School buses at the Prince William School System’s Potomac Transportation center in Woodbridge. (jim barnes/jim barnes)

Prince William County Schools officials will hold a community meeting Sept. 25 on a proposed school bus transportation center to serve the rapidly growing area northwest of the Manassas Battlefield. The meeting will give the public the opportunity to discuss plans for the facility, which would be on Kyle Wilson Way, adjacent to Catharpin Park.

The proposed center would house about 150 buses and is intended to relieve overcrowding at the McCuin Transportation Center in Bristow. According to school officials, the new facility also would reduce the distances buses currently travel from McCuin to reach homes and schools in northwestern Prince William.

“With this site we can provide improved bus service to students along the Route 15 corridor without compounding existing traffic issues,” said Dave Cline, associate superintendent for finance and support services.

Director of Transportation Services Ed Bishop estimated that the new center would save the school system $340,000 annually by reducing the distances and time bus drivers spend traveling to and from the McCuin center. “Transporting a single bus that extra distance down to McCuin wastes approximately $900 in fuel every year, and even more is spent on driver downtime,” he said.

Bishop said that the new center also would improve service to students by reducing the amount of time it takes to send out replacement buses when needed.

“[Because] the maintenance facility and the spare buses are co-located in the same area, should there ever be a breakdown of a bus, you can get a mechanic to that bus in a third or half the time [as bringing] them from a remote location,” he said. “Same thing with a replacement bus. . . . So it’s better for safety, it’s better for customer service and it’s better for operations.”

School officials are hopeful that the proposed transportation center meets a better fate than a similar plan several years ago for a vehicle maintenance facility in the Route 15 corridor, near the Loudoun County border. The school system withdrew that proposal in June 2012 in the face of opposition from neighbors of the proposed facility who raised concerns about increased traffic congestion and other potential adverse impacts near their homes.

“Nobody says, ‘I want this in my backyard,’ ” said Phil Kavits, director of communications for the school system. “What they say is, ‘I want this service for my kid, and I want safety for my kid.’ ”

Bishop said he is sensitive to neighbors’ concerns about the volume of bus traffic. But the number of buses on the roads will not change, “except to increase to accommodate growth over the years,” he said. A transportation center closer to the population it serves would actually reduce bus traffic, he said.

“Right now we are driving those buses from outside the locale into it, to their residence to pick up students, to drop them off at their schools, and then back out of the area to some other parking and maintenance location,” Bishop said. “Once we are able to build a transportation facility in their area, then it’s going to reduce that distance, and what they’re going to see is less school bus traffic on the roads, not more.”

The new facility would eliminate the need for some buses to cross I-66 and Route 29 twice a day, he said, adding that most buses exiting the proposed new facility would turn right from Kyle Wilson Way onto Route 234 before going through an intersection at Route 15 that is controlled by a signal.

In addition to bus maintenance staff, the proposed transportation center would house dispatchers and other administrative staff, Bishop said.

Most of the 14-acre site proposed for the new facility is owned by the county. Under the proposal, the school system would pay the county $1.3 million for the land. That money could be used to help fund planned improvements at Catharpin Park, according to school officials, who said that 250 paved parking spaces at the new transportation center would be available for people using the park at nights and on weekends.

School officials said that the proposal for the new site has been submitted for approval under the county’s Public Facilities Review process. The community meeting will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 25 at Bull Run Middle School.

Barnes is a freelance writer.