As commuters along Interstate 95 face construction on the "Mixing Bowl" interchange, motorists along Manassas's main drag will face a torn-up Center Street--Route 28, the major north-south commuter route in the middle of Prince William County.

Concerns were outlined and anticipated impacts were detailed Thursday at the first in a series of meetings between Center Street business owners and Manassas city officials, as a plan to rip up the street for necessary repairs takes shape. The construction is expected to take about six months. Officials did not provide a cost estimate.

Although the Center Street improvements, which will include the replacement of 85-year-old water and sewer lines, will not begin for more than a year, preliminary thoughts on how to avoid the tangle of construction and traffic snarls, as well as how to keep Old Town businesses flourishing, were voiced. But those who attended said they understand why the utility improvement project is necessary.

Don Echols, the city's water and sewer superintendent, said the old water mains have lost about 30 percent of their carrying capacity and "could collapse at any time; it's been that long."

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," he said, adding that complications could cause sewage back-ups, tainted water and ruptured pipes.

The most dreaded part of the construction will be the closing of of Center Street between Grant Avenue and Zebedee Street. Access to businesses, homes and government offices will be blocked and affected the most, said John Laws, deputy of the water and sewer department.

"There are problems we'll have to deal with, but we need to somehow be able to maintain access to businesses during the construction," he said. The city also needs to figure out how to maintain water and sewer service during the project and make sure there is adequate water for fire protection.

Business owners expressed other concerns, apart from the construction project, and offered suggestions for improvements to Old Town.

Charles Gillium, co-owner of Okra's, a Louisiana-style restaurant on Center Street, said the project could offer an opportunity to widen the sidewalks, which he said are too narrow.

"We want to attract more people to Old Town, but try walking side by side and see how comfortable you feel when a big truck comes driving past. And there's no way four people can walk, with two going one way and two going another, and feel safe," he said.

Arnold Levine, who owns the Old Town Hobby Shop, said the detours set up during construction should become a regular route even after the work is complete.

"The fact is, there's just too much traffic here," he said.

An advisory group made up of business owners and residents was formed in an effort to aid city staff on the project, as more details are known and the date of construction approaches. The preliminary sketch of the project doesn't include moving phone, gas and cable television lines, which may affect the overall construction.

"We really just wanted to show you why this has to be done," Echols said, as he held a decomposed and rusted pipe. "And we'll try to make it as easy as possible."