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Occoquan Local

John Jenkins will have a locomotive named after him

All aboard the John Jenkins Express.

Jenkins, the longest currently serving Prince William County Board of Supervisors, is recognized for his participation on the Virginia Railway Express Operations Board. He and eight other VRE Board members who played key roles in the development of the commuter railroad since its founding in 1992 will have their names affixed to the front of VRE locomotives.

Here’s a full list of names that will soon appear on commuter trains:

  • Edwin King – Prince William County (Original Member)
  • James Hugh Payne Sr. – City of Manassas (First Elected City of Manassas Member)
  • Bernard Cohen – VA House of Delegates (Original Member)
  • Bob Gibbons – Stafford County (First Elected Stafford Member)
  • Sally H. Cooper – VDOT (Original Member)
  • Sharon Bulova – Fairfax County (Original and Continuously Serving Member)
  • John Jenkins – Prince William County (Long Serving Member)
  • Hilda Barg – Prince William County (Long Serving Member)
  • Elaine McConnell – Fairfax County (Long Serving Member – previously recognized)

The operations board approved adding the names to the locomotives at their monthly meeting this morning.

“Naming locomotives to honor those who helped establish or ensure the success of VRE is a small token of the appreciation we have for the foresight and public service these Board Members have provided in creating VRE,” said  VRE Operations Board Chairman Paul Milde in a press release.

The names that will be affixed to the locomotives belong to those who “played a key role in establishing VRE service, were early or long-tenured members, or whose extraordinary efforts contributed to its success, will be honored by having their names placed on the front of VRE locomotives.”

Virginia Railway Express trains carried more than 320,000 riders in November. Over the past year, the commuter railroad carried 2 million riders.

Declining birth rate no big deal for Prince William region

Fewer women in the U.S. are having babies.

The national birth rate declined in 2013 to 3.93 million births, continuing a six-year drop off. Women between the ages of 15 and 44 last year bore  an average of 1.86 babies, and that’s below the 2.1 average the National Center for Health Statistics said is necessary for a stable population.

Locally, the number of live births at Novant Prince William Medical Center in Manassas fluctuated over the past five years. The hospital was the only local medical center in Prince William and Stafford counties to respond to our records request. The hospital  averaged nearly 2,040.8 babies born over the past five years.

Over time, the numbers have remained steady with the exception of this year’s number, which accounts only for the first 11 months of 2014. Take a look at the numbers the hospital submitted to Potomac Local:

  • 2010=2,177
  • 2011=2,305
  • 2012=2,135
  • 2013=2,015
  • 2014 (through November) =1,572

The down economy is to blame for the decrease in the birth rate. Many millennials are trying to find work or move up at their current job, and that, for some, means putting off starting a family.

In other parts of the U.S., a declining birth rate spells trouble for city populations, as well as companies looking to find workers to fill jobs. In the Washington, D.C. area, things are a bit different. People keep moving here and that, at least for now, offsets any the effect of any population decrease.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen changes in what drives population growth in our metro area,” said Jeannette Chapman, with the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

Domestic migration in the Washington area – people moving here from other places in the U.S. – has dropped off while international migration to the area has increased.

Locally, Prince William County and Manassas City has seen more cases of international migration over the past two years while Stafford County to the south has seen more cases of domestic relocation. A number of factors could play into Stafford’s case, including home prices and housing inventory, said Chapman.

The Center for Regional Analysis compares the Washington, D.C. to Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle. In Virginia, military bases have been impacted by sequestration and thousands of jobs have been lost due to federal cutbacks. 

Historically, when the economy tanks federal agencies here ramp up to find a solution to the problem, and that brings in more workers and people.

So, that declining birth rate?

“It’s not a big deal for us; that’s only part of the story,” said Chapman. “If in the longer term things continue to decline, that will change the national narrative, and that could have an effect on our economy here.”

Candland’s proposal to be used to craft 2016 budget

The average property tax bill in Prince William County may not increase next year as much as planned.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan from Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland that directs County Executive Melissa Peacor to develop a 2016 budget where the average property tax bill increases no more than 1.7%. That number is down from an annual projected 4% tax bill increase approved by the Board of County Supervisors last April. The average tax bill was to increase by at least 4% per year, every year under the old 5-year plan.

Peacor is expected to a budget to the Board of Supervisors next month. The board will approve the fiscal year 2016 budget in April.

Candland said a staggering economy and job losses throughout Virginia are just some of the reasons to keep taxes lower.

“Can we continue to sustain this level of spending?” asked Candland. “We need to balance the economic realities we see in the county, state, and the nation.”

While the average tax bill in Prince William is lower than neighboring Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Candland said average earned wages of Prince William County residents are 10% lower than Fairfax residents’ income.

County leaders in April passed a $989 million budget with an assessed tax rate of $1.148 of every $100 of assessed property value. New property assessments are due within the next few months, and that will give officials some idea of how much revenue will be coming into county coffers.

With last year’s tax increase, the county funded 25 new police officers, funded improvements to sports fields, and provided money for new libraries in Montclair and Gainesville.

“I did vote for the 4% last year for higher tax bill because someone told me you’re not going to get your library if you don’t vote for the tax increase,” said Potomac District Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, who on Tuesday voted in favor of the lower 1.7% average tax bill budget guidance.

Supervisors Marty Nohe, John Jenkins, and Frank Principi all voted against the 1.7% budget guidance.

“We were with the school board less than a week ago, and we heard them asking for some consistency, and this does not provide that,” said Nohe.

The Board of Supervisors sets the tax rate, and the county’s public school division will receive about 57% of the next year’s budget and. It it will could be substantially less than what the school division was banking on prior to Tuesday’s vote. 

“The schools and Board of County Supervisors will have to look at budgets. The school board might have to go back and reevaluate the price tag of the new high school and not build the two swimming pools, and we might have to go back and look at the $11 million price tag to bury power lines [on Route 1 in Woodbridge] and spend that money on our schools,” said Candland.

“There will be some very critical needs that, at 1.7%, will go unmet, said Principi.

The Woodbridge District Supervisor cited the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission – operators of OmniRide commuter and OmniLink local buses – which is facing a massive budget reduction that could lead to service cuts starting in 2017. Children who need mental healthcare and substance abuse patients may also go without care, added Principi.

*This story was corrected.

What to know ahead of I-95 EZ-Pass lanes opening

Potomac Local continues its effort to keep you informed ahead of the opening of the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on I-95 from North Stafford to Edsall Road in Fairfax County. 

Here is the latest information provide to us about the switch over from HOV lanes to express lanes, which begins Sunday afternoon. The information comes to us via the form of a media briefting from EZ-Pass Express Lanes operator Transurban:

Opening Preparations

Beginning tomorrow, December 12 through Sunday, December 14, we will unveil all Express Lanes signage.  All HOV lanes will be closed starting the evening of Friday, December 12 until the evening of Sunday, December 14.

Roadway Opening

The evening of Sunday, December 14 the new roadway improvements will open including:

  • Nine-mile extension from Dumfries to Garrisonville Road
  • Third lane from Prince William Parkway to the vicinity of Edsall Road on I-395
  • All new entry and exit points

From December 14 – 28, when the new capacity is open, HOV rules will continue to be in effect.  The HOV regulatory signs will remain in place and dynamic message signs (DMS) will communicate the HOV rules. 

The new lane use management system and the variable speed limit system will be turned on.  Drivers should follow the speed posted on the variable speed limit signs. The lane use management system will alert drivers if a lane is closed to traffic.  If a red “X” is displayed above, drivers should exit that lane as soon as it is safe to do so.

For two weeks, until Sunday, December 28, the Express Lanes (new capacity and new entries/exits) will be toll-free to allow travelers to benefit from the additional capacity during the holiday season.  Standard HOV rules apply (with the exception of holidays).

Gate Operations

Transurban will assume gate operations along the entire I-95 and I-395 corridor on Sunday, December 14.  Gate transition time on the HOV and Express Lanes facilities is expected to increase due to the nine mile southern extension and new gates.  Drivers should expect delays in the afternoon transition to reverse the flow of the traffic southbound.  Ultimately, the gates transition will return to standard times experienced today.

On Monday, December 15, the gates will begin to close at 10:30 a.m. instead of 11 a.m.  This will help accommodate southbound traffic in the afternoon.

Tolling Begins

Tolling begins Monday, December 29.  All drivers will need an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex (carpoolers) to use the Express Lanes.

I-95 EZ-Pass Express Lanes open Monday

I-95 EZ-Pass Express Lanes tolling begins in 2 weeks


Drivers will not need an EZ-Pass or EZ-Pass Flex to use the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on I-95 when they open Monday. The lanes will operate under old HOV lanes rules that require vehicle to have three or more occupants between 6 and 9 a.m. and 3:30 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The lanes will be open to traffic at all other times.

Staring Dec. 29, all drives will need an EZ-Pass or EZ-Pass Flex to use the lanes, and the lanes will be tolled at all times. Virginia State Police are required to enforce the new rules.

Original post

The new reversible EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 95 will open to traffic Monday.

The opening marks the culmination of a 2-year, $990 million effort to convert the existing HOV facility on I-95 from Dumfries to Edsall Road to new lanes that will all be electronically tolled. New tolled lanes were also built from Dumfries south to Garrisonville Road in North Stafford.

All drivers will need an EZ-Pass to use the lanes as there are no toll booths on the lanes. Drivers who carpool will need an EZ-Pass Flex that will allow them to flip a switch on the device that tells the all-electronic toll booths not to charge if there are three or more people in the vehicle.

The lanes will continue to carry motorists north in the mornings and south in the evenings.

Click here to get a map of the new lanes and see how to use them


Tolling on the lanes will begin Dec. 29. That will give drivers time to learn the layout of the new lanes, and construction crews and additional two weeks to continue working on the finishing touches to the lanes.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued the following statement:

“The 95 Express Lanes are an investment in Virginia’s economy,” Governor McAuliffe said.  “Not only did the project create thousands of jobs during construction and put more than 500 businesses to work, the new infrastructure will also support future economic development and job growth in the region.  The improved mobility and new access that will be provided by the project will help ensure that Virginia remains a great place to live and do business. My team and I are working every day to build a new Virginia economy, and this important project will help us advance that important goal.”

Those words came after state and local officials gathered Wednesday for a ribbon cutting ceremony to herald the opening.

Drivers using the lanes will notice variable tolling, and will be charged one price per mile of distance they travel on the lanes. While a driver’s EZ-Pass locks in the toll rate when the vehicle enters the lanes, prices to use the lanes will rise as more cars enter the lanes, and will fall as fewer cars on the lanes.

The lanes were built and will be maintained through a public-private partnership with Virginia and Transurban, an Australia-based company that will operate and profit from the lanes for nearly 100 years. Transurban also constructed and maintains EZ-Pass Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway from Springfield to Dulles Toll Road, where four new lanes, and 14 new bridges were added to that portion of the Beltway to accommodate an increase in traffic.

  • The governor also distributed key points about the project identified as benefits for commuters:

  • An expanded system from two to three lanes for 14 miles between Prince William Parkway to the vicinity of Edsall Road on I-395

  • Improvement of the existing HOV system for six miles from Route 234 to the Prince William Parkway

  • A nine-mile extension from Dumfries to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County to alleviate the bottleneck where the HOV lanes end today

  • Improved system performance through enhanced enforcement and incident response

  • New access points offering more direct connections

The new EZ-Pass Express Lanes on I-95 will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, tolling will be in effect at all times.

Under the rules of the old HOV lanes, drivers were required to have three or more occupants inside their car 6 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Drivers were then able to use the lanes freely at all other times.




Scoggins running for Occoquan seat, says county needs to better prioritize funding



Campaign for Board of Supervisors a first for Scoggins

Donald Scoggins will toss his name into the hat seeking the Republican nomination to be the next Occoquan District Supervisor.

Scoggins will seek the seat to be vacated by current Supervisor Mike May, who announced he’s running to become the next Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney. Scoggins will face competition from fellow Republican John Gray who also wants the seat, and the results of a June 9 Primary Election could be the deciding factor which man will go on to run for the seat in November.

“I’m going to run as a Republican. I’ve been a Republican for over 50 years, and I’m not going to change now,” said Scoggins.

He’ll also face competition from Democrat and former Town of Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta whom he calls a “formidable” opponent.

“I know Earnie Porta,” said Scoggins. “I respect him as a candidate.”

A Vietnam veteran, former real estate broker, and soon to be retired federal employee, Scoggins has his eye on how Prince William County develops. The Occoquan District on the eastern side of the county is nearly fully developed, but whoever wins the seat will have a say on how the largely rural western side of the county grows.

“I want to make the rural crescent is maintained as much as possible, and I want to make sure we don’t overburden he taxpayers with over development,” said Scoggins. 

On transportation, Scoggins said the county needs to reevaluate its priorities and decide what road projects need to be funded. In the face of a looming transit funding crisis where the funding of some projects could be delayed, Scoggins some project may have to be removed from the books.

“Instead of doing everything that is planned, we have to look at what the numbers are, and we need to bring in staff and make educated decisions,” said Scoggins. “We can’t do everything, so maybe we have to lower our sights on what can get done given the current economic climate.”

Scoggins has been active in several non-profit organizations to include the Prince William Committee of 100, and has been a Prince William GOP Committee member for the past four years.

Scoggins has been married for 32 years. He has two adult sons, one who graduated from Virginia Tech and the other from University of Michigan.

John Gray campaigning for Occoquan District seat



John Gray will seek his party’s nomination to be the next Occoquan District Supervisor.

If elected, the Republican would replace Mike May who announced he would seek the job of Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney.

Gray ran against Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large in 2011 as an independent and lost. Since that election, Gray has remained an active participant in local politics.

He’ll likely face competition from within his own party as Don Scoggins said he will run for the Occoquan District Seat. Democrat and former Town of Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta will also run for the seat.

Gray works as a CPA. Naturally, the top issue facing the county residents is taxes, he said. While he won’t run on a platform of lowering them, he does propose placing a cap on the amount of property taxes collected.

When property assessments come in and they’re higher than what they’ve planned on them being, [the county] collects more revenue in the form of real estate taxes,” said Gray.

Higher teacher pay 

His fix: factor in the amount of over-collected taxes from last year into the coming year’s budget. That would result in a tax decrease for residents, said Gray.

Teacher pay is another top issue Gray said his campaign would focus on. Prince William teachers don’t make enough, he said.

“We’re getting what we’re paying for,” said Gray, noting Prince William County is falling behind when it comes to living wage increases to attract and retain qualified teachers in the county’s public schools.

The Board of Supervisors is the county’s taxing authority but does not have a say on how the county’s School Board spends their funds. If elected. However, Gray said he’ll keep a close watch on the construction of the county’s 13th high school.

“I’ll make sure we don’t spend our money on things like a school pool and a black box theater that doesn’t improve the quality of our childrens education,” said Gray.

He referred to the county’s 12th high school, now under construction off Route 234 near Hoadly Road. It will have an aquatics facility and black box theater, and with a price tag of nearly $100 million, it will be one of the costliest high schools ever to be built in Virginia.

Picking a fight with Peacor

Gray would also immediately pick a fight with Prince William County Executive Melissa Peacor, if elected.

“I don’t like the direction she’s leading the county. Every time she needs something funded, [the Board of County Supervisors] find some fund to do what she wants,” said Gray.

He cited the $12 million cost to bury power lines on U.S. 1 in Woodbridge to complement a the road widening effort funded by the state. The burial costs were not factored into the current budget approved by the Board of Supervisors in April.

The funds allocated for the power lines burial came from a reserve fund dedicated for transportation projects, and the recommendation to bury the lines came not from Peacor but from the Board of Supervisors, which asked for her professional recommendation on how to proceed, said county spokesman Jason Grant.

Its important to also note Peacor works at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors, added Grant.

Don Scoggins will challenge Gray for the seat, and the challenge could lead to a Primary Election on June 9.

The General Election will be held Nov. 3, 2015.

Gray has been married for 43 years and has lived in Lake Ridge for 28 years. He is a Marine Corp veteran, and has served  as president of the Lake Ridge Property Owners Association. 

Should Prince William raise taxes to fill $17.7 million bus budget gap?

Average tax bills could rise by $80 to offset budget shortfall

Commuter bus service in Prince William County is heading toward a fiscal cliff.

A budget deficit of $17.7 million is looming for OmniRide commuter buses and OmniLink local buses. The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission or PRTC — the agency that operates the buses — asked Prince William leaders to help make up a budget shortfall that could lead to 1/3 of all PRTC to be slashed, starting in 2018.

PRTC expects the state to provide 10% fewer dollars than it last year. Additionally, a surplus of monies collected in the 2.3% motor fuels tax — a tax on every gallon of fuel purchased in the county — is expected to run out by 2018.

With the drop in fuel prices, and newer cars getting more miles per gallon, gas tax revenues are expected to be flat over the next several years despite Prince William’s growing population, said PRTC Executive Director Al Harf.

Prince William County is the largest funder of PRTC, as 86% of riders live in the county. The county gave $15.2 million to both PRTC and Virginia Railway Express this year, while Virginia provided $16.2 million, and the Federal Government $2.7 million.

The bus system now wrangles with the costs of maintenance, purchasing new buses to replace old ones, and has seen fewer dollars than expected from last year’s landmark transportation bill that increased sales taxes to generate an estimated $880 million in new revenue for transportation and transit. Harf says the linger affects of the recession, the impact of sequestration, and lower fuel costs are all to blame for the lower funds.

Prince William leaders have the option of footing the entire $17.7 million bill, placing the tax burden on the backs of county taxpayers.

“We would need a significant amount of funding from the general fund to accomplish this,” Prince William County Budget Director Michelle Casciato told officials in September.

Total funding would lead to an $80 increase to the average property tax bill paid by county residents. Because of a revenue sharing agreement between the county government and its public school system, education funding would automatically be increased by the move.

County leaders also have the option of diverting monies already allocated toward traffic improvement projects, such as widening Minnieville, Balls Ford, Neabsco Mills, and Vint Hill roads, and using the dollars to fund the transit service. That option would push back construction completion dates on the road projects by up to 10 years and, due to inflation, would mean the projects could cost more in the long run.

If the county picks up only some of the cost, about $13 million, then PRTC warns local buses and buses that service Metro stations in Springfield and Vienna would run less frequently. Riders could also expect large annual fare increases, rising as much as 42%, beginning in 2016.

“Once you lose a rider, you’ve lost them,” said Harf. “More people would rely on family and friends, and they would be carpooling where they are not carpooling now.” 

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will begin working on the fiscal year 2016 budget in earnest after the 1st of the year.

Manassas and Manassas Park residents also use the bus service, but those independent cities do not contribute funding to PRTC. If the cities did, it would help to close the budget gap by $2 million, said Harf.

Virginia Transportation Chief to Speak in Woodbridge

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane will appear at a town hall meeting in Woodbridge.

The secretary is expected to discuss several transportation projects taking place in the region, like the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 95 set to open later this month to the widening of Route 1 in Woodbridge.

“There is a lot of investment around transportation in the Woodbridge District. We will have a Q&A with Secretary Layne and a panel discussion with VDOT, Transburban, PRTC, and PW County Transportation. We will talk about what to expect from upcoming transportation projects.”

— Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Princpi

The meeting is being organized by the Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association. It will be held Wednesday, Dec. 10 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Freedom High School in Woodbridge.

Many Unfamiliar with EZ-Pass Express Lanes at Opening

The 95 Express Lanes will open in December. We just don’t know exactly on which date drivers will need to be sure to have their EZ-Pass affixed to their windshields.

The two-and-a-half year project to convert the HOV lanes on Interstate 95 to toll or EZ-Pass Express Lanes, as well as build new lanes from Garrisonville Road north to Dumfries, is coming to an end.

Gov. Terry McAulliffe is scheduled to speak on Dec. 10 at the ceremonial opening of the express lanes. He’ll be joined by Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane, as well as County Board of Supervisors Chairmen Sharon Bulova, of Fairfax and Corey Stewart, of Prince William.

However, the lanes will not open to traffic until sometime after that date, said project spokesman Michael McGurk.

All drivers who use the lanes will need an EZ-Pass or an EZ-Pass Flex inside their car. The lanes will be tolled 24 hours a day, and carpoolers with three or more people inside the car will travel free with the EZ-Pass Flex. The pass be switched between a carpool mode that tells the road’s all-electronic tolling system there are three people inside the car, or to single-driver mode to incur a charge.

Toll rates will vary depending upon how much traffic is in the lanes, just like the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 495 between Springfield at Dulles Toll Road.

New research from the builders of the lanes, Fluor-Transurban, and from the Virginia Department of Transportation, shows drivers are unprepared to use the new lanes.

Here’s more in a press release:

Only 32 percent of carpoolers have an E-ZPass Flex:

  • All drivers will need an E-ZPass to use the Express Lanes.  Carpoolers will need an E-ZPass Flex and three or more passengers to travel toll-free.
  • E-ZPass and E-ZPass Flex are available at 75 convenient Northern Virginia retail locations including Wegmans, Virginia DMVs and Giant Food Stores; at E-ZPass Customer Service Centers; online or by calling Virginia E-ZPass at (877) 762-7824.   Only 51 percent of 95 drivers know that the Express Lanes will be reversible and just over half (55 percent) understand that the Express Lanes will replace the existing HOV lanes on I-95:
  • The existing HOV lanes are being converted to Express Lanes.  The lanes will reverse as they do today.  Learn more about the lane reversal scheduleNearly a quarter of I-95 drivers think the tolling and HOV-3+ requirements will only be in effect during rush hour:
  • The Express Lanes rules of the road are in effect 24/7.  Read more about the new rules.
    Less than a quarter of I-95 drivers are aware of what happens at the transition area on I-395 just north of Edsall Road where the Express Lanes end and the I-395 HOV lanes begin :

  • North of the 95 Express Lanes, the rules on the I-395 HOV lanes will be the same as they are today.
  • When the HOV restriction is in effect, drivers traveling alone or with one passenger will need to exit from the Express Lanes to avoid entering the HOV lanes.
  • HOV-3+ and eligible clean fuel plate vehicles can travel in the I-395 HOV lanes as they do today.
  • For more information about the transition area just north of Edsall Road on I-395, visit:

License Plate Reader Limits Could Hamper Investigations

A Prince William County legislator is seeking statewide uniformity on how license plate readers collect and store data that has been linked to solving crimes.

Delegate Richard Anderson told the Prince William Committee of 100 that he and Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen will submit new legislation that would address how police agencies, like Prince William County’s, collect and store photos of license plates collected from cars in parking lots and from vehicles driving on county streets.

How LPRs work

Prince William police have 12 license plate readers, or LPRs, in use. Eleven are mounted to police cruisers, and a 12th is attached to a trailer that is moved to different locations in the county.

Each unit is a camera that quickly snaps photos of license plates and stores them on a computer inside the police car. If the computer matches the license plate number with a plate that has been reported stolen, officers know to pursue the stolen car immediately.

At the end of the day, the data is transferred to a database at the police department and is kept on file for six months. Prince William Police Chief Stephan Hudson said his ability to collect and store this data had allowed his investigators to use the data to help solve crimes. He said the data has also come in handy when police need to locate missing persons.

Fears of police tracking

Frank Knaack from the American Civil Liberties Union urges caution against using the machines. He said police can create a “digital fence” around a certain area to track drivers to determine travel patterns, giving authorities a clear idea of where a driver works, shops, as well as which groups he or she may associate with.

“Cars with license plates readers can drive through parking lots and can track cars at church, and police have a good idea that you go to that particular church every Sunday,” said Knaack.

Statewide limits would address privacy concerns

That’s where Anderson’s new legislation comes in. Earlier in the year, he, Petersen, and others formed the Ben Franklin Privacy Caucus in Richmond to address such privacy concerns. Anderson wants to impose a three month statewide limit on how long police may keep the license plate data on file.

“We need to tackle the issue of what triggers the [data] collection,” said Anderson. “It should be one of two things: It ought to be with a court order, or if a crime is in progress that requires law enforcement to spring into action in a given moment, so they have the intelligence they need to solve a crime.”

Historical data important to police chief

Chief Hudson said he’s “OK” with the three-month limit but prefers keeping the data on file for six months, as his department does now. He also said obtaining a court order each time data is collected could diminish the effectiveness of how LPRs are used today.

“My concern is that with such parameters we would have no historical data. And much of the benefit to having the historical data is going back to look at something days, weeks, even a couple months old and, if it was governed by that trigger, I wouldn’t even have that information,” said Hudson.

Police Search for Fast Fuels Robbers


Prince William police are investigating a robbery that occurred at a gas station at the intersection of Old Bridge Road and Route 123 near Occoquan.

Here is more in a press release from Prince William poilce:

Armed Robbery – On November 23rd at 6:16PM, officers responded to the Fast Fuel Service Station located at 1320 Old Bridge Rd in Woodbridge (22192) to investigate a robbery. An employee reported to police that three unknown men entered the business and approached the counter. Two of the men display handguns while the third took money from the register and a purse belonging to an employee. Following the encounter, all three men fled the store on foot. No injuries were reported.

Suspect Descriptions:

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 5’10” with a thin build

Last seen wearing a black HH winter coat with a hood, tan brown pants and black & white shoes

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 6’0” with a thin build and short dreadlocks

Last seen wearing a black hooded jacket over a green hooded shirt and blue jeans

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 5’8” with a medium build

Last seen wearing a black long coat, red shirt, black mask and tan work boots

Hudson: Recent Prince William Murders Not a Trend

Chief praises police officers for hard work following murders


Two murders back to back, less than a week apart, has some Prince William County residents talking about safety.

On Nov. 10, a Woodbridge Senior High School student was shot and killed on a walking path just outside the school. Police said the victim was killed in a drug-related robbery. Five people, including a 16-year-old girl, were arrested and charged in connection to Williams’ death.

In the early hours of Nov. 16, Christopher Nathaniel Weaver, 19, and a 15-year-old boy were shot in Dale City. Both were taken to a hospital where Weaver died, and a 15-year-old suffered injuries that did not appear to be life threatening.

One shooting suspect was arrested the following day in Arlington, and the second was taken into custody last night in Manassas.

The two shootings were not related.

In an interview with Potomac Local, Prince William Police Department Chief Stephan Hudson says the county has seen some troubling incidents in recent days, but says crime in the community continues to be at historically low levels.

“Even with two recent murders that have occurred within five or six days of each other, we still are at a total of six murders for the entire year. Historically, over the past 30 plus years, [the number of] our murders vary every single year. They’ve gone from lows of one and two to a high of 16. So, I am not overly concerned that this represents some kind of a trend that we need to be concerned about,” said Hudson.

Statistically, Prince William is on par with having the same number of murders this year as last. A total of 16 people were murdered in Prince William in 2006, and 12 people were murder in the county in 2008. Those two years, out of the past 10, saw the most murders in the county.

The department’s policy of directing a massive amount of resources to the county’s most violent crimes immediately after they occur is what helped detectives to quickly track down suspects in the two most recent murders. (more…)

Beer Boon: Craft Brewers Now Welcome in Prince William

Restrictive zoning ordinance amended

It is now legal to open a craft brewery in a shopping center in Prince William County.

In what seemed like a happy hour session, that last call of the night for the County Board of Supervisors was to amend zoning laws that once prevented small craft breweries, like Bad Wolf Brewing in Manassas, from opening in commercial or retail district.

Unlike bars or restaurants, most craft breweries stick to serving only beer. New legislation signed earlier this year by Gov. Terry McAuliffe now allows these small breweries that were once banned under Virginia ABC laws.

“We’re always trying to catch up with the market,” said Nick Evers, with Prince William County’s planning office.

Like small wineries, craft breweries are growing in popularity and have sprung up in Manassas City and Stafford County. Recently, Bad Wolf Brewery in Manassas chose to expand its operation in that city. But not before exploring their options to expand at Tacketts Mill in Lake Ridge only to be told no due to the old zoning law.

“We’ve already lost potential business in this development area,” said Occoquan District Supervisor Mike May.

Small craft breweries allowed to make 10,000 barrels per year, and are no longer restricted to being located in industrial zones in Prince William. For brew masters that grow their ingredients for their beers on farms with two acres of land or more, those breweries can make 15,000 barrels of beer per year, said Evers.

But it’s not all Miller time yet for the Supervisors on this issue. As the Board voted to allow small craft breweries, they also voted to revisit the issue to refine the language that states exactly what types of alcoholic beverages may be brewed in the county.

Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large, said the language in the new law does not address breweries that make alcoholic cider, or Mead, a drink rooted in ancient history throughout Asia and Europe made by fermenting honey with water.

“Yeah, it’s coming up. They make Meade,” said Stewart.

Craft breweries will be allowed to host beer tastings at their facilities but will need to obtain a permit for events with more than 100 people in attendance.

Tree Lighting, Holiday Shopping Event in Occoquan

Four-year-old Paloma is mesmerized by all the lights during the tree lighting in Occoquan Friday night. (Mary Davidson/

Four-year-old Paloma is mesmerized by all the lights during the tree lighting in Occoquan Friday night. (Mary Davidson/


On November 21, Occoquan will be hosting its annual tree lighting and holiday shopping event from 4:00PM to 8:00PM. 








More information from Earnie Porta’s E-Newsletter Update for Prince William County and Occoquan:

Mark your calendars for Friday, November 21, when starting at 4:00 p.m. the Business Guild of Occoquan will hold their annual Holiday Open House. The town will be decorated for the season and shops will be open until 8:00 p.m., offering a variety of special deals, refreshments, and activities. After the shops close, the Town will hold its annual tree lighting ceremony at 8:05 p.m. in front of the Occoquan Town Hall (314 Mill Street), followed promptly at 8:15 p.m. by the Guild’s Open House drawing in front of Hawthorne House Fine Papers (404 Mill Street), where $1,500 in gift certificates will be given away.

Come enjoy this wonderful annual tradition in historic Occoquan!

Youth Scouting Membership Declines

The number of Girl Scouts is on the decline nationally, but that isn’t the case in Prince William County.

The number of Girl Scouts “remained steady” in Prince William, while the numbers of girls joining the ranks of the scouts has declined 6% in the last year, down from 2.9 to 2.8 million Girl Scouts nationwide. Overall, the membership numbers have fallen 27% from its peak of 3.8 million in 2003.

There were 3,192 Girl Scouts in Prince William County last year supported by 1,000 adult volunteers. The 102-year-old organization prides itself on maintaining its core values while educating girls in the changing fields of science, technology, and math, commonly known as STEM.

“We remain committed to our mission: building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. Girls continue to learn new skills and earn badges, participate in the outdoors and provide service to their community,” Girl Scouts spokeswoman Nancy Wood told Potomac Local.

It’s not quite the same story for the Boy Scouts in Prince William. Their membership numbers fell nearly 2% last year, a bit lower number when compared to the 2.5% decline in membership seen in Boy Scout troops across the U.S.

The Boy Scouts have also embraced STEM education as part of their curriculum, but the Boy Scouts also knows activities for participants must also be fun.

“We have been working on a number of projects to bolster the numbers of young men and women in our program,” said Ben Hazekamp, a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America National Capital Region. “We are working on new units at schools that currently do not offer a scouting program, so that we can offer the scouting experience to every youth. We are also working on several strategic partnerships through our Explorer’s program, which offers young men and women the opportunity to explore potential careers from the ages of 14 to 21.”

Another program open to Boy Scouts came about from a partnership with Prince William police, where boys get to explore the field of community policing.

There are 4,774 active youth members in the Boy Scouts organization in Prince William. It’s an average of 2.5 children to every one adult, according to Hazekamp.

The Boys Scouts recently held a fundraiser dinner honoring two women in our community, Ernestine Jenkins and Melissa Robson, awarding them the “Good Scout” award. The dinner served to raise awareness of scouting and also raised $10,000 for the local organization.

Winter Warm-UP Drive Benefits Local Students

Withfall in full swing and early morning temperatures near freezing, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce would like to remind you that there are many children who need our help to stay warm this winter.

Michelle Rao, of Laser Quest Corporation, co-chair of the Chamber’s Education & Innovation Committee, said that while many coat drives are conducted over the holidays, often-times local children lack warm clothing underneath. To meet this need, each year the Committee organizes a Winter Warm-UP online clothing drive. For only $10, donors can purchase a “kit” containing a hat, gloves and fleece, and sweat shirt.

The Committee, with the help of students from Manassas Christian School, then distributes these warm clothing “kits” to Title I schools in Prince William County and the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. The goal is to keep kids focused on learning by meeting one of their most basic needs; the need for warm clothing during cold weather months.

“We believe that strong business and strong community go hand in hand. These children are our future workforce, our future leaders. It is important that we let them know this is a community that values their education and stands ready to help them reach their full potential,” said Debbie Jones, President & CEO of the Prince William Chamber.

Last year, the Chamber raised enough money to purchase 501 kits through the program. This year, with the generous contributions from Lockheed Martin and the Prince William Education Association, the Education & Innovation Committee is hoping to exceed last year’s contributions for Winter Warm Up. All residents, community groups and businesses are invited to participate and help meet the goal and make a difference in the lives of local students.

Both long-time members of the Committee, Denyse Carroll, Prince William County Public Schools and Jamie McNealy, Invent Now, Inc, helped collect donations from attendees at the Chamber’s recent Cuisine de Commerce luncheon. They were pleased to report that in just over an hour, members of the local business community had given enough to purchase 10 kits just by pooling their pocket change.

To donate online, visit and look for the Winter Warm-UP graphic in the homepage slider. Checks can also be mailed to the Chamber Headquarters at 9720 Capital Court, Suite 203, Manassas, VA, 20110, c/o Winter Warm-UP.

For questions about the Winter Warm-UP or other community outreach activities of the Prince William Chamber, visit and click on the tab labeled “The Chamber” or call 703-368-6600.

Rules Changing for Drivers on I-95 HOV Lanes

The rules of the road are changing for those who use HOV lanes on Intestate 95.

When the newly built 95 Express toll lanes open in December, a 29-mile stretch of the road from Route 610 in North Stafford to Edsall Road in Alexnadria, to include a large portion of the existing HOV lanes, will be tolled 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nearly everyone will need an EZ-Pass to use the lanes — even drivers of hybrid cars. Under the old rules, vehicles with three or more occupants, hybrid cars with a clean fuel designation printed on them, and motorcycles could use the lanes at all times. Under the new rules, motorcyclists can ride free but all other vehicles need an EZ Pass or EZ-Pass Flex.

Here’s more from the Virginia Department of Transportation:


  • Carpools need an E-ZPass Flex
  • Carpools with three or more people can travel toll-free on the Express Lanes with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode.   
  • E-ZPass Flex works like a standard E-ZPass but allows carpoolers to switch between HOV and toll-paying modes. The switchable E-ZPass Flex lets the Express Lanes operator know which vehicles are HOV-3+ so that they aren’t charged a toll.  

Drivers of Hybrid Vehicles with Clean Fuel Plates: 


When the 95 Express Lanes open, hybrid vehicles with clean fuel plates issued before July 1, 2006 must pay a toll or have three people in the car to use the Lanes.  The rules affecting hybrids are as follows:

  • Hybrid drivers can ride toll-free on the 95 Express Lanes with three people in the vehicle and an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode; or,
  • They can pay the toll with an E-ZPass if traveling with fewer than three people in the vehicle.
  • The 95 Express Lanes will end just north of Edsall Road. From Edsall Road to Washington, D.C., the HOV lanes will exist with the same rules that are in effect today. Hybrid vehicles with clean fuel plates issued before July 1, 2006 will continue to be allowed to use the HOV lanes without three people in the vehicle on the I-395 HOV lanes. For more information about the transition area just north of Edsall Road on I-395, please visit:

Drivers of Trucks, Commercial/18-Wheel Vehicles:  

  • Vehicles with more than two axles – including 18-wheel trucks – will not be permitted to access the 95 Express Lanes.
  • Small and mid-sized trucks with two axles may use the Express Lanes as toll paying customers or they may travel toll-free if they have an E-ZPass Flexset to HOV mode and three or more people in the vehicle.

Law Enforcement Officials: 

  • Local, state or federal law enforcement officials will not be exempt from toll and HOV requirements on the 95 Express Lanes unless in the direct pursuit of their duties, which does not include commuting to and from the workplace.
  • Law enforcement officials can contact the Express Lanes pre or post travel for trips they believe qualify as exempt.  Please contact for more information.


  • Motorcycles do not need an E-ZPass.

Unlike the existing HOV lanes, the rules of the road for the new 95 Express Lanes will be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including weekends.  Vehicles may not tow trailers on the 95 Express Lanes. HOV-3+ vehicles with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode, motorcycles and transit will have toll-free access to the Express Lanes at all times; drivers with fewer than three occupants can choose to pay a toll with E-ZPass to use the lanes on occasions when they need to get somewhere on time.

Get an E-ZPass:

Drivers can get an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex at more than 75 convenient Northern Virginia retail locations including Wegmans, select Giant Food Stores, or at one of the E-ZPass Customer Service Centers, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles; online or by calling Virginia E-ZPass at (877) 762-7824.  Visit or call the Customer Service Center for more information – (877) 762-7824.

The 95 Express Lanes are being delivered through a public-private partnership between VDOT and Transurban with Fluor-Lane 95, LLC constructing the Express Lanes.  For more information on how I-95 drivers can use the 95 Express Lanes please visit  For up-to-date construction information please visit


Woodbridge Rotary Sells Chips for Charity Tickets

This year’s Chips for Charity fundraiser will take place at the Harbor View Event Center in Woodbridge.

The annual event is scheduled from 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Woodbridge, the Greater Prince William Health Center, and the Prince William F.U.N. Project, the gathering helps to raise funds for several area causes:

Greater Prince William Community Health Center — The Health Center provides access to affordable primary, OB-GYN, dental, and behavioral care for all residents of the Greater Prince William Area, regardless of income or insurance.

Rotary Clubs of Woodbridge Rotary support:

ACTS (Action in Community Through Service)

Good Shepherd Housing

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Project Mend-A-House

Red Cross of the National Capital Region, Prince William Chapter

Salvation Army of Prince William County

The ARC of Greater Prince William

The Chesapeake Bay Conference

The Vocational/College Scholarships Program

Wounded Warriors

The Courage FUN Project Foundation — This foundation provides resources so that children and families in our community who need it the most have opportunities to play organized soccer.

“Chips for Charity” features several table games, prizes, musical entertainment, food and drinks. Tickets to the event are $90 each and include $10,000 in gaming money to be used during the event, two tickets for prize drawings, as well as food, music, and dancing.

Secret Garden Cafe Donating to Charities in Nov.

Starting in November, Occoquan’s Secret Garden Cafe is beginning a donation program where 10% of sales on a particular evening go to a deserving nonprofit organization in the community.  

On Friday, November 7, the Secret Garden Cafe will donate 10% of the evening’s proceeds to Rolling Thunder’s Wounded Warrior Program.  Then, on Friday, January 2 and Friday, February 6, 10% of sales will go to the Occoquan Historical Society.

The Secret Garden Cafe is located at 404 Mill Street in Occoquan and is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

The restaurant’s website posted this to describe their menu:

When asked to describe our menu, after many attempts to describe it, we are left simply saying, “well, its food we like.” From the far east of the globe to the far west, we are not afraid to be adventurous.

Mill Hosting Last Demonstration of the Year

Visit the Occoquan Historical Society‘s Mill House Museum this Sunday, October 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., for the last Milling Demonstration of the year. Children will have the opportunity to use a hand-turned mill to grind wheat into flour and then take home the flour they mill, seeds to plant, and a recipe for “Mill House Millies.”

Visitors on Sunday will also have an opportunity to meet local children’s author, Jamey M. Long, who later in the month will be holding a writing clinic for elementary school children.  Sponsored by the Occoquan Historical Society, the writing clinic will take place on October 25 at the Occoquan Town Hall.  During a 90-minute class, children will develop their own story line and character.  Registration is $25 and class times are at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on the 25th.  All supplies are provided and young authors will leave with a signed copy of Jamey’s book, Johnny Appleseed.

To register for the class in advance, call the Mill House Museum daily at 703-491-7525 between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  The child’s name, age, address, phone number, and an adult contact are required.  You may also email the required information to:  Limited same-day registration is also available.

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