By Charlie Grymes, Active Prince William Board Member
On September 8, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) reversed an 8-0 decision made just a month earlier and reinstated the Route 28 Bypass (Alignment 2B) in a 5-3 vote.
The BOCS voted before listening to any of the citizens who were waiting to address the Board during the scheduled 2:00 pm Public Comment Time, which was delayed for more than three hours, and they declined an opportunity to wait until the next Board meeting before finalizing their decision.
The decision split along partisan lines; all five Democrats switched.
One quote from the discussion is relevant – “we have not made a decision on construction.” A new road up Flat Branch is not yet guaranteed, though it came a lot closer to reality on September 8.
Over 50 homeowners are now at risk of having their homes “taken” for a commuter road. The equity lens associated with this issue bent under pressure and developed a cataract over the last 34 days.
$89 million was previously set aside by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) for construction of Route 28 improvements, but the Board will need to sell $200 million in County bonds to fund Alignment 2B.
The County’s finance staff made clear in early 2019 that selling the $200 million in bonds will require raising local taxes. The issue remains alive…
The Chamber of Commerce is pressuring the Prince William supervisors to overturn their 8-0 vote on August 4 to improve traffic on Route 28. The supervisors unanimously adopted Alternative 4, after rejecting the staff recommendation for the Godwin Drive extension (Alignment 2B).
The developers and business lobbyists are making claims that are not valid, or are incomplete and misleading. Get the rest of the story, below. —————————————————————————————————————————————
Chamber of Commerce claim: If the vote is not reconsidered at the September 8th Meeting, then we are delaying this project by at least another DECADE, impacting over 70+ businesses who will be forced to close down and their employees left unemployed and, it will COST AT LEAST $100 Million MORE to add two less lanes of traffic.
– The claim of “another decade” of delay is bogus. The county has plenty of funding now to continue design of the chosen alternative, and can request re-allocation of Alternative 4 construction funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority after completing a Comprehensive Plan Amendment in 2020 (or possibly without one). A Comprehensive Plan Amendment was also required for Alignment 2B, since it was inconsistent with the existing Comprehensive Plan, and that CPA has yet to be adopted.
– The cost estimate for the choice made by the supervisors, Alternative 4, was overstated in the 2017 Feasibility Study and not refined since because Alternative 4 was largely ignored during the now-abandoned federal Environmental Assessment. The return on investment from Alternative 4, if synchronized with land use planning for Yorkshire to spur economic development, would far surpass the benefits available from the rejected road proposal.
Chamber of Commerce claim: 1) Greatest Benefit/Lowest Cost – The Godwin Drive extension will do the most to relieve congestion and improve travel times for people traveling on Route 28 in the long-term – and at the lowest costs to taxpayers.
– The Godwin Drive extension (Alignment 2B) will make congestion worse, not better, at intersections on Godwin Drive in Manassas and Route 28 in Fairfax County. The route chosen by the supervisors, Alternative 4, would have fewer overloaded intersections in Fairfax County between Compton Road and I-66. .
– Costs for Godwin Drive extension (Alignment 2B) are grossly understated because fixing the dozen or so extra-congested intersections will cost $$ hundreds of millions more.
– Costs for Alternative 4 are inflated by including road widening between Liberia and Blooms Quarry Lane that has already been completed.
· Improves rush hour travel times including a 50% reduction in morning delays.
– Vehicles on Godwin Drive south of Sudley Road/234 Business and north of Compton Road on Route 28 will be stuck in worse traffic than with Alternative 4. Cars may zip fast on just one stretch of new road, but get stuck repeatedly at clogged intersections.
· Reduces traffic in historic downtown Manassas by 7,700 vehicles per day.
-Morning rush hour in downtown Manassas will not be noticeably improved. All intersections will be at the same Level of Service (LOS A) as they are today. Diversion of traffic will not be noticeable by pedestrians or drivers.
· Increases capacity and travel options to meet 2040 travel demands. – Alternative 4 is a better option for increasing capacity and travel options, especially if Well Street Extended corridor is used to facilitate public transportation.
· Improves intersection operation with 67% fewer intersections operating over capacity.
– Lomond Drive would become a congested nightmare. Intersections on Godwin Drive from Sudley Road/234 Business would be worse. Intersections on Route 28 in Fairfax County would be worse. Where it matters, congestion will be even more frustrating. The Route 28 Traffic Technical Report showed that the Bypass would produce the MOST failing intersections, especially along Rte 28 and Godwin Dr.
· Multimodal improvements – Construction of a new bike/pedestrian path along Godwin Drive.
– A bike/pedestrian trail along Flat Branch has already been included within the National Capital Trail network. More trails are possible in a Flat Branch Linear Park. A massive new road in the stream valley would block future bike/pedestrian connections from the Point of Woods area to Splashdown Park, and from Westgate area to Manassas, by creating a walled barrier with a crossing at only Lomond Drive. Without the noisy and polluting Bypass, the Flat Branch stream valley could become an awesome linear park, linking the various communities north of the City of Manassas.
· Fiscally responsible – Leverages $95 million in regional transportation dollars.
– Alternative 4 qualifies even better for regional transportation dollars from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). Alternative 4 with the Well Street Extension also creates potential for economic revitalization of Yorkshire, creating local jobs and increasing commercial tax base. The rejected Godwin Drive extension (Alignment 2B) just moves drive-alone commuters out of the county to jobs in other jurisdictions. Post COVID-19, 2040 traffic demands may be altered substantially by telework, and the need for extra lanes may be reduced. Alternative 4 allows for a Phase 1 focused on widening the Bull Run bridge. That would be fiscally responsible, while planning a Phase 2 for future expansion could ensure the investment will be wise rather than speculative.
· Public support – $200 million road bond overwhelmingly approved by Prince William County voters.
– Voters supported improving Route 28. They did not choose between the Alternative routes, and the bond funds are appropriate to use on the Alternative 4 route chosen by the supervisors.
2.) Smallest Community Impacts – The Godwin Drive extension would produce the smallest total impact to local homes and businesses.
– Displacing over 50 homes and devastating the Flat Branch and Bull Run wetlands is not the “smallest total impact.” Noise pollution for the rest of the neighborhoods could lower property values. The sound walls along the road would create a physical and social barrier, cutting off the neighborhoods on either side of Flat Branch. What the supervisors adopted on August 4, Alternative 4, could be improved even more by designing it to use the Well Street Extended corridor to substantially reduce the impacts on existing Route 28 businesses and to provide dedicated bus/HOV lanes for viable alternatives to drive-alone commuting and a sustainable fix for future traffic congestion..
· The beginning of a robust community conversation – Moving forward with Design on the location empowers Prince William County transportation staff to work with the community over the next two years to come up with the least disruptive design for the Godwin Extension. The end result will likely be fewer properties affected than in the initial Route 28 Feasibility Study.
– Sadly, this approach repeats the “let staff make a decision behind closed doors, then engage the public” mistake. County staff failed to have a robust conversation before selecting their preferred alternative. Fortunately, elected officials chose to listen to public input, discovered the problems with the staff proposal, and then made a decision on August 4 based on community engagement that staff declined to do. Also, since the 2017 Feasibility Study, the footprint for the Bypass has already been greatly reduced to decrease the number of residential displacements; that number is now unlikely to decrease much further as the design is refined.
· Affected properties will negotiate a fair price – Properties that will be affected by the final design of the project – which will not be finalized for more than two years – will first receive a third-party assessment of the value of their property. This is the starting point for negotiations with the County in which both parties try to find agreement. The most common outcome is that both property owners and the County reach an agreement that they are both happy with.
– All property “taken” for Route 28 improvements will be treated through the same process. The key difference between Alternative 4 and the rejected Godwin Drive extension (Alignment 2B) — far fewer residents, especially those in scarce affordable housing, will have to negotiate being displaced.
· Environmental work continues – After designating the locally preferred alignment, Prince William County will continue to move forward with the environmental process to obtain necessary federal, state and local environmental permits and approvals. The robust, two-year community design process will allow the community to help shape the design of the road to further reduce and mitigate environmental impacts.
– There are two stages to the decision process: choose a route, then design the details based on that choice. Public involvement is essential in both stages, not in just a “community design process.” By choosing Alternative 4, the opportunity is now available for public involvement in how to create a linear park with trails in the Flat Branch stream valley as well as along Route 28. Community involvement will be fundamental in the design of the supervisors’ choice, Alternative 4, especially if it examines the use of the Well Street Extended corridor for economic revitalization.
Active Prince William and five other smart growth and environmental groups sent the following joint letter to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on September 4, 2020 in which we outlined our proposal to amend the Prince William County Comprehensive Plan (Comprehensive Plan Amendment or CPA) to pursue Route 28 Corridor ‘Alternative 4’ (widening Centreville Road from Manassas Drive to Compton Road) to explicitly consider our recommendation for a ‘ModifiedAlternative 4‘, which we are calling ‘Well Street Extended‘.
The text of our joint letter follows:
Dear Board of County Supervisors:
We support the Board’s August 4 decision to pursue Alternative 4 for the Route 28 corridor, and recommend the County use a two-phased approach going forward:
Phase One would develop an eight-lane multimodal concept for the northern portion of the corridor (Orchard Bridge Drive to Compton Road, including the Bull Run Crossing), to quickly access the $89 million previously allocated by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA).
Phase Two would thoughtfully pursue the integration of economic development and land use planning opportunities with planning for new multimodal transportation capacity along the southern portion of the corridor between Manassas Drive and Orchard Bridge Drive.
More details are below:
We support your August 4, 2020 decision to adopt Alternative 4 from the Route 28 Corridor Study.
A Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) is now required to revise outdated language, such as that referenced in Table 2 –Thoroughfare Plan Summary in the Transportation Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan (“PW-3 Tri-County Parkway/Route 28 Bypass”).
The benefits of such a considerable investment in transportation infrastructure should not be limited to efforts moving drive-alone commuters faster to jobs outside the County. In the initiation of the CPA to advance Alternative 4, we encourage you to articulate your goals for concurrently planning for economic development, land use, affordable access to jobs and housing, and cleaner, multimodal transportation improvements.
The CPA should:
1) require assessing how investment in Route 28 mobility can be leveraged to spur economic revitalization; and
2) clarify that the “purpose and need” of Route 28 improvements is to increase local multimodal mobility, create a more walkable and transit-oriented corridor, reduce pollution, and facilitate the creation of local jobs and equitable access to them.
To more quickly access some funding previously allocated to the Route 28 corridor project by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) [$89 million, total], we suggest the CPA divide Alternative 4 into two phases:
• Phase One — Focus on widening the Route 28 bridge across Bull Run, adding bike/pedestrian and future transit capacity as part of the widening, and smoothing traffic flow north to Compton Road. That capacity expansion should qualify for use of the NVTA funding allocation.
• Phase Two –- Focus more broadly to include consideration of additional vehicle and bus/HOV lanes on existing Route 28 or the Well Street Extended corridor, to stimulate development of a walkable and transit-oriented corridor in the Yorkshire area and to move more people within and through the corridor.
Phase Two would be the time frame in which to combine detailed, localized land use planning and placemaking for Yorkshire, together with changes in transportation infrastructure. These functions warrant further analysis.
The Route 28 Corridor Study prioritized the analysis of Alignment 2B only. Alternative 4 was not given sufficient focus and detail during the two years after completion of the prior Feasibility Study.
The CPA process should ensure consideration of an approach to “widening” the Route 28 corridor by building new lanes using the Well Street Extended corridor, approximately 400 feet west of existing Route 28, similar to the Mathis Ave alignment in the City of Manassas.
New capacity in the corridor, paired with the STARS Study recommended improvements on the existing four lanes of Route 28, may adequately reduce traffic congestion as well as enhance economic and community development and retention of existing businesses. There are more beneficial ways to upgrade mobility, besides the approach used to widen Route 1 which required extensive business displacements.
“Mobility” means more than “move cars.” The CPA should require evaluating opportunities for enhanced walkability and bus transit to maximize movement while sustainably reducing congestion and travel times.
Though Yorkshire today lacks even OmniRide service, transit on Route 28 is not a new idea.Since 2008, the Comprehensive Plan has proposed building light rail from Manassas to Dulles.
The NVTA TransAction plan, approved in 2017, also includes a Route 28 High Capacity Transit project to “Construct High Capacity Transit along Route 28 corridor and implement service between Dulles Town Center and the City of Manassas. Alternative modes for further study include BRT and LRT.”
Prince William County must continue to plan smarter, to ensure that high-cost transportation upgrades concurrently spur local jobs and create more walkable places with reduced per capita driving.
We appreciate your thoughtfulness in evaluating the wide range of concerns before rejecting Alignment 2B. We look forward to the Flat Branch stream valley now becoming a linear park with trails connecting the adjacent neighborhoods and for Yorkshire planning to demonstrate how transportation improvements can be coordinated with land use, economic development, placemaking, and the creation of affordable housing.
Revitalizing the Yorkshire area will promote social, cultural, and environmental sustainability and neighborhood economic resiliency, while providing new job opportunities, maintaining the sense of community, and offering affordable housing. This is the direction of smart growth planning needed.
Placemaking collectively re-imagines and revitalizes public spaces in a community. Community participation in developing the Yorkshire revitalization plan is imperative in order to capitalize on the community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, thereby resulting in the creation of a quality public space that contributes to equity, health and well-being.
However, their proposed solution is a simplistic, discredited approach — build a new road through our last undeveloped green space, ignore the social, environmental, and sprawl-generating impacts, and hide the traffic analysis that shows worsened congestion at all key intersections if the road is built.
Prince William has built many new roads since 1950. Has that approach solved the problem? It seems delusional to repeat the same action and expect different results.
The op/ed cites “years of public input and countless transportation studies,” but these were all one-sided presentations without a community input process that affected planning. The public meetings held by county transportation staff to date seem more like an attempt to have the appearance of listening, but with the intent of moving ahead with the approach that they had already decided upon.
There is a dramatic difference between a sales job and a conversation. Missing elements of public engagement include:
— Many impacted residents were not effectively notified that the route listed in the Comprehensive Plan had been altered and that over 50 houses would be “taken”
— County staff never proposed the Comprehensive Plan Amendment required to match the Bypass Alignment, allowing for public input
— The alternatives were never actually analyzed with public engagement, because staff were always focused on justifying the Bypass and prematurely stopped working on the federal Environmental Assessment
— Multiple completed Route 28 study reports were hidden from the public for a year or more until just eight days before a critical July 14 BOCS public hearing to approve and advance the Bypass.
When recently elected supervisors visited the area and talked with residents, both they and the community discovered the significance of the Alignment 2B impacts. Surprising this group of affected residents, when viewed through an equity lens, is even more unacceptable.
The op/ed tries to create fear, uncertainty and doubt — but claiming Prince William will “lose” $89 million in funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) is extremely misleading.
Alternative 4 is a better solution, and will justify the funding banked by NVTA to reduce Route 28 congestion. To quickly access the NVTA funding, divide the project into phases, and request funding first to widen the bridge over Bull Run.
The op/ed claims that Alternative 4 is more expensive. However, the Route 28 Feasibility Study over-stated Alternative 4 costs by including the already completed widening of Route 28 in Manassas and Manassas Park and understated Alignment 2B costs, by ignoring flooding issues, the need to also widen Godwin Dr in Manassas, and the risks of the US Army Corps of Engineers rejecting the essential wetlands disturbance permit.
Prince William can get a higher return on investment in high-cost road infrastructure, by leveraging transportation funding to stimulate economic revitalization and create local jobs. Let’s start integrating economic development, land use, and transportation planning, rather than repeat the mistakes of the past.
Albert Einstein is credited as saying “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We need 21st Century land use and transportation planning to solve problems that were created in the 20th Century. Now is the time to be innovative in using smart growth and placemaking approaches to create a more livable community with sustainable transportation options.
VDOT’s Centreville Road (Route 28) STARS (Strategic Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions) Study, championed by Delegate Roem, recently recommended a $38 million package of intersection, raised median, and pedestrian improvements that–in the absence of general roadway widening–1) would significantly reduce intersection delays and expand vehicle capacity and pedestrian access along Route 28 and 2) was ripe to receive VDOT SMART SCALE funding for design and construction in spring 2021.
Unfortunately, proceeding with widening Route 28 itself through Yorkshire could make the sensible and cost-effective STARS Study recommendations infeasible. Therefore, we encourage the BOCS to explore an alternative approach, integrated with a new land-use plan (Small Area Plan) for economic development and revitalization along this corridor. Alternative 4 could be modified to include a new multimodal street just to the west, so highway investment could stimulate transit-oriented, mixed-use redevelopment of the properties between and fronting the existing and future sections of Centreville Road. Integrated planning could foster the creation of a vibrant new livable community with affordable housing at a key gateway to Prince William County.