From the moment the Village People wrapped up the group's performance on Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge's opening night 10 years ago, traffic leaving the amphitheater has been tedious at best, nightmarish at worst. Numerous solutions to the gridlock have been proposed, but none has worked.
According to some analysts, the newest plan might do little to solve the problem.
Prince William County's plan to widen two-lane Wellington Road to four lanes has been postponed several times since it was proposed in the late 1990s. The county expects to widen Wellington, the only way in and out of Nissan Pavilion, from Limestone Drive to Balls Ford Road -- a total of 2.15 miles. Construction, originally scheduled to be completed in December 2004, is now scheduled to finish in September 2006.
For patrons, getting into Nissan Pavilion in Bristow is a small challenge compared with leaving it, when sometimes, after a major concert, more than 8,500 cars pour onto Wellington Road. The wait to leave can last as long as two hours. An average show produces about 5,600 cars and a wait of less than an hour, said Bruce Edwards, Nissan Pavilion's general manager.
Road widening began in April, after the county settled problems acquiring land and relocating utilities, said Prince William transportation chief Thomas Blaser. The project should cost slightly more than $5 million, about 12 percent of the $42.7 million road bond budget for 1998, when planning began.
Since that funding was passed seven years ago, the county had several hurdles to overcome, Blaser said. It had to acquire rights to build on land along the road owned by almost two-dozen companies, individuals and associations.
Existing fiber-optic lines near the road also caused problems. Two companies, Verizon and Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, which provide phone and Internet access to the surrounding area, were slow to move those lines, delaying the project for several more months, Blaser said.
Even if all goes as planned and the county completes the expansion on time, traffic could still be extensive. Edward Risse of Warrenton, a land-use consultant with Synergy/Planning Inc., said that Nissan's location away from major arteries can't accommodate the number of patrons the venue attracts. Risse's company predicted congestion in 1994, before Nissan opened. At the time, however, many people said traffic would be negligible.
"You're going to cause a problem indefinitely until it closes," said Risse, who is familiar with Nissan's traffic. "You can do the math. Even if they were to build a six-lane access and devote all of [Interstate] 66 to that, it would take more than hour or so to drain it."
In its initial 1994 report, Synergy/Planning -- with MCV Associates Inc., a traffic analysis company -- found that the roads in the area were already at capacity without Nissan Pavilion. With the amphitheater and the area's subsequent development, the situation has grown worse.
Joe Mehra, owner of MCV Associates, said the county would need at least seven lanes to empty traffic efficiently from the amphitheater. A free-flowing interstate can accommodate about 2,000 vehicles per hour per lane, he said. That's a far cry from more than 8,500 cars at a major concert, and Wellington Road is a far cry from a freeway.
"It's not enough," Mehra said of the road's expansion.
Other possible solutions would have to include providing mass transit to the amphitheater -- thus reducing the number of cars at shows -- or creating after-show entertainment so people could linger while others drove home, analysts said. "Unfortunately they leave at the same time," Mehra said.
Other sites, such as MCI Center, have not had such problems because of their location. MCI Center patrons can take public transportation or drive there via multiple routes. Because MCI is in downtown Washington, patrons can go to restaurants or bars after an event instead of driving immediately home, further alleviating outgoing traffic. There are fewer routes to Nissan, on the other hand, but the number of patrons is still high.
"Think about the amount of area that you have to serve. As you move away from the core, it has to become less and less efficient," Risse said.
Over the years, Prince William, Nissan and the state have taken other steps to alleviate traffic. Last December, the Virginia Department of Transportation started construction on an east-west connector ramp between Route 29 and Wellington Road that would allow motorists to cross over I-66 and the railroad tracks there to avoid Gainesville traffic. Although not directly targeted at Nissan traffic, the ramp should benefit those drivers, VDOT spokesman Ryan Hall said. That ramp, which had been suggested as early as 1995 -- when the pavilion opened, is scheduled for completion in September 2006.
Nissan administrators have tried solutions of their own. In 1997, it added parking to the ticket price to expedite entry into the pavilion. Nissan also consolidated on-site parking and has helped fund the various proposed improvement projects.
"Since being built in 1995, Nissan Pavilion has been active in securing federal, state and local dollars that have been allocated to surrounding infrastructure," said Edwards, the general manager.