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Sudley Road 3rd lane: ‘I believe that this would be wrong to do for a number reasons’

Dear Potomac Local,
I’d like to share some thoughts with you regarding an item on tonight’s council agenda: the [approved] change in scope of the Sudley Road third lane project

Basic background:  The existing plan is to widen north-bound Sudley Road to add a third travel/turn lane from in front of the diner across from the hospital to the existing three-lane segment just past Godwin Drive AND to underground the utilities along that stretch.  I fully support the scope of the project according to the existingplan as approved by Council in the adopted Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
What staff is proposing is to take the money that had been programmed for the utility undergrounding and, instead, use it to widen an additional segment of Sudley Road.  The proposal is to also widen the north-bound segment of Sudley Road to add a third travel/turn lane from Grant Avenue (in front of St Thomas United Methodist Church) to Stonewall Road (in front of the Post Office).
I believe that this would be wrong to do for a number reasons:
  • It would represent a very significant and abrupt change from the project that has been in the CIP as currently designed, to include utility undergrounding, since the year 2000, and which has been vetted, and recommended/approved by the CIP Committee of the Planning Commission, the full Planning Commission, the Land Use Committee, and the City Council.
  • Staff presents no facts or analysis to support the conclusion that reprogramming the state funds to utilize them for widening the additional segment, instead of executing the existing plans, is a preferable alternative.  The agenda statement includes no facts or analysis whatsoever.  
  • There is no demonstrated need for the widening along the additional segment based on any identified traffic congestion or evaluated vehicular level of service (LOS) issues. 
  • Widening Sudley Road to three lanes along the additional segment would very adversely affect the aesthetics of that important gateway corridor and result in the loss of what is now both an effective and attractive transitional segment between the commercial and residential areas along Sudley Road.  Precious green space that currently exists in the strip between Sudley Road and the parallel service road would be lost, and with it the opportunity to plant street trees when the overhead utilities along that segment are ultimately relocated underground.
  • Undergrounding of overhead utilities, especially along our gateway corridors, is one of the most effective ways to positively differentiate Manassas aesthetically from surrounding jurisdictions.  The staff proposal would replace this desirable improvement with what seems to be an unnecessary or undesirable project.  
  • The proposed change in scope of the project does not identify any alternative plan or funding source to achieve undergrounding of the NOVEC overhead power lines as provided for in the existing scope of the project.  Given that the NOVEC lines are outside the city, it may be that the only way for the city to achieve undergrounding of those lines is in conjunction with a state-funded transportation project like we have in the existing plan.  We should not throw away this opportunity. 
  • The process by which staff seeks to make this change lacks transparency and adequate public input.  The proposed change was not reviewed by the CIP Committee of the Planning Commission, or the full Planning Commission.  It was not reviewed by the City Council Land Use Committee.  The proposed resolution prepared by city staff states that “the public involvement process is complete and all resulting comments have been addressed, as needed,” but given that I heard no mention of it prior to it being included on the council agenda distributed on Friday, it is hard to understand how that could be so.  
  • If there is a demonstrated need for widening the additional segment, then the city always has the option to do so in the future by following the routine and uniform process by which projects are included in the CIP, a process that is understood by the public, is transparent, and is inclusive of all stakeholders.  There is no need to rush to abandon the existing plan that has been on the books for 17 years. 

-Steve Hersch, Manassas


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