This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.
They say you can’t square a circle, but the city of Manassas is hoping to use federal money to do the opposite to a four-cornered intersection that serves as a gateway into Old Town.
The plan is to transform the current intersection at Sudley Road, Centreville Road and Prescott Avenue just northeast of Old Town into a $3.8 million roundabout, with the goal of making it safer and quicker for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.
To do so, the city has included the project in its RAISE grant application for the adjacent Mathis Avenue revitalization project aimed at beautifying and improving walkability between Sudley and Grant Avenue.
City officials expect to hear back about the grant application next month, but in the meantime they’re beginning public outreach for the project. On Thursday night, the Prince William Islamic Center hosted a public meeting on the project, with staff receiving feedback from nearby residents.
There are two primary goals, said city engineer Lance Kilby: reduce the number of crashes and improve the flow of traffic at the intersection.
Not only does the current design often result in backups during peak periods, but when cars are moving through the intersection, it’s one of the more dangerous in the city.
According to Manassas Police Department statistics, the intersection’s 24 crashes in 2021 were the sixth most in the city. A 2019 feasibility study for the project found that many of the intersection’s crashes “could potentially be mitigated by a modern roundabout.”
“At the current intersection … you have a lot of traffic that is sitting there, and in addition, if you’re turning right at the intersection onto Prescott, it’s a really bad turn,” Kilby told InsideNoVa. “So the intent here would be to … reduce the congestion. It would provide two lanes all the way around the roundabout, so that people can free-flow around it and you’re not stopping. And it improves it by about … roughly 30 seconds per person.”
According to the Federal Highway Administration, roundabouts have been shown to reduce fatalities by all crashes by 35% and injuries by 76% over other types of intersections, in no small part because roundabouts often slow vehicular movements through an intersection and force drivers to be more attentive.
The design of the roundabout is also intended to make crossings safer for pedestrians. The four crosswalks at the intersection will all feature medians midway through the crossing – providing additional refuge for those on foot – and have pedestrian-activated flashing lights warning drivers to stop. In Virginia, pedestrians have the right-of-way in all non-signalized crosswalks with or without flashing lights, but getting cars to actually pay attention and stop is often a challenge for walkers and traffic engineers.
“We would also be putting in pedestrian refuge islands at all four corners, so that will improve the pedestrian movement. You would promote lower speeds because when you have a roundabout, people naturally try to slow down as they come up through the intersection,” Kilby said.
With a grassy center circle and signage welcoming people to Manassas, planners also hope the roundabout will serve as an eye-catching welcome to Old Town.
As laid out in the funding request to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the transformation would complement the changes being planned for Mathis Avenue. The city plans to remove the continuous middle turning lane and replace it with a landscaped median in much of the 0.6-mile stretch between Sudley Road and Liberia Avenue. The middle lane will be replaced with shorter dedicated turn lanes at intersections, and planting strips with trees will be added to both sides of Mathis between the sidewalks and the roadway.
Altogether, the hope is a greener and more inviting area of the city will start to take shape, drawing redevelopment around much of the Mathis corridor and improving the links to downtown for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Department of Transportation’s RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) program will have more money than ever to give out this round, with a 50% funding increase from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed Congress last year. The grants are supposed to help communities “fix and modernize their infrastructure,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttegieg said in a news release.
The program is also meant to “align with [President Joe Biden’s] greenhouse gas reduction goals … support fiscally responsible land use and transportation efficient design, increase use of lower-carbon travel modes such as transit and active transportation” and more, according to the funding notice for this year’s round of grants.
For the roundabout, Kilby said the city is already exploring backup funding avenues if the RAISE grant doesn’t materialize, but city officials have expressed optimism.
“The City exists in a built urban environment making large scale infrastructure projects a challenge,” City Manager Patrick Pate said in the application for the project. “The RAISE grant is a critical tool that can help Manassas address a pressing need to redevelop one of its primary commercial corridors by fixing a transportation bottleneck and streetscape that have contributed to disinvestment in the community.”