Trying to cross busy Rixlew Lane on Ashton Avenue just outside Manassas is, as one Prince William official said, "like playing a game of Russian roulette." So, after dozens of residents' complaints and pleas from a politician, the Virginia Department of Transportation will install a temporary traffic signal at the intersection by Christmas Day.
The intersection, two four-lane roads regulated by only stop signs on Ashton, was the result of the $4.5 million Ashton Avenue extension project, completed in October, and has been the site of six accidents in the past two months, according to police reports.
"We're very thankful for this, because it is months ahead of schedule," said county Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville). "VDOT responded very quickly to our concerns. It cut the project by months."
VDOT officials said a traffic signal wasn't included in the original plans because they had underestimated the traffic flow on Ashton, which has become a popular alternative for motorists who opt to bypass the busier Sudley Road for travel between Manassas and Interstate 66. According to November VDOT records, about 12,000 drivers pass through the intersection daily.
After looking at an array of solutions, including all-way stop signs and caution lights, a temporary light seemed the safest route, said Tom Farley, VDOT's district administrator. "We had a lot of people call in about it," he said, "and they wanted a traffic signal as quickly as possible."
There is little to distinguish a temporary signal from a permanent signal, but Farley described the temporary one being "nothing more than bare bones, wooden poles with minimal operation; something to give people more control." A permanent light, with steel poles and surveillance by VDOT's control system, will be installed within three months. The county will be reimbursed by the state for its cost, estimated at $100,000.
Although the Ashton Avenue extension project was a county effort, funded through bonds and built by the Prince William Public Works Department, all plans were approved by VDOT. The extension creates a corridor from Balls Ford Ford to Godwin Drive.
During rush hour and immediately after nearby schools let out, drivers on Ashton sometimes must wait 10 minutes before getting a slim chance to quickly dart across Rixlew.
"Overnight it became a major intersection," Farley said. "This is the short-term fix and something to make [motorists] feel safer."