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Traffic & Transit

Some OmniRide commuter buses will miss these stops Friday afternoon

We’re hearing from OmniRide that the March for Life on Friday will cause some of its buses to miss their stops. 

From the transit agency: 

Some Montclair-Washington and South Route 1 OmniRide trips will detour the afternoon of Friday, January 19, due to street closures for the March for Life.

The MC-101 trip will start at 14th & F at 12:22 p.m., and will miss the first five stops of the route.

MC-101 Missed Stops:

  •        -D & 7th
  •        -7th& Maryland
  •        -7th& Independence
  •        -Pennsylvania & 7th
  •        -11th& E

MC-101 Alternate Stops:

  •        -14th& F
  •        -14th& Pennsylvania
  •        -14th& Independence

MC-101 passengers who are unable to board at an alternate stop are encouraged to board the D-301 Dale City-Navy Yard bus at 7th & Maryland around 12:22 p.m., and transfer at the Pentagon to the MC-101.

Starting with the MC-102 and RS-1, Montclair-Washington and South Route 1 OmniRide buses will start their routes at Pennsylvania & 7th. These routes will resume regular service when the street closures end around 3:30 p.m.

Missed Stops:

  •        -D & 7th
  •        -7th& Maryland
  •        -7th& Independence

Alternate Stops:

  •       -Pennsylvania & 7th
  •        -14th& Independence

At least an inch of snow expected Tuesday. Telework if you can.

Virginia transportation officials are telling commuters to plan to telework if they can ahead of a winter storm that could bring at least an inch of snow to the region, and throw a wrench into tomorrow morning’s commute.

From a press release: 

Virginia Department of Transportation crews have been busy preparing for snow that is forecasted to fall starting later this afternoon into Wednesday morning. VDOT asks drivers to keep monitoring forecasts and to plan ahead for an impacted Wednesday morning commute. See National Weather Service forecastWinter Weather Advisory and Winter Commuting Hazard statements.

Roads were pre-treated Monday and Tuesday with a special focus on critical locations such as bridges, ramps, overpasses, and turn lanes. Trucks will stage along roadways, ready to treat roads whether it be with salt and sand, or plow if needed, once snow begins to fall.

Due to low pavement temperatures, any precipitation will quickly stick to roads.Drivers are asked to adjust trips as needed to avoid driving in icy conditions.

Drivers are asked to:

  • Stay closely tuned to weather forecasts (see National Weather Service)overnight and through the day tomorrow.
  • Consider teleworking or adjusting trips around the forecast. If conditions are icy, delay trips for safety.
  • Assume any “wet” pavement to be icy. Bridges, ramps, overpasses and lower-volume roads may ice first, and even previously treated roads will become slick quickly with the low pavement temperatures.
  • Ensure gas and wiper fluid tanks are full, and have a good emergency kit. Here’s how: www.ready.gov/car.
  • Be aware that low temperatures will mean continued potential for
    refreez and slick road conditions.

 

I-95 E-ZPass Express Lanes to be extended to Fredericksburg

Drivers on Interstate 95 will see the E-ZPass Express Lanes extended from Stafford County into Fredericksburg, across the Rappahannock River. 

The new project announced today includes constructing a new bridge and replacing the existing bridges over the river.

From a press release: 

FREDERICKSBURG – The Commonwealth Transportation Board has awarded a contract worth approximately $101.6 million to Wagman Heavy Civil, Inc., of North Dinwiddie, to build the Interstate 95 southbound Rappahannock River Crossing project in Stafford County, the City of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County.

The project seeks to reduce I-95 congestion in the Fredericksburg area by providing local traffic with additional lanes to travel between Route 17 and Route 3 without merging into the interstate’s general purpose lanes.

The Rappahannock River Crossing will build three new general purpose lanes for I-95 south stretching six miles in the current median of I-95. The new lanes would begin in the vicinity of Truslow Road, just north of Exit 133 at Route 17 in Stafford. The new lanes will end 1.2 miles south of Exit 130 at Route 3 in Fredericksburg, with the project terminus in Spotsylvania.

The three existing I-95 southbound lanes in this area will be converted to local traffic lanes, also known as collector-distributor lanes.

A new bridge will be built over the Rappahannock River parallel to the existing I-95 southbound bridge to carry the new general purpose traffic lanes.

Additionally, the bridges that carry I-95 north and south over Route 17 will be replaced as part of the project. Both bridges are structurally deficient, which does not imply that the bridges are likely to collapse or are unsafe, but that there are elements of the bridges that need to be monitored and/or repaired.

Construction will begin in summer 2018 and will be completed in 2022.

The I-95 southbound Rappahannock River Crossing will be the next project to start construction as part of the Atlantic Gateway suite of projects. Virginia was awarded a $165 million FASTLANE grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) in 2016 for Atlantic Gateway, a $1.4 billion set of highway, transit and rail projects in the I-95 corridor.

The USDOT’s FASTLANE competitive grant program, is part of a $4.6 billion, five-year program created by the FAST Act, which was signed into law in December 2015 and makes large-scale national investments to improve freight and highway mobility across the United States. Every grant under the program will be subject to a 60-day congressional review before final grant awards are announced.

For more information on the I-95 southbound Rappahannock River Crossing, and to see project designs, please visit the project page online at www.VirginiaDOT.org.

Virginia’s governor wants money ‘off the top’ for Metro. But our ‘non-Metro’ jurisdictions like Prince William and Manassas say not so fast.

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It was a choice to pay those high tolls on I-66, says state transportation chief

RICHMOND – A month after the fury over what many drivers considered excessive tolls on Interstate 66, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne defended the tolls, saying they are necessary for increasing the flow of traffic on the highway in Northern Virginia.

The tolls, which vary based on demand and amount of traffic, have reached as high as $44 for a 10-mile drive since they were implemented on Dec. 4.

“I would’ve anticipated that happening a lot lower than the $44, but it did not,” Layne said. “People chose to pay it, but it was a choice. Our other option is we could just limit the road when it reaches a certain level [to] HOV users. The issue with that is that we’re taking away that choice for the people who want to pay it.”

Layne spoke Tuesday to the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability. His report came a month after Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, called the I-66 tolls “exorbitant” and “unacceptable.”

The tolling is in effect weekdays only, during rush hours and in the peak direction, on about 10 miles of I-66, from Route 29 in Rosslyn to Interstate 495.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said the high tolls are a result of a lack of state funding for road projects.

“This is all symptomatic of not having enough money to begin with to build the highways,” Wagner said. “We’re having to do these unique types of programs to build these highways.”

Del.-elect Danica Roem, a Democrat from Manassas, told Layne about constituents hit hard by the tolls. They included a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who must drive by himself as a part of his treatment. The constituent said that avoiding the tolls added 45 minutes to his commute.

Layne insisted that commuters can take alternate routes such as Route 50 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. But another constituent Roem spoke to said he commutes from Manassas Park to Georgetown and cannot take any alternate pathways. The driver stated that he does not know how to budget his money due to the varying tolls.

“That’s the beast of the dynamic tolling process: You don’t know what it’s going to be each day until the time you get there because it’s basically volume control,” Roem said. “He [the constituent from Manassas Park] had a number of concerns with this.”

Layne said the revenue from the tolls goes toward funding other transportation projects.

“They will help pay for the road construction; they will help pay for multi-modal transportation and operation of the road,” Layne said.

After monitoring the corridors surrounding I-66 and alternative routes, Layne said that so far the data indicated no significant change in travel time on those routes.

“We need to continue to monitor this, and it may require that we do adjustments, but as of right now we do not see any significant impact to these parallel corridors,” Layne said.

Last month, Hugo released a statement criticizing Layne and Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the toll rates.

“Governor McAuliffe has gone on TV several times this week saying $40 toll prices are the way ‘it’s supposed to work.’ I could not disagree more,” Hugo said. “The hard-working people of Northern Virginia should not be forced to get a part-time job to be able to afford to drive to their full-time job.”

These are Layne’s final days as the commonwealth’s secretary of transportation. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has appointed former Lynchburg lawmaker Shannon Valentine to the position.

The money Virginia officials stand to lose if changes are made to I-66 tolls

ARLINGTON — A state official warns any changes to toll collection on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway could force changes to the highway improvement project taking place outside the ring road.

As part of the $3.5 billion effort to add E-ZPass toll lanes to I-66 between Gainesville in Prince William County and the Captial Beltway, the consortium building the lanes, I-66 Mobility Partners, gave $579 million in free money to the state to be used for transportation improvements.

The grant and the “outside the Beltway” E-ZPass toll lanes project are all predicated on tolls being collected on I-66 inside the Beltway, Nick Donohue, Virginia deputy transportation secretary told members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission at its Jan. 4 meeting in Arlington.

“So the “outside the Beltway” [public-private partnership] contract includes a provision that will create a compensation event for the I-66 concessionaire [Express Mobility Parnters] where if the tolling hours or the HOV requirements are different than the 2016 compromise with the General Assembly, then they have the right to file the compensation that was likely would have some impact on that $578.9 concession payment that the commonwealth has received. I’m not in the game of speculating what that impact would be…,” said Donohue.

Without the tolls inside the Beltway, users would less likely to pay to use toll lanes on I-66 outside the Beltway because the trip would not be seamless, said Donohue. 

Express Mobility Partners told Potomac Local via email it has no comment on the matter. 

The specter of a “compensation event” is similar to a threat we heard from state officials this time last year when Prince William County Occoquan District Supervisor Ruth Anderson urged the Virginia Department of Transportation to extend a 4th southbound lane on I-95 from Route 123 to Prince William Parkway.

Donohue was appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and will continue to serve under incoming Gov. Ralph Northam. Donohue spent the better part of two hours Thursday taking questions, and in some cases taking fire for the conversion to tolls on I-66 inside the beltway that happened on Dec. 4, 2017. 

Now all drivers who use the portion of the highway between 5:30 a.m. to 9:30, and from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays, must have an E-ZPass, pay a toll to use the lanes, or have two or more people in the car to ride free. In addition to briefing public officials in 2015 on the plan to add tolls the highway,  Donohue said it was the General Assembly in 2015 which made a compromise to change the “HOV” hours on the highway, expanding them and hour and a half in the mornings.

“A compromise was reached with the General Assembly. A compromise means 51 people agree with it, at least, it doesn’t mean 100 people in the House or 40 people in the Senate, but it does mean a majority agree to compromise,” said Donohue.

Commuters and politicians have complained about the expanded tolling hours on the highway by saying drivers now need to leave the house earlier to get to work earlier to avoid paying a toll to use the lanes. Donohue said the conversion was necessary to avoid congestion by those drivers who would jam the highway to beat the clock, to get on the lanes before restrictions took effect. 

“It’s something we thought was necessary to try to ensure the roadway never became severely congested as those of you know in Northern Virginia, when a road becomes that congested recovering is extremely difficult,” said Donohue. 

Donohue also took heat from the recently added Loudoun County representatives on the NVTC, who pressed him on how the HOV rules (two or more ride free) are being enforced. 

“One of the reasons why we were seeing such degradation of the average speed prior is change because there were so many violators on the road and enforcement was very spotty. Anybody who travels the corridor could beat it very easy and a lot of people did. Now I’ve got some colleagues, and hopefully, you won’t go searching in my office and where I work with, who are still traveling 66 for free with the flex transponder. They simply just button, turn it on, it and now they’re traveling at the rate of HOV except they’re not, and they’ve been doing it now for a month. and however long they have got caught…So what’s the answer? Is there some sort of technology that is going to be able to catch people because the heart hasn’t really happened,” said Loudoun County Dulles District Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau.

The state is aware that some people are cheating the system, and it’s something it will continue to look into, replied Donohue. He also noted that prior to the conversion to tolls on I-66 on December 4, 2017, the number of people who were illegally driving in the HOV-2 lane was significantly higher than the number of drivers illegally using the HOV-3 lanes on I-95 prior to its conversion to tolls in 2014.

A total of 17 drivers paid toll rates of $44 for a one-way trip on the lanes, and 29 people chose to pay $40. However, the average toll for the first two weeks of operation was $13.48, about $3 than the $17 cost that was estimated when politicians first learned of the changes in 2015.

Officials said it will take at least six months to accurately gauge traffic patterns and toll trends. NVTC asked Donohue to return in May to brief them again on travel in the corridor.


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There are some changes to OmniRide’s Snow Emergency Plan

From OmniRide: 

PRTC’s new Emergency Service Plan brochure is available on buses and online. Please make sure to familiarize yourself with the plan as we enter the winter weather season.

This year’s changes to the plan include:

  • In the morning, OmniRide routes will only operate between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., with buses departing every 20 minutes.

  • Dale City – Washington/Pentagon/ Rosslyn/ Ballston/ Navy Yard. All AM buses start at the Lindendale Commuter Lot. Bus stops along Minnieville and Caton Hill ARE NOT SERVED. However, if PRTC runs regular service in the AM, and the ESP is implemented for PM service, passengers who need to travel to bus stops on Minnieville and Caton Hill roads should remain on the bus past the Lindendale Commuter Lot.

  • Gainesville – Washington/ Pentagon. All AM buses start at the Limestone Commuter Lot before serving the Cushing Road Commuter Lot. In the AM and PM, buses will follow Linton Hall Metro Direct routing.

  • South Route 1. AM passengers should board a shuttle bus at any PRTC bus stop along Route 1 between Fox Lair and Wayside Drive, and then transfer to a waiting Montclair OmniRide bus at the Route 234 Commuter Lot. In the PM, riders will share a bus with Montclair OmniRide passengers and transfer to a shuttle at the Route 234 Commuter Lot.

State police talk down suicidal man at Fredericksburg rest stop

A portion of Interstate 95 at Fredericksburg was closed briefly Tuesday just before 7 p.m. 

From Virginia State Police: 

As a trooper was conducting a routine Rest Area Safety Check, a vehicle in the parking lot caught his attention. He approached the vehicle to make certain everything was okay when he discovered the male, adult driver threatening suicide with a firearm. Additional state police resources responded to the scene. One of our troopers specially-trained in Crisis Intervention was able to talk the male subject into surrendering his weapon. The incident was safely resolved and the Rest Area cleared.

The highway was reopened to traffic at 7:05 p.m. 

From VDOT: 

All lanes of Interstate 95 southbound have re-opened in the vicinity of the Rappahannock River Bridge. Motorists should expect southbound travel delays as congestion clears the scene. Approximately 7 miles of congestion is reported.

Ferry update expected this week

First on Potomac Local 

An update on the fast ferry service proposed by Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi is expected this week. 

The update is scheduled to be given at Thursday’s meeting of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission Commissioner’s Board meeting at 7 p.m., at the OmniRide headquarters in Woodbridge. 

There was very little advanced information about this ferry briefing including in the standard Board information package distributed prior to the meeting. A handout is expected to be distributed at Thursday’s meeting.

Principi in September held a special meeting to discuss the proposed ferry that could operate between Woodbridge and Washington, D.C.

Some of the challenges facing any future ferry boat service operating on the Potomac River would be debris floating in the water, slower speed limits that govern boat wake, icy conditions during winter, funding the construction of boat slips where passengers could board the boat, as well as be working to convince people to take the ferry instead of driving, slugging, or taking other forms of mass transit.

Principi, who serves as the PRTC Board of Commissioners Chairman in addition to his duties on the Board of Supervisors, has long talked about launching a commuter ferry service from Woodbridge to Washington. Other routes could possibly ferry workers across the Potomac River from Virginia to Maryland. 

Renewed talk of the ferry comes PRTC is in the midst of a rebranding effort to get people to think of the agency of more than a commuter bus company, but as more of a transit leader in the region, such as Washington’s Metro system.

 

Here’s how to use OmniRide to get the region’s airports

We told you this week that tickets for Virginia’s new passenger bus service “The Breeze” between Virginia Tech, Dulles Airport, and other parts of Northern Virginia sold out

One of the commenters asked why OmniRide couldn’t also provide direct service to Dulles Airport. 

So we asked, and spokeswoman Christine Rodrigo responded: 

The Breeze is a great addition to the communities it serves, and PRTC is happy to see that it’s having a positive impact on ridesharing!

While PRTC does not currently offer direct trips to area airports, our Metro Direct routes do provide airport connections.

  • The Prince William Metro Direct route links eastern Prince William County with the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station, where passengers can catch a Metro train to Reagan National Airport.
  • The Manassas Metro Direct and Linton Hall Metro Direct routes link Manassas and Gainesville, respectively, with the Tysons Corner Metro Station. There, passengers can ride a Metro train to the Wiehle-Reston station and then hop on a connecting bus service to Washington Dulles airport.

While we do not currently have plans to add direct trips to the airports, PRTC has begun work on its Transit Development Plan (TDP) which will include a consideration of potential new services. With the Express Lanes being built on I-66 and congestion issues on Route 28, service in those corridors will be an area of focus for the TDP.

OmniRide aims to rebrand, improve image

 

Commuter bus agency to drop PRTC moniker

There’s OmniRide. That’s the commuter bus service that each weekday takes people from Prince William County and Manassas to Arlington and Washington, D.C. and then back again.

Then there’s OmniLink. Those are the local buses that serve stops within Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

OmniMatch is a commuter ride-finding service.

And, it all falls under the umbrella of one of the longest agency names in the region: The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission commonly referred to as PRTC.

Confused?

Prince William County’s transportation agency, PRTC, recognizes it has an identity crisis. And it’s doing something about it.

The agency is undergoing what Executive Director Robert “Bob” Schneider called a “brand renewal strategy.” The commuter bus service plans to ditch “PRTC” and instead be known simply as “OmniRide,” putting it in line with other area transportation agencies with one-name monikers like Fredericksburg’s “Fred,” Alexandria’s “DASH,” and Metro.

“We want to take a look at how to do we make ourselves more approachable and accessible to the community,” said Schneider.

It’s part of an overall effort to make the transit agency more of a commuter bus company, but more of a transit leader for the region, which could pave the way for its involvement in the future of ridesharing, or slugging, and a long-proposed Potomac River commuter ferry in Woodbridge.

The overall image of OmniRide would, hopefully, be one where the public no longer sees the agency as a drain on public resources but a partner in economic growth for the region.

Long known for its teal buses, new OmniRide buses could become a shade of green and blue. Its logo is expected to be modified, and it’s website updated.

As part of the rebranding, OmniRide wants to be known for:

  • Taking cars off Interstates 95 and 66
  • Being problem solvers
  • The people who get people to work and home faster
  • Providers of high-quality customer service

And since most products and services must have a tagline, OmniRide’s is “Get There Smarter.” That’s a change from the current slogan “The Ride That’s Right For You.” 

Schneider, who is relatively new to the transit agency, say’s he’d like to turn his 45-foot long commuter buses into billboards using a new color scheme to promote his agencies services.

The grey bus stop signs the dot roads in the county would also be updated. 

“Go and look at any of our bus stop signs and what do they say? ‘Bus stop.’ That’s it. There’s an opportunity to use those signs to brand us better,” said Schneider. 

Not everyone on the PRTC Board of Commissioners is excited.

“Do you think we should serve chocolate chip cookies, too?” quipped Jeanine Lawson, who sits on the Commission and also serves as the Prince William County Brenstville District Supervisor.

As OmniRide looks to transform its image, it also looks to consolidate its dispatch operations, and fix what it calls inefficiencies and redundancies by eliminating 12 jobs from the PRTC payroll and instead contract those positions to the company already contracted to drive OmniRide buses, First Transit, Inc.

In the midst of all of this, however, a letter obtained by the PRTC Board of Commissioners but not released claiming workplace discrimination has slowed the transformation process. This month, Commissioners said it could be February before an investigation into those claims is complete.

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

 

Virginia Railway Express schedule changes for 2017 holiday season

From an email: 

As a reminder to our riders, below is the list of exceptions to our normal schedule over the month:

  • December 25, 2017 – No VRE service in observance of Christmas
  • December 26 – 29, 2017 – “S” Schedule
  • January 1, 2017 – No VRE service in observance of New Year’s Day
  • January 15, 2017 – No VRE service in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

The only trains that will operate on “S” Schedule days are those marked with an “S” next to its train number on the schedule.

Click here to view our train schedule.

Also, see Potomac Local’s photo gallery of this year’s Santa Trains.

New ‘Breeze’ bus sells out in time for holiday travel to Dulles

We first told you about the new Virginia Breeze bus earlier this month. A first of its kind, the Breeze offers passenger bus service between Virginia Tech and Northern Virginia, to include Dulles Airport.

State officials today report tickets for the bus sold out.

From a press release: 

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is pleased to announce the December 21, 2017 Virginia Breeze intercity bus has SOLD OUT between Harrisonburg and Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD). DRPT will add an extra bus into service to meet high demand for holiday ground to air travel between Shenandoah Valley customers and IAD.

“The Virginia Breeze improves mobility choices for under-served communities by offering an alternative to driving along the congested Interstate 81 and 66 corridors, which need travel options,” said DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell. “Our first full bus for the two-week old service is testament to Virginians’ hunger for new travel options.”

The program is fully funded in part through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) 5311 Intercity Bus Program as well as ticket revenues. The Virginia Breeze provides a critical transportation connection between rural Virginia communities and the national bus network. Performance of this pilot route may also lead to expanded services along this route, as well as the addition of other travel corridors in the Commonwealth.

The Virginia Breeze makes daily morning departures from the Virginia Tech Squires Student Center, located at 290 College Avenue in Blacksburg, at 8:00 a.m., and arrives at the Union Station – Washington, D.C. bus deck at 2:30 p.m. A second, southbound bus will depart Union Station at 9:20 a.m. daily, making the reverse trip arriving at the Squires Student Center by 3:40 p.m.

Additional stops along the Virginia Breeze route include:

• Christiansburg (Falling Branch Park & Ride)
• Lexington (Food Lion in Stonewall Square)
• Staunton (Martin’s on Richmond Avenue)
• Harrisonburg (Godwin Transit Center at JMU)
• Front Royal (Crooked Run VDOT Park & Ride)
• Dulles Airport (Curb 2E)
• Arlington (Kiss & Ride lot at the West Falls Church-VT/UVA Metrorail Station)

Featuring a modern 56-passenger coach with free Wi-Fi, in-seat power outlets, and other amenities, the Virginia Breeze will be operated in partnership with Dillon’s, a Coach USA company. Coach USA also owns Megabus. Virginia Breeze customers can purchase an interline ticket for Megabus destinations beyond Union Station, such as Philadelphia or New York.

The Virginia Breeze marks the first time a state has partnered with Megabus to provide interline ticketing options in the US. Ticket prices will vary based on the selected trip. Scheduling, route, and ticket information is online at www.catchthevabreeze.com. Tickets must be purchased online.

 

Manassas leaders approve plan to add longer third traffic lane

Would a third lane move more traffic on Sudley Road in front of Novant Prince William Hospital?

Manassas City officials think so, as the plan to build a new third lane in this area has been on the books since 2000. Now, city planners will go back to the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Richmond to review some proposed changes for the $7.4 million project.

While the project was approved in 2015 and funded with state money, the Manassas City Council voted 5-1 on December 11 change the scope of the project. Planners first envisioned constructing a third lane on the northbound side of Sudley Road, from Impala Drive to just past Godwin Drive, across the city line into Prince William County.

The new lane would mirror a third lane that already exists on the southbound side of  Sudley Road in front of the hospital. The plan would have also called for the burial of power lines along the street.

But the effort to bury the lines is more expensive than extending the lane.

So, the City Council approved a new plan that would scrap the plans to bury power lines and instead construction a much longer third lane from Godwin Drive to Grant Avenue. The project would also bring a newly reconstructed sidewalk, new streetlights, a new fire hydrant, and relocated utility poles, and extended turn lanes at Sudley Road and Godwin Drive.

“This project won SmartScale funding from the state and, typically, these projects have to go back to the Commonwealth Transportation Board to be reviewed if we learn the project is going to cost more,” Michelle Brickner, a city engineer, told the Council. But this is more of an anomaly because it will cost less.”

Sending the item back to The Commonwealth Transportation Board to review at its January meeting is a courtesy. Any saved money will be returned to the state, not the city, and we’ll know just how much will be saved when the project designs are finished in 2018.

The project is still in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin in 2019 and take two years.

The City Council approved the changes, it was the first time officials had learned about changes to the project. That sparked ire from elected leaders who asked why not only the measure was placed on the consent agenda for rapid approval, or the scope changes weren’t introduced at a previous meeting of the city’s land use committee, but why a public hearing on the changes had not been held.

Councilman Ken Elston voted for the scope changes, but said the undergrounding of power lines is important to economic development in the city and is part of the city’s overall “branding.”

“I am certainly in favor of additional capacity in transportation, there’s no question about that, but I am not in favor of what I think are large changes being ducked under the radar here, and not taking large, aesthetic changes seriously when it comes to branding our city,” said Elston.

Pamela Sebesky was the only dissenting vote and was assured by Brickner and City Manager Patrick Pate that the public would have the chance to comment on the matter after designs for the project are completed next year before work begins.

“The can come in and see, and they won’t have any assumptions. They can see how the designs will actually look,” said Pate.

Pate apologized for placing the matter on the consent agenda for the December 11 meeting. He told the Council he felt confident they would approve the measure given that the new third lane would connect with an existing lane on Sudley Road north of Godwin Drive that carries commuters to Interstate 66.

“If I just look at whether I spend the same amount of money, or slightly less, to get less congestion in the city and elongate three lanes which reduce that congestion in the city, and doesn’t spend money to underground lines in Prince William County… that seems to me to be a no-brainer,” said Mayor Hal Parrish II.

OmniRide buses could be crowded on Friday

From an email: 

In observance of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, PRTC’s services will operate according to the schedule listed below.

MONDAY, DEC. 25
NO SERVICE. Happy holidays!

TUESDAY, DEC. 26
Regular service for all PRTC buses.

MONDAY, JAN. 1
NO SERVICE. Happy holidays!

In preparation for the holiday weekend, PRTC will have a few extra PM OmniRide buses available for potential overflow on Friday, December 22. Because PRTC experiences a significant increase in mid-day and early afternoon OmniRide passengers the day before a holiday weekend, to avoid overcrowding you may want to consider taking Metrorail or other regional bus services and transferring to a Metro Direct bus to complete your commute.

The PRTC Transit Center lobby will be closed but Customer Service will be available by phone and email on Tuesday, December 26.

For more information, contact our Customer Service office at 703-730-6664 or email Omni@OmniRide.com.

Metro staying open later on New Year’s Eve

From a press release: 

Metro today announced special late-night rail service until 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, three hours later than normal Sunday closing hours, to provide customers a safe transportation alternative.

In addition, there will be no scheduled maintenance on New Year’s Eve after 6 p.m. or on New Year’s Day.

“We are pleased to offer extended hours on Metrorail during New Year’s Eve as a service to our customers who will be ringing in the New Year,” said Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld. “I also want to thank our employees who will be working to provide the public with a safe and responsible option to get around.”

Last train departure times vary by station. Customers can check last train times on New Year’s Eve by visiting a station’s webpage (wmata.com/stations) and adding three hours to the regular last train time.

On New Year’s Day the Metrorail system will open at 8 a.m. and close at 11 p.m. Off-peak fares will be in effect all day, and parking will be free at all Metro-operated facilities.

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