On Wednesday morning, Jennifer Whiteree left her home in Manassas at 7 to begin a 15-mile commute to her job in Chantilly. She arrived an hour and 45 minutes later, at 8:45. Just getting through the intersection at Route 28 and Manassas Drive took 12 minutes, she said.
Although Whiteree’s commute that day was particularly bad, it was not unusual. Most of her daily commute is spent sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, heading north from Manassas toward Fairfax County on Route 28.
“I think the level of frustration from the drivers is causing danger,” Whiteree said. She said that drivers routinely speed down the left turn lanes to get ahead of the line of traffic and continue speeding as they cut through residential neighborhoods to save time.
Whiteree was one of about 50 area residents who attended a town hall meeting about Route 28 on Thursday evening in Manassas. The event was organized to call attention to the worsening traffic congestion on the road and to hear from Virginia Department of Transportation officials about a traffic study that is in progress.
The VDOT study focuses on Route 28 from Liberia Avenue in Manassas to Route 29 in Fairfax, and on Mathis Avenue from Liberia Avenue to Manassas Drive. As part of the study, VDOT has been collecting data on travel times, traffic volume, backups and the number of turns vehicles make from left turn lanes. The study is also looking at data related to vehicle crashes and accidents involving pedestrians.
A report prepared for VDOT by the engineering and design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff observed that traffic during the morning commute was backed up all the way from New Braddock Road in Fairfax to Manassas Drive during peak rush hour periods.
Mark Thompson of Parsons Brinckerhoff said that data collected in the spring showed that traffic was much more congested in the morning than in the afternoon and that northbound traffic volumes were heaviest from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Travel times from Liberia Avenue to New Braddock Road ranged from 30 to 60 minutes, averaging about 45 minutes.
Several speakers at the meeting said that the traffic congestion is worse than that.
“Northbound, southbound, any way you go, [Route] 28 is a nightmare,” said Sharon Ashurst, a Manassas resident since 1990.
“Going north on [Route] 28, you literally have to be on that road before 6 a.m., probably about 5:30,” to avoid heavy congestion, said Steve Atkinson, another longtime Manassas-area resident. “It’s basically bumper-to-bumper from Manassas Drive to 66 the whole rush hour . . . from 5:30 till 9.”
Atkinson said that he would be willing to pay higher taxes if he knew it would solve the problem. “No one wants to live in this area,” he said. “Our commutes are just ridiculous.”
Tom Fahrney, manager of special project development for VDOT, said that the study is focusing on short-term improvements to Route 28. A Phase 2 study on long-term improvements has not been funded, he said.
“We want to make some ‘best bang for your buck’ improvements in terms of mitigating some safety problems,” he said. “That may mean adding turn lanes or painted crosswalks or even street lighting — those types of short-term improvements that we can implement quickly. In terms of longer-term solutions, we don’t know yet, because we haven’t done that study.”
Manassas City Council member Marc T. Aveni (R), who organized the town hall, said that the congestion on Route 28 is not getting the attention it deserves.
“As a local elected official, what I have observed is that the money seems to have gone to the Silver Line — billions of dollars. But we’re sitting on [Route] 28 every morning and saying, ‘How about us?’ ” he said. “And then we hear about the Bi-County Parkway [and] again, most of the citizens don’t seem to want it.”
Aveni said he hoped that calling attention to the problems on Route 28 would help move it higher on the state’s priority list for road improvement projects. Fahrney said the Commonwealth Transportation Board determines the priorities for funding road projects across Virginia.
Barnes is a freelance writer.