more urban development in a given area, they add.

A portion of Heathcote Boulevard in Haymarket would be extended to Antioch Road as part of the VDOT commuter lot plan. The extension of the four-lane road would better serve users of the commuter lot, as well as provide direct access to Novant Haymarket Medical Center, county transportation officials said.

The Heathcote extension was removed from the county’s long-range plans by the Board of Supervisors. Only recently did VDOT put the road project back on the books to the surprise of residents.

“How did this end up on a map that no one had seen,” asked Elena Schlossberg, a Prince William County resident.

Heflin met with VDOT officials at her property Oct. 23. She said the meeting went well, and that officials told her the agency tried to locate the proposed commuter lot on two other properties in the area, but the landowners opposed.

Heflin said VDOT identified her property for the emindent domain in June but said she didn’t find out until Sept. 2.

“To want to take our property and not tell us up front… it’s illegal…it’s offensive,” said Heflin.

VDOT continues to look at all of their options in the corridor, and no final decision as to where the commuter lot will be located has been made, spokeswoman Michelle Holland told Potomac Local on Oct. 22.

News
I-66 inside Beltway toll plan unpopular at town hall

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

Republican state legislators said Northern Virginia residents are being treated like the state’s “ATM” for a plan to toll all lanes of Interstate 66 inside the Beltway.

Republican leaders from Richmond and locally elected GOP leaders in Prince William County gathered on stage Oct. 22 for a town hall meeting at Battlefield High School in Haymarket to protest the Virginia Department of Transportation Plan plan backed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“These tolls will affect the value of your home and the number of businesses that will locate here,” said Delegate Robert G. Marshall.

All four lanes of I-66 inside the Beltway would be converted to toll lanes from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m., and 3 to 7 p.m. daily as part of the plan. Drivers would use an EZ-Pass, as drivers on the I-495 and I-95 Express lanes do, to electronically pay tolls of up to $17 per day starting in 2017.

Initially, cars with two or more occupants would ride free on the toll lanes with an EZ-Pass, but a change in the rules expected by 2017 would require vehicles with an EZ-Pass to have three or more occupants inside the car to ride free. I-66 is currently the only Interstate highway in the U.S. that allows vehicles with just two our more occupants to use HOV lanes.

Buses would ride the lanes for free at all times. VDOT says the plan would move 40,000 more people in the corridor, and raise cash for much-needed transit improvements along the corridor to include new commuter bus service, more park and ride lots, and new “last mile” improvements such as bicycle paths from Metro stations to allow more people to walk or ride a bike from the train to the office.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane penned a letter to Potomac Local stating that doing nothing to improve traffic congestion along the I-66 corridor is not an option.

The plan comes after the General Assembly in Richmond passed landmark transportation reform in 2013 that raised the state sales tax in Northern Virginia, and would generate some $880 million in new transportation revenues statewide. It was the first transportation reform bill passed in 27 years, and was heralded by the state’s then Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican.

“We passed [House Bill 2313] in 2013, and it was presented to us as a piece of legislation that would fund all of these needed transportation improvements,” said Delegate Richard Anderson, a Republican who voted gainst the bill. “And here we are back here with the state asking for more money.”

Unlike like toll projects on I-495 and 95 that are privately managed and maintained by Australia-based Transurban, the I-66 project was not shopped out to private firms as a public-private partnership. VDOT plans to construct electronic toll gantries inside the beltway to collect tolls. The agency also plans to add two new lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway, from I-495 to Route 15 in Haymarket, which will also operate as toll lanes 24 hours a day, in a configuration that mirrors toll lanes on I-495 from Springfield to Dulles Toll Road.

Democrats oppose the plan, too.

“This is not a partisan issue, ” said Don Shaw, who is running against Robert G. Marshall for the 13th District House of Delegates seat. “We need [Virignia Railway Express] to Haymarket, bus rapid transit lanes on I-66, and we need to explore an extension of Metro.”

Lane’s editorial stated I-66 inside the Beltway would be widened after the new toll lanes are implemented, but only if “necessary.” Those who choose not to pay the tolls would be forced to use arterial roads Routes 29 and 50.

Residents who spoke at the meeting complained that taking a transit bus from Manassas to Tysons Corner, to federal job hub of Mark Center in Alexandria can take more than two hours one way. Others said it is nearly impossible to find a group of people to carpool with due to the lack of a major, popular online ride matching website for area commuters to use to pair riders with drivers.

“You’re going to toll me for the pleasure of going to work where I make income, and then you are going to tax me on that income anyway,” said Morris Davis, who bought his home in Haymarket 10 years ago with the promise that Virginia Railway Express would be extended to the town. He’s still waiting.

Others said VDOT’s plan to add “last mile” improvements like bikepaths would only benefit Fairfax County residents.

“We don’t need bike paths. We don’t use them to get to D.C., or to Tysons because it would take too long,” said Prince William resident Kim Simons. “And we’ve got the [Manassas] Battlefield in the way, so the Department of the Interior would need to decide if we need a ‘battlefield bypass’ for bikes.”

VDOT officials held a series of public hearings on the plan to toll I-66 inside the Beltway. Construction on the project is expected to begin in Spring 2016, and toll collection could start in 2017.

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