Advancing active mobility in greater Prince William, Virginia

Category: Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (Page 1 of 2)

Our Comments on NVTA’s Draft Transportation Plan

On September 8, 2022, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority held a public hearing on its draft five-year update to TransAction, the regional authority’s long-range transportation plan for Northern Virginia.   Active Prince William’s co-chairs, Mark Scheufler and Allen Muchnick, delivered separate oral statements at this hearing, and both statements are posted below.  

A recording of the public hearing, which featured 21 citizen comments, is here.  Mark’s statement begins at 1:10:50 in this recording, while Allen’s statement follows immediately at 1:13:40 .

Additional written statements submitted on September 18, 2022:


Good Evening.  Mark Scheufler, Prince William County.  Thank you for the opportunity to address you tonight.

I am a member of Active Prince William, which is a volunteer group of concerned citizens who advocate for better opportunities, support, and infrastructure for active transportation and healthy lifestyles within Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

I have reviewed the list of projects and associated documentation in the TransAction package and continue to be disappointed in the goals and outcomes of this process.

I do not believe a directionless, hodgepodge, all-the-above-list-of-projects approach of expanding capacity to reduce roadway congestion is the best path for the region.  Reform to the NVTA statute is needed.

I compare the Northern Virginia transportation situation as it relates to congestion to be comparable to obesity.  The solution for obesity should not be to loosen the belt for extra capacity which is similar to the 20th century concept that unmanaged road widening is a solution to congestion in urban areas such as Northern Virginia.

Unfortunately the Transaction list includes 117 projects with the word “Widen” in it.

This update to the TransAction along with the NVTA statute will continue to point outer jurisdictions of Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun to submit car-first projects that serve to increase car dependency to future six-year funding programs.

In addition, while excellent projects, the fact that the 24th, 25th and 26th ranked projects (out of 26) in the last six year plan were funded, diminishes the value and purpose of the NVTA and questions whether funding should just go directly to the jurisdictions based on the funding contributed by each jurisdiction.

For Prince William County, with all the traffic information available, the best fully funded project in the last six year plan was a roadway extension through a data center development.  Prince William County probably could have developed better outcomes outside of the NVTA process and restrictions.

In closing, I will submit this testimony via email and provide a list of project additions, subtractions and modifications for consideration as many of my concerns discussed here will not be addressed in this TransAction process.  But I hope NVTA reform can be addressed by the state legislature to create better land use and transportation outcomes for all Northern Virginia residents.  Thank you.


Good Evening.  I’m Allen Muchnick.  I live in the City of Manassas, and I also serve on the board of Active Prince William, an active mobility advocacy group.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s transportation planning and programming processes are fundamentally flawed, starting with its statutory mandate to focus on traffic congestion, while ignoring the critical roles of land use and induced demand as well as the environmental, equity, and traffic-safety problems caused by our region’s over-dependence on auto travel.

Northern Virginia’s roadways have been expanded for the past seventy years, yet we still face perpetual traffic congestion, and most NoVA residents will continue to lack viable alternatives to driving alone for most local trips.  Repeating the same activity over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

Developing an independent Northern Virginia transportation plan that does not reinforce and advance the goals, objectives, and strategies of Visualize 2045–the federally mandated long-range transportation plan for the entire Washington region–is counterproductive and foolish.  An unconstrained and un-prioritized transportation project wish list, whose price tag far exceeds the funding that is expected to become available before 2045, is largely a wasteful exercise.

In June 2022, the TPB committed to a strategy of completing all planned segments of its National Capital Trail Network (NCTN) by 2030.  Yet, no planned National Capital Trail Network segments are identified in the TransAction project list, and it’s likely that many are not even included.

In the TransAction project list, many of the road-widening and interchange proposals do not mention the inclusion of associated pedestrian and bicycling elements, which might be new, upgrades, exact replacements, or preserved preexisting facilities.  For over 18 years, VDOT has operated under a Complete Streets policy adopted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.  The NVTA also needs to adopt a Complete Streets policy that requires all NVTA-funded projects to incorporate all related pedestrian and bicycling accommodations as safe, direct, and efficient facilities, unless one or more specified exemptions exist.

Another much-needed, yet simple, NVTA reform would require advertised public hearings before the relevant governing body endorses any project for NVTA-related funding, including federal RSTP and CMAQ allocations endorsed by the NVTA.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment orally.  I plan to submit more detailed written comments via email by the September 18 deadline.

Our Final Comments on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s Six-Year Program Update

On July 11, 2022, Active Prince William joined 10 other advocacy organizations around Northern Virginia to send the following joint letter to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, three days before the Authority’s scheduled adoption of a two-year update to its Six-Year Program.


Coalition for Smarter Growth | Audubon Naturalist Society | Virginia Sierra Club |
Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions | Active Prince William | Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County |
Chesapeake Climate Action Network | Prince William Conservation Alliance |
Southern Environmental Law Center | YIMBYs of Northern Virginia |
Lewinsville Faith in Action

July 11, 2022

Honorable Phyllis Randall, Chair
Northern Virginia Transportation Authority
3040 Williams Drive, Suite 200
Fairfax, VA 22031

Re: Recommendations to further improve the proposed FY 22-27 Six-Year Program and process going forward

Chair Randall and NVTA board members:

The undersigned 11 organizations offer the following comments and recommendations that we urge you to adopt for the proposed FY 22-27 Six-Year Program coming before your vote this week.  In summary:

  1. We support the overall direction taken by the staff and committees in their selections from the candidate project list to fund all transit and most station access and local complete street projects;
  2. However, we remain concerned that the slate of projects recommended for funding – and the original candidate list – show a program still too focused on road expansion;
  3. We ask for important changes to the proposed FY 22-27 funding allocations in Prince William County: fund the Old Centreville Rd Widening project (PWC-035) as an alternative to the proposed destructive Rt 28 bypass (Alt. 2B) along Flat Branch;
  4. For the next 6-year program cycle, NVTA needs to ensure that local jurisdiction project submissions better reflect adopted regional policies for climate change and equity; and
  5. NVTA’s process for the Six-Year Program should facilitate meaningful public involvement from the start, including requiring public hearings prior to local government candidate project submissions.

These points are elaborated on the following pages.

 

1. We support the overall direction taken by the staff and committees in their selections from the candidate project list.

 We applaud the selection and funding of all of the transit projects and most of the station access, local street grid and complete streets projects.

 We appreciate that many of these changes reflect attention to public feedback you received and the importance of these projects for a more sustainable and equitable future.


2. However, we remain concerned that the slate of projects recommended for funding – and the original candidate list – show a program still too focused on road expansion.

65% of the candidate project funding requested was for highway and roadway capacity expansion.

55% of the staff recommended project funding is for highway and roadway capacity expansion.

These amounts are far too much given the other regional needs for safer streets, transit access, electrification, and climate resilience as well as improving our
transit, pedestrian and bicycle networks.

 This emphasis on road expansion also ignores the reality of induced demand, that widening roads is not a medium- or long-term solution for vehicle congestion, as shown in the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s On the Wrong Road in Northern Virginia report using the RMI Shift Calculator.

 

3. We ask for these important changes to the proposed FY 22-27 funding allocations in Prince William County:

Support a better, less destructive Route 28 project in Prince William County by funding the Old Centreville Road Widening project (PWC-035) as an alternative to the Route 28 bypass (Alternative 2B) along Flat Branch. The four-laning of Old Centreville Road combined with VDOT’s recommended Centreville Road/Route 28 STARS improvement package could effectively serve as a “Modified Alternative 4” for Route 28.

   This alternative project would avoid the adverse impacts to affordable homes in a low-income minority and immigrant community from the 28 Bypass project and would be compatible with walkable, transit-accessible economic development and neighborhood livability efforts in the existing Route 28 corridor.

To accommodate this project, shift funding from other NVTA recommended Prince William projects.


4. For the next Six-Year Program cycle, NVTA needs to ensure that local jurisdiction project submissions better reflect adopted regional policies

NVTA needs to require that local jurisdiction project submissions better reflect adopted regional policies to provide alternatives to driving and reduce car dependence, support transit-oriented land use, and achieve our equity and climate goals.

Equity in transportation, a core value of NVTA, must address the disproportionate impact of unsafe streets, proximity to traffic and pollution, and high personal transportation costs that auto-dependence causes for low- and moderate-income residents and workers. The Region Forward vision plan recognizes this in its goal to lower combined transportation and housing costs and to also improve access to travel options and allow more residents to live in walkable regional activity centers with good transit. These measures also reduce travel demand on roads and highways helping those who must commute or access important services by car. NVTA needs to ensure that its member jurisdictions consider who benefits and who is harmed by transportation projects.

The region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), just adopted a greenhouse gas reduction target of 50% for the on-road transportation sector. NVTA’s project selections should be tied to achieving those reductions. TPB’s climate change study showed that the region will need to reduce vehicle miles traveled of passenger vehicles by 15 to 20% below 2030 baseline forecasts, as well as rapidly adopt electric vehicles.

Tackling climate change in transportation also provides more travel options, greater proximity to jobs and services, lasting congestion management, and addresses inequities for households and workers regarding street safety, air quality, walkable amenities, personal transportation costs, housing options, and access to transit and job locations. With new car payments now over $700 per month and gas at $5 per gallon, the need in Northern Virginia for more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly, mixed-use and compact communities with affordable housing is greater than ever.

Reducing per capita VMT – the need to drive for daily needs – by expanding transportation options, transit-oriented land use, and transportation demand management is also essential to meeting NVTA’s goal of reducing congestion.

 

5. NVTA’s process for the Six-Year Program should facilitate meaningful public involvement from the start, including local government candidate project submissions.

Since project priorities are advanced early on by local governments, NVTA must ensure that there are accessible public engagement opportunities early on.

NVTA should require that localities hold an advertised public hearing for NVTA project funding requests before the local governing body adopts its resolution of support for the application and before the projects are submitted to NVTA for funding consideration.

   Currently some jurisdictions generate staff reports and the elected body approves the project submissions as a consent agenda item with no public hearing.
   Public comments on proposed NVTA project submissions would be more  meaningful and help inform the local government before each set of projects is submitted to the NVTA for the Six-Year Program update.

In addition, NVTA coordinates the submissions for federal CMAQ and RSTP funds and for state SmartScale by Northern Virginia localities and should require similar transparency and public involvement before local governing bodies endorse those submissions.

Thank you for listening to stakeholders as you have carried out this process.

Sincerely,

Stewart Schwartz
Executive Director
Coalition for Smarter Growth
[email protected]

Renee Grebe
Northern Virginia Conservation Advocate
Audubon Naturalist Society
[email protected]

Douglas Stewart
Transportation Co-Chair
Virginia Sierra Club
[email protected]

Andrea McGimsey
Executive Director
Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions
[email protected]

Mark Scheufler & Allen Muchnick
Co-Chairs
Active Prince William
[email protected]

Chris Slatt
President
Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County
[email protected]

Zander Pellegrino
Northern Virginia Grassroots Organizer
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
[email protected]

Kim Hosen
Executive Director
Prince William Conservation Alliance
[email protected]

Morgan Butler
Senior Attorney
Southern Environmental Law Center
[email protected]

Luca Gattoni-Celli
Founder
YIMBYs of Northern Virginia
[email protected]

Jack Calhoun and John Clewett
Co-Chairs
Lewinsville Faith in Action
[email protected]

While Better, the Revised Design of the Route 234-Brentsville Road Interchange in Still Badly Flawed

Prince William County DOT’s currently proposed circuitous trail routing through the Interchange, assuming that a direct trail bridge connecting the existing Route 294 and Route 234 Trails is included in this project

Our proposed trail connections through the planned interchange to reach Route 234 Business (red line) and the future trail along the Route 234 Bypass (blue line).  A trail (red line) running along the north side of Route 234 would pass underneath both new roadway overpasses. The three light blue circles show where box culverts could allow the trail to be routed beneath highway ramps.  The areas shown in yellow are existing roadways that are planned to be removed.  This design eliminates all at-grade trail-roadway crossings, except to reach Route 234 Business.  However, by building a shared-use path along the west side of Route 234 Business (connecting to Godwin Dr), trail users would be required to cross only 5-lanes of stopped traffic at just the western leg of the signalized intersection of Bradley Cemetery Way and Route 234 Business, not 12-lanes of stopped traffic plus one lane of free-flowing right-turning traffic at two separate legs of that intersection.

This post follows up on the comments we previously submitted in response to the December 8, 2021 Design Public Hearing for Prince William County DOT’s Route 234-Brentsville Road Interchange Project.

On March 18, 2022, the County released this followup video presentation on the proposed project design.   County DOT staff are willing to at least partly addresses three concerns with the proposed trail connections that were raised at the Design Public Hearing:

1) In response to public comments from Active Prince William and others, the County is now studying the cost feasibility of a new, dedicated trail bridge over Rte 234, just east of the interchange, to directly connect the existing trails along Route 234 and Route 294.   If this trail bridge can be added without the project exceeding it’s $55 million budget, it will be included in this project.   Otherwise, it probably won’t.

2) In response to safety concerns raised by many about the four proposed closely spaced at-grade trail crossings of free-flowing highway ramps near Route 294 and Bradley Cemetery Way in the northeast corner of this project, those hazardous at-grade trail crossings may not be built, at least if the added trail bridge discussed above is actually built.    However, this change would produce a long, circuitous trail route between the western legs (Route 234 Bypass and Route 234 Business) and eastern legs (the existing trails along Routes 234 and 294) of this interchange (shown in the top image above).

3) In response to objections that the design completely omits the long-planned trail along the Route 234 Bypass that should join the existing trails along Route 234 and Route 294,  the design team has identified a future location for this trail along the northwestern edge of the interchange (see the blue line in the second image above).

However, all trail connections to and from Route 234 Business and the long-planned future trail along the Route 234 Bypass (aka Route 234 North) would still require a two-stage at-grade crossing of 12 signalized traffic lanes plus one free-flowing right-turn lane at the rebuilt intersection of Bradley Cemetery Way and Rte 234 Business plus a second at-grade trail crossing of a free-flowing highway ramp at the south side of the interchange (at the on-ramp from Brentsville Road) .  Those remaining design flaws would still create considerable delays and hazards for trail users.

Under Prince William DOT’s revised design for this interchange, this slow and hazardous crossing of 13 traffic lanes at two legs of the signalized intersection of Bradley Cemetery Way and Route 234 Business would remain.  All trail access and egress from either Route 234 Business or the future trail along the Route 234 Bypass would need to use this routing to join either of the existing trails along Route 234 and Route 294 or Brentsville Road.

As a followup proposal, we suggest routing the long-planned trail along the Route 234 Bypass along the north side of Route 234 (per the second image from the top), connecting that trail to both the existing Route 294 Trail to the east and to a new shared-use path along the west side of Route 234 Business (where the existing pavement, depicted in yellow, is planned for removal).   This trail (depicted with a red line in that image) would pass underneath both new roadway overpasses being built to carry Brentsville Road and Route 294 over Route 234 and could also pass underneath three single-lane interchange ramps inside box culverts (see the light blue circles).

Under our proposal, the long-planned trail along the Route 234 Bypass would run along the north side of Route 234 and pass under both planned roadway bridges.

 

Three short box culverts could be used to route our proposed trail along the north side of the Route 234 Bypass beneath three one-lane interchange ramps.  Only one such box culvert would be needed for the connection to Route 234 Business.

Our proposed design eliminates all at-grade trail-roadway crossings, except to reach Route 234 Business.  However, by building a shared-use path along the west side of Route 234 Business (connecting to Godwin Dr), where only a sidewalk is currently planned, trail users would be required to cross only 5-lanes of stopped traffic at just the western leg of the signalized intersection of Bradley Cemetery Way and Route 234 Business, not 12-lanes of stopped traffic plus one lane of free-flowing right-turning traffic at two separate legs of that intersection.

Our proposal could also lower the cost of this project by eliminating the need to include a 14-foot wide shared-use path on the proposed Brentsville Road bridge.

Active Prince William believes that first-class, safe and direct trail connections for all five legs of this interchange can and should be provided within this project’s existing budget of $55 million.

Active Prince William Advocates Reforms at NoVA Transportation Meeting

Active Prince William Co-Chairs Allen Muchnick and Mark Scheufler submitted the following statements for the Annual Joint Northern Virginia Transportation Public Meeting that was held on December 15, 2021.


Northern Virginia needs a transportation system that moves people and goods effectively, safely, equitably, and sustainably.  Sadly, our region’s pursuit of wider and faster roads over the past 70-plus years has failed to achieve those objectives. 

It’s long past time to stop expanding regional roadways for toll-free travel in single-occupant vehicles and instead focus new homes, jobs, and transportation investments in regional activity centers served by high-capacity public transportation and expeditiously retrofit existing arterial roads for safe and efficient travel by walking, bicycling, and bus transit. 

Robust and strategic Vision Zero programs are needed at the statewide, regional, and local levels, and the region should prioritize completion of the National Capital Trail Network.

We appreciate this annual joint transportation meeting and public comment opportunity for Northern Virginia.  However, the conspicuous absence of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (or TPB) from this annual meeting should be promptly fixed, with or without state legislation.

With the TPB excluded, the public, elected officials, CTB members, and agency staff are not fully and fairly apprised of the TPB’s critical role as the federally designated metropolitan planning organization for the National Capital Region, which includes Planning District 8, and they are not kept aware of the TPB’s many policies (e.g., the TPB Vision, Regional Transportation Priorities Plan, Visualize 2045 Aspirational Initiatives, Equity Emphasis Areas, strategies to achieve regional goals for greenhouse gas reduction and for locating the bulk of new housing in regional activity centers served by high-capacity public transportation), priorities, objectives, studies, planning activities, and transportation project and system evaluation processes.

In addition, the TPB does allocate funds for several transportation programs, including the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside, the FTA’s Enhanced Mobility Program (Section 5310), the TPB’s Transportation Land-Use Connection (TLC) technical assistance planning grants, the TPB’s new Transit within Reach technical assistance program, the TPB’s new Regional Roadway Safety Program, the Commuter Connections’ suite of transportation demand management programs, the Street Smart Safety Campaign, the TPB’s Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP), etc.

Transparent and impactful public involvement throughout the development of transportation projects is vital for creating better transportation projects.

The CTB and NVTA should require all localities or agencies to hold advertised public hearings on their proposed submissions for funding transportation projects with SMART SCALE, NVTA, CMAQ, RSTP, Revenue Sharing Program, Transportation Alternatives, HSIP, and other non-local funds before the project funding requests are formally submitted by staff and endorsed by the local governing body.  Only if such advertised public hearings are held in advance by agency staff or a local advisory body should the governing body itself be relieved of holding a [second] public hearing and simply endorse the project funding submission(s) as a consent agenda item prior to any public comment opportunity.

The CTB and NVTA should also require localities to hold advertised public hearings that generally comply with VDOT public involvement guidelines before a locally administered transportation project is either advanced beyond a feasibility study or approved for construction.  While VDOT has excellent public participation and environmental review procedures for its own projects. Virginia’s public involvement and environmental review requirements for locally administered projects are far less stringent. Locality transportation staff have long exploited lax VDOT oversight of locally administered projects to minimize input on the scope and design of transportation projects by the public and even elected officials.

Prince William County’s rigged and prematurely aborted feasibility and environmental assessment studies for its proposed Route 28 Bypass along the Flat Branch floodplain are prime examples of a corrupted public process.  The City of Manassas has also repeatedly evaded meaningful public scrutiny of its Sudley Road Third Lane Project along Route 234 Business.


Thank you for the opportunity to address you tonight.   To meet the regional, state, and federal greenhouse gas emission objectives and goals, a structural change in the transportation planning and investment needs to occur.

In addition to improved vehicle emission standards and investing in electric vehicles and infrastructure, vehicle miles traveled or VMT for Single Occupancy Vehicles as a whole needs to decrease even as the Northern Virginia population grows.

At a basic level, this means that we need to stop expanding unmanaged roadway lane miles.  This means Northern Virginia’s section of the Visualize 2045 constrained long-range plan needs to be radically changed. Any government funding for highway expansion is one less dollar going to meeting these urgent climate goals in the transportation sector.

A large number of major roadway projects in Northern Virginia are going to be completed in the next few years that will dramatically increase the VMT in the region.  We need to change the paradigm that Congestion is reduced–not by adding roadway supply to the system–but by reduced Single-Occupant-Vehicle travel demand.  This will require reducing car dependency by developing near high-capacity transit, repurposing roadway space for transit and non-motorized users, and reforming parking requirements and level of service standards, especially in outer jurisdictions.

Route 1 in Fairfax County is an example of a project that we cannot afford to replicate. Instead of repurposing the existing roadway corridor with dedicated bus lanes, we are investing over $1 billion to keep or expand to six lanes of high-speed traffic plus added dedicated bus Lanes to create an unsafe environment for all users in the corridor that will take additional 10 years to complete.

But, most importantly, the public needs to be educated on why these structural changes in transportation planning and investment need to be implemented. We need to move away from “investments in ‘multimodal’ transportation solutions” to “investments in everything but projects that induce SOV travel demand”. We need to start tonight…time is running out.  Thank you for considering this input.

###

Our Final Comments on the Proposed Route 234-Brentsville Road Interchange Design

PWC’s Proposed Route 234-Brentsville Road Interchange (a grade-separated interchange with continuous green-T intersections).  To see the details, view the design display boards from the December 8 public hearing.

March 18, 2022 Update:  The County has posted this followup video presentation on the proposed project design, and a virtual followup public meeting is scheduled for March 22 at 6 pm.

Several of our concerns with this project are currently being addressed (although the trail bridge over Rte 234 just east of the interchange is merely being “studied” at present).

However, all trail connections to and from Rte 234 Business and the long-planned future trail along Route 234 North would still require a two-step at-grade crossing of 12 signalized traffic lanes at the rebuilt intersection of Bradley Cemetery Way and Rte 234 Business, and two of the original six at-grade trail crossings of free-flowing highway ramps would remain.  Those remaining design flaws would still create considerable delays and hazards for trail users.


Active Prince William submitted the following public comments to the Prince William County Department of Transportation in response to its December 8, 2021 Design Public Hearing on its proposed Interchange at Route 234 and Brentsville Road.  The public comment period closed on December 18, 2021.


The advertised design of the above-referenced project does not safely and effectively accommodate people bicycling, walking, or using other active transportation modes through the project area.  The design of the advertised non-motorized connections should be revised substantially to provide reasonable access and safety for people who are not traveling inside motor vehicles.

1) The Proposed Design Includes Too Many Dangerous At-Grade Trail Crossings of Free-Flowing, High-Speed Highway Ramps

This interchange is the connection point for Prince William County’s two major east-west cross-county shared-use paths; namely, the asphalt sidepaths along Route 294 (Prince William Parkway) and Route 234 South (Dumfries Road).  While the proposed design does include a circuitous shared-use path, meandering through the center of the interchange, that links both major paths, this advertised path connection would require people walking or bicycling to cross five separate at-grade crossings of high-speed highway ramps without any protection from traffic signals.  This tortuous path connection is not merely long, indirect, slow, and tedious; it is extremely hazardous and will both significantly deter trail use and lead to multiple pedestrian and bicycling injury crashes and eventually to traffic deaths.

Four of the six at-grade trail crossings of free-flowing, high-speed highway ramps that are included in the advertised design

Since this proposed interchange would create near-Interstate-highway-quality, free-flow connections for motor vehicles from all five approaches, it is unconscionable to have any at-grade trail-roadway crossings in this project. 

Rather than connect the two existing major trails via five at-grade highway ramp crossings within the center of the interchange, bicyclists and pedestrians should instead be routed near the eastern and northern perimeters of this interchange via pedestrian/bicycle overpasses of three legs of this intersection; namely, Route 234 South, Route 294, and Route 234 Business.   While all three pedestrian/bicycle overpasses proposed below are clearly warranted for safe and equitable access, they are listed above in priority order.

With that said, the trail approaches to many of the proposed at-grade roadway crossings in the present design are often very short and nearly parallel to the crossed roadway, especially at most of the four at-grade roadway crossings near the intersection of Bradley Cemetery Way and Route 294.  With such closely spaced crosswalks and sharply bent trail approaches, a bicycle rider would need to fully stop well before reaching the crosswalk, dismount, and manually reposition her bicycle to clearly view the approaching cross-traffic, and she will thus require much larger gaps in traffic to safely cross each roadway ramp.  The clustering of some of these crosswalks and the resulting short path segments between them would also likely create conflicts and collisions with any trail users approaching from the opposite direction.  If the final design retains any at-grade roadway crossings, the trail approaches should be as perpendicular to each crossed roadway (or in direct line with each crosswalk) as possible and substantially longer than the crosswalk itself.

The advertised design includes four closely spaced at-grade path crossings of free-flowing highway ramps near Route 294

The proposed shared-use path junction for the sidepath along Brentsville Road, near the southern end of the intersection, is also poorly designed.  The approach of the Brentsville Road sidepath to the Ramp C crossing is far too close and nearly parallel, not perpendicular, to Ramp C.  In addition, the Brentsville Road sidepath joins the longer path leading to Route 234 South at a sharp 90-degree angle, rather than making gentle Y-shaped connections much farther east of Ramp C.  The latter design flaw is replicated at the path junction near Bradley Cemetery Way and Route 234 Business.  Published AASHTO and VDOT guidance describe how to design appropriate path connections for people riding bicycles at 15 to 20 MPH.

The sidepath along Brentsville Road is poorly designed at its northern end near the Ramp C crossing.

 

2) Separating Shared-Use Paths from High-Speed, Free-Flowing Vehicle Traffic is a Long-Standing Practice in Northern Virginia

The practice of designing and building high-quality shared-use paths along and/or across limited-access highways without any at-grade road crossings has at least a 40-year history in Northern Virginia.  When the Virginia Department of Transportation designed and built I-66 in Arlington circa 1980, it established a continuous 10-foot asphalt path immediately adjacent to that highway with zero at-grade roadway crossings for the more than four miles between N Scott St in Rosslyn and the City of Falls Church at N Van Buren St and Route 29.

The 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, which runs from Shirlington to Purcellville, is Northern Virginia’s preeminent active transportation and recreation facility, largely because it has zero at-grade crossings of fast or busy roadways that are not protected with traffic signals.

In Arlington, the W&OD Trail benefits from both local roadway overpasses of the adjacent I-66 to cross under N. Ohio St and N. Patrick Henry Dr and stream underpasses for the adjacent Four Mile Run to cross under N. Sycamore St, N. Wilson Blvd, N. Carlin Springs Rd, and Arlington Blvd.  As a result, the W&OD Trail has zero at-grade roadway crossings for the nearly four miles between Columbia Pike and the Falls Church line at N Van Buren St.

For at least the past 30 years, NOVA Parks (formerly NVRPA) has required all builders of new or widened roads across its W&OD Trail to include a grade-separated crossing for the trail.  As a result, the W&OD Trail west of Four Mile Run now includes more than two dozen separate trail overpasses or underpasses at Route 29 in East Falls Church, Route 7 in Falls Church, I-495, American Dream Way, Reston Parkway, Town Center Parkway, Fairfax County Parkway, Herndon Parkway East, Center St in Herndon, Herndon Parkway West, Church Road, Atlantic Blvd, Route 28/Sully Road, Pacific Blvd, Loudoun County Parkway, Ashburn Village Blvd, Claiborne Parkway, Belmont Ridge Road, Battlefield Parkway SE, Route 15, Plaza St SE, Route 7/Harry Bryd Hwy, the Route 9/Route 7 Interchange, and the Route 287/Route 7 Interchange.  Many of those grade-separated roadways have lower traffic speeds and/or volumes than Routes 234 and 294.

Currently, the I-66 Outside the Beltway Express Lanes Project is in the process of building 11 miles of shared-use paths adjacent to I-66 in Fairfax County, as well as safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities on nearly all of the roads that cross I-66.  These new bicycle and pedestrian connections have been carefully and creatively designed to avoid at-grade roadway crossings, especially crossings with free-flowing, high-speed traffic.

Operated by the National Park Service’s George Washington Memorial Parkway unit, the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail between Rosslyn and the Mount Vernon Estate is another premier shared-use path in Northern Virgina.  Because it follows the Potomac River, the Mount Vernon Trail has always had few at-grade road crossings.  Nevertheless, many millions of dollars have been invested over the years to remove busy at-grade highway ramp crossings near Reagan National Airport, and—with no highway ramp interruptions—to connect the Mount Vernon Trail to Rosslyn, the Pentagon, and Crystal City and to cross the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

In recent years, the Virginia Department of Transportation has been building a network of pedestrian and bicycle overpasses of I-495 and the Dulles Toll Road in the Tysons area, including along Route 7 across the Dulles Toll Road, Trap Road over the Dulles Toll Road in Vienna,  the Jones Branch Connector over I-495 south of the Dulles Toll Road in McLean, and the Tysons One/Old Meadow Road overpass of I-495 near Pimmit Hills.

Bicycling and walking are viable transportation and very popular recreation modes in communities with high-qualify shared use paths, and the absence of at-grade highway ramp crossings is a key contributor to the safety, use, and enjoyment of those paths.  Prince William County will never create the types of high-quality paved trails enjoyed in most other Northern Virginia localities if it continues to build shared-use paths with hazardous at-grade crossings of highway ramps.

 

3) Install a Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge over Route 234 on the East/South Side of the Interchange to Create a Safe and Direct Connection between the Route 234 and Route 294 Paths

The Route 234 and Route 294 sidepaths–the two major existing bike/ped facilities within the project area—could be linked very safely and directly by building a pedestrian/bicycle bridge between these two trails on the east/south side of the interchange in the vicinity of the Meadows Farms Garden Center.  Because the elevation on the south side of Route 234 is considerably higher than the roadway, no long bridge approach should be needed on that side of the overpass.

Our proposed direct connection of the existing Route 294 and Route 234 shared-use paths via a pedestrian/bicycle overpass of Route 234 on the east side of the interchange near the Meadows Farms Garden Center

 

4) Incorporate Safe and Direct Connections to and from Route 234 Business (Dumfries Road) and the Planned Trail along Route 234 North

Even if the direct pedestrian/bicycle bridge requested above is built, safe and efficient bicycling and walking connections would still be needed to and from all five legs of this interchange; namely Route 294 (Prince William Parkway), Route 234 South (Dumfries Road), Route 234 North (Prince William Parkway), Brentsville Road (Route 649), and Route 234 Business (Dumfries Road).

Although the current Prince William County Comprehensive Plan calls for building a major shared-use path along Route 234 North, the current project design does not depict this future trail or its connections to the four other legs of this interchange.  The current design should be modified to identify the right-of-way and connections for the future Route 234 North shared-use path within the project limits.

Presently, Route 234 Business (Dumfries Road) provides bicycle and pedestrian access to the project area from most of the City of Manassas, the Bradley Square development, and the Godwin Drive corridor.  Bicyclists and pedestrians now readily use Route 234 Business to access Brentsville Rd, the Route 234 South sidepath, and the Route 294 sidepath via the roadways and crosswalks at the two nearby existing Route 234 intersections (and alternatively via Bradley Cemetery Way if desired).

The proposed design, however, would severely degrade this walking and bicycling access to and from Route 234 Business by expanding the limited-access control perimeter and by creating a large new signalized intersection at Route 234 Business and Bradley Cemetery Way.  To access any other leg of the interchange, bicyclists and pedestrians from Route 234 Business (and also the future shared-use path along Route 234 North) would apparently need to 1) cross two separate legs of a large, signalized Route 234 Business/Bradley Cemetery Way intersection—spanning a total of 12 vehicle lanes—2) cross a free-flowing lane of right-turning traffic from northbound Brentsville Road, and 3) finally cross either one or four-additional high-speed highway ramps within the center of the interchange, depending upon one’s destination.  This proposed pedestrian and bicycle access is neither safe nor effective and is a significant degradation of the existing conditions.

The advertised design would require at least a four-stage maneuver for pedestrians and bicyclists using Route 234 Business (or the future shared-use path along Route 234 North) to access any other leg of this interchange: 1) cross five lanes of stopped traffic at Route 234 Business, 2) cross seven lanes of stopped traffic at Bradley Cemetery Way, 3) cross one-lane of free-flowing right-turning traffic from northbound Brentsville Road, and 4) cross either one or four additional highway ramps—located elsewhere inside the interchange–with free-flowing, high-speed traffic, depending upon one’s final destination.

The current design should be modified to add an elevated trail on a berm along the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way, with pedestrian/bicycle bridges over both Route 234 Business and Route 294.  Such an elevated trail would connect the existing Route 294 path with the west side of Route 234 Business and the long-planned future trail along Route 234 North.  Placing this trail connection on a berm along the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way should lower construction costs and improve walking and bicycling conditions by minimizing grade changes along this trail connector between the pedestrian bridges over Route 294 and Route 234 Business.  Integrating these safe and direct grade-separated trail connections as part of the current project should provide them at far lower cost than if constructed later as one or more standalone projects.

Rough alignment of our proposed grade-separated trail connections along the northern perimeter of the interchange, with two relatively short pedestrian/bicycle overpasses of Route 234 Business on the west (connected to future shared-use paths along Route 234 Business and Route 234 North) and Route 294 on the east (connected to the existing Route 294 shared-use path).  Between Route 234 Business and Route 294, the connecting path could be built on a berm along the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way.

 

5) Reduce Interchange Construction Costs by Eliminating Unnecessary Trail and Roadway Features

To offset the cost of adding up to three pedestrian/bicycle bridges, the current design could be modified to eliminate unnecessary features.

If all three pedestrian/bicycle bridges recommended above are built over the eastern and northern edges of this interchange, all currently designed pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure within the center of this interchange would be unnecessary and could be eliminated, including the currently proposed 14-foot-wide shared-use path on the western interchange bridge.

The cost of the western interchange bridge should be further reduced by eliminating the advertised continuous green-T intersection at the exit ramp from southbound Route 234 and by eliminating one of the two northbound travel lanes from Brentsville Road on the western interchange bridge.  Traffic volumes on Brentsville Road, which had an AADT of only 2800 in 2019, will never warrant two northbound lanes through this interchange.  Eliminating one unnecessary travel lane (and potentially also the shared-use path) would reduce the cost of this roadway bridge considerably.  A traffic signal, stop sign, or a roundabout could replace the proposed continuous green-T intersection.

 

To reduce project costs, one northbound lane from Brentsville Road could be eliminated on the western overpass.  This second northbound lane is not warranted by current or future Brentsville Road traffic volumes and was only designed to accommodate an unnecessary continuous green-T intersection for traffic exiting southbound Route 234.  If the advertised design is modified to add all three pedestrian/bicycle overpasses recommended above, the 14-foot wide shared-use path could also be eliminated from this overpass.  The width of the advertised western overpass could thus be reduced 39%, from 67 feet to 41 feet.

Reducing northbound Brentsville Road to a single lane though the interchange would also reduce the widths of the roadway north of the western overpass and the width of the signalized intersection of Brentsville Rd/Route 234 Business at Bradley Cemetery Way.

The Route 234 Business/Dumfries Road roadway is already needlessly wide south of Godwin Drive.  According to VDOT’s 2019 traffic count data, this roadway segment has an AADT of only 8600.  Presently, the Route 234 Business roadway south of Godwin Drive is five lanes wide, whereas only three lanes of roadway (one travel lane per direction plus space for a left-turn lane in the center) would adequately accommodate a future doubling of this Route 234 Business Traffic (i.e., to an AADT of 17,200).

Rebuilding Route 234 Business between Godwin Drive and Bradley Cemetery Way as a three-lane roadway, instead of as a five-lane roadway, would allow the addition of both a shared-use path and a sidewalk within the existing right-of-way along this key road segment.  Moreover, the shared-use path (and not the sidewalk) should be located along the west side of Route 234 Business to align with the west-side path just built within the City of Manassas between Hastings Drive and Donner Drive.

Thank you for considering these comments.  We look forward to seeing a substantially modified final design for the shared-use path connections that will eliminate all at-grade roadway crossings and accommodate safe and reasonably direct pedestrian and bicycle access to and from all five legs of this key interchange.


On December 27, 2021, we submitted the following additional comment:

Building 12-foot-wide travel and turn lanes on Brentsville Road, Route 234 Business, and Bradley Cemetery Way is clearly excessive, since 11-foot-wide lanes are more than adequate for those local, lower-speed roadways.  Designing 11-foot travel lanes on the Brentsville Road bridge over Route 234 would further lower the cost of building that overpass.  With 8-foot-wide paved shoulders included on that overpass, 12-foot-wide travel lanes are most definitely wider than needed.

A narrower Route 234 Business on the north side of Bradley Cemetery Way would also reduce the cost of a pedestrian and bicycle overpass at that location and would shorten pedestrian crossing times if at-grade crosswalks are still included at Route 234 Business and/or Bradley Cemetery Way in the final design.

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