Transportation officials will break ground today on the final leg of the Route 234 Bypass south of Manassas, literally paving the way for seamless highway travel across Prince William County.

When it's finished in fall 2001, the 4.6 miles and four lanes of highway will complete a 10-mile road designed to get cars off the clogged streets of Manassas. And once the bypass hooks up with a two-mile extension of Liberia Avenue now under construction, drivers will be able to travel from Interstate 66 to Interstate 95 in Woodbridge in less time.

Cars and trucks have been traveling the first 5.3-mile stretch of the bypass, four lanes from I-66 southeast to Route 28, for two years. The final leg will pick up at Route 28 and end at Brenstville Road, where it will meet the Liberia Avenue extension--scheduled for completion next year--and connect to the 14-mile Prince William Parkway.

The bypass's completion promises to link the east and west ends of Prince William, whose lack of cross-county roads has divided it physically, socially and politically.

The completed bypass promises relief to commuters encountering daily stop-and-go traffic in fast-growing Manassas, where the original, two-lane Route 234 is dotted with lights and bottlenecks regularly.

And for the county, the bypass will enhance prospects for economic development along the route's fledgling high-tech corridor, now occupied by George Mason University's Manassas campus, Manassas Regional Airport and the county's 220-acre Innovation@Prince William site, designed to lure technology companies.

"If you think in terms of having to slog your way up Sudley Road, it's going to make a huge difference," Board of County Supervisors Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D) said of the bypass.

The bypass's first leg now is traveled by 18,000 vehicles a day, said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. But 55,000 cars and trucks still use the old Route 234 in and out of the city every day.

The second leg, which costs $153 million, will be separated a 42-foot median. VDOT has rights to widen the road to six lanes.

When the bypass is finished, the state will start work on another long-awaited project to ease traffic on the original Route 234: widening an 11-mile stretch of the road to four from two lanes from the Manassas city limits to I-95.

The $55 million Route 234 widening has been delayed by VDOT for about a year because of design revisions and right-of-way complications that arose from the addition of a bike trail. Construction is now likely to start in 2002, with completion in 2004.

The original Route 234 was built as a gravel road in 1938. Local officials began fighting for construction of a bypass in the early 1970s but could not secure state funding for the road until the 1990s.