UPDATED: The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted last week to keep the Va. 28 bypass alive, reversing course after unanimously rejecting the $300 million road project Aug. 4. All five Democrats on the board voted to endorse the project, while all three Republicans voted against it.
The move allows the county to begin designing the new road. The board will have to take another vote on whether to proceed with the construction of the bypass once the design is near completion.
Supervisor Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, made the motion to reconsider the bypass. The Va. 28 bypass was not on the agenda nor formally publicized ahead of board’s Sept. 7 meeting.
The new road is intended to divert traffic from the crowded stretch of Va. 28 that runs through Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. The proposed bypass would extend Godwin Drive to create a new, four-lane road between the West Gate and Loch Lomond residential subdivisions to reconnect with Va. 28 at the Fairfax County line.
The road will result in the taking of at least 54 homes and the partial taking of about 18 more in its path. It would also traverse wetlands and the floodplain along Flat Branch Creek.
On the line: $89 million in regional funds
Democratic supervisors appeared to reconsider the bypass after Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall (D), who also chairs the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, told the board Prince William County risked losing millions in NVTA funding by abandoning the bypass in favor of widening the existing Va. 28.
The NVTA awarded the county $89 million in regional transportation funds for the bypass, but Randall said it was possible and even “probable” that an alternative plan to widen the existing Va. 28 from four lanes to six would not “score” as highly on the NVTA’s evaluation process as the bypass did.
“If your board chooses not to accept the $89 million on the bypass, it’s possible that you could receive not just less, but significantly less, as you look at a Route 28 widening,” Randall said.
On Aug. 4, the board voted unanimously to reject the bypass and endorse the widening, which is so far estimated to cost about $400 million. That vote came after numerous residents whose homes could be impacted spoke in opposition to the project.
After that initial vote, Board Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, along with several other Democratic supervisors, said they did not have enough information about what was at stake.
“I think we made the decision to go with the widening based on no information whatsoever,” Wheeler said in an interview after the meeting. “I have to believe that the widening would score much lower if it’s half the congestion relief and [costs]more money.”
Wheeler: Bypass ‘not a done deal’
The board is not abandoning the idea of widening Va. 28, however. The board also voted during the Sept. 8 meeting to add the widening plan to the county’s long-term planning blueprint known as the “comprehensive plan.” In doing so, the county can continue studying the Va. 28 widening while moving forward with designing the bypass.
Wheeler said the road widening would be a “plan B” in case the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejects a needed environmental permit for the Va. 28 bypass.
“We don’t want to go down this path, get turned down by the Army Corps of Engineers and then don’t have anything ready,” Wheeler said. “That’s why we’re initiating the comp plan amendment, to have a backup plan.”
Wheeler added that the board’s endorsement of the bypass is “not a done deal.”
“It’s really the beginning of another public conversation about the design,” Wheeler said. “The road is not designed. The path is not set. There’s still a lot of room for public input.”
GOP supervisors object over impacts
The board’s three Republican supervisors sharply opposed the bypass project. Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, whose district would encompass the bypass, said she could not vote in favor of it given concerns about the loss of homes and environmental impacts. The project will require the taking of at least 54 homes, including seven to 10 mobile homes in a predominantly low-income Hispanic community.
“I obviously will not be supporting the motion to reconsider because of the obvious, gross, negligent … environmental impacts that the bypass poses for this area. I am absolutely not okay with uprooting families on the lower socioeconomic rung of Prince William County,” Vega said.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said the board did not allow for adequate public input on the decision. No citizens were allowed to speak either in favor or against the project before the vote.
“What’s unfortunate is that at 2 p.m. on the first day of school, we have lots of parents who aren’t here to protect their trailers. We have lots of people who aren’t here to protect their homes like they were on August 4,” Lawson said. “We had dozens of people in a predominantly Hispanic, non-English speaking trailer park that were here to pour their hearts out to us ... and they’re not here today.”
Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, said he voted against endorsing the bypass to support Vega but said he believes the bypass needs to happen.
“I'm in favor of both sides of this issue. I’ve been very clear that I think the Godwin extended should happen. I think there’s a lot of benefit to it. I also believe the expansion of Route 28 has to happen,” Candland said. “My preference is to prioritize the expansion of Route 28 first. I think both have to be done. I think both address different issues.”
Candland said that the Va. 28 corridor in Manassas, Manassas Park and Yorkshire need “a shot in the arm” and that the issue isn’t just about traffic, but also “economic development and setting up that corridor for future success.”
Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, who voted to endorse the bypass, appeared to agree with Candland, noting that, “in reality,” the county should pursue both the bypass and the widening or revitalization of the Va. 28 corridor.
“I think that we are not solving problems within the core of the city of Manassas and we’re not really looking at a multi-modal solution if we only do the bypass,” Boddye said.
Prince William County Transportation Director Ric Canizales said that once the design for the bypass is about 60% complete, the county will hold a public meeting on the project in the Coles District. After that, the supervisors will vote on whether to move forward with the bypass. If approved, the project will then go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its review, a process that could take up to six months to complete.
“At the same time, we can continue on with our comprehensive plan amendment [for the widening]... as an option and have that ready in case the Army Corps doesn’t give us our permits and we have to make a U-turn,” Canizales said.
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