Improving an often-congested intersection in Woodbridge is among projects for which Prince William County’s congressional representatives are seeking funding through the revived earmarks program.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11th, is requesting $6 million for design and right-of-way acquisition for improvements at the intersection of Old Bridge Road and Gordon Boulevard, which is Va. 123. The project is part of a larger plan for improvements throughout the corridor covering Va. 123 from Old Bridge Road to U.S. 1, including the Interstate 95 interchange.
Connolly and U.S. Rep Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, are seeking a total of $8 million for four projects in Prince William, including the Old Bridge Road proposal.
Members of the House of Representatives can submit projects to the Appropriations Committee as part of Congress’ discretionary budget. The committee will review the requests as it develops an appropriations bill for federal fiscal year 2022, which starts Oct. 1.
The earmarks program returned this year after roughly a decade of hiatus due to high-profile scandals in the 2000s. Congress passed new safeguards requiring members to publicly disclose their applications so projects aren’t secretly put in spending bills, according to The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization.
The projects were submitted in collaboration with local governments.
“Coming from local government, I know that they understand their priorities best,” Connolly, former chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “That is why we set up a process where Prince William and Fairfax counties could develop their request priorities for us to submit to the committees.”
The county’s other representative, Rob Wittman, R-1st, did not submit any proposals by the April 30 deadline.
Prince William Transportation Director Rick Canizales said the Old Bridge Road and Gordon Boulevard intersection faces capacity and safety issues. Drivers exiting I-95 south onto Va. 123 must quickly cross several lanes of traffic to make a left turn onto Old Bridge Road. Cars waiting to get onto I-95 also back up at the intersection during peak travel times.
“We’re trying to make this a safer and more efficient intersection,” he said.
According to 2018 estimates, Old Bridge Road sees 45,000 vehicles per day in the area and Va. 123 sees 71,000.
The county’s capital budget for fiscal 2022, which starts July 1, includes $1.8 million for preliminary engineering on improvements to the intersection. The project would include a ramp from northbound Va. 123 to westbound Old Bridge Road
“Our strategy is always as we’re developing these projects that we’re starting to go out for money,” Canizales said.
The county is eyeing other improvements throughout the corridor to improve traffic flow. Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Transportation began seeking public input on five potential improvements for the Va. 123 and U.S 1 intersection, east of I-95, through its Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions study program.
The county also started design last year for improvements to the intersection of Old Bridge and Occoquan roads. The project includes an additional right-turn lane along southbound Occoquan Road and a crosswalk across westbound Old Bridge Road.
Canizales said improvements throughout the corridor could cost between $35 million and $60 million.
Climate change impact
Connolly’s second submission was $950,000 for a community climate change impact analysis. The money would help the county develop a plan to reduce emissions, increase the use of renewable energy and provide sustainability resources.
The county’s fiscal 2022 budget included funding for a sustainability program to address the county’s climate change goals.
Last year, the board adopted the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ interim climate mitigation goals, joining other Northern Virginia jurisdictions in aiming for a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 100% renewable electricity by the same year.
Public Works Director Tom Smith said the analysis also will identify high-risk flood areas and potential solutions. “We want to take a fresh look at floodplain areas in the county and how we can mitigate them.”
Smith said some of the targeted areas are along Flat Branch in Gainesville and older areas of Woodbridge along Quantico and Marumsco creeks.
The analysis would take about a year to complete, Smith said. Recommendations from the study would go to the Board of County Supervisors.
Health department funding
Connolly also submitted a request for $800,000 to help Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park shift to local administration of health services.
In this year’s session, the General Assembly approved legislation allowing the three localities to enter into a contract with the Virginia Department of Health to locally provide public health services. Across most of Virginia, health services are the job of state-run health districts. The Prince William Health District includes the county and both cities
Arlington and Fairfax counties are the only localities in the state with locally run health departments. The legislation passed this year also includes Loudoun County.
Local officials said a local health department would have been able to more quickly address equity concerns with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The total budget for the local health district is about $6 million. A district spokesperson said the state provides 55% of the budget and local governments provide 45%. In fiscal 2020, which ended June 30, the state provided $2.98 million, local governments provided $2.39 million and “an additional $718,693 in funding was also provided.”
The Board of County Supervisors and both city councils must still vote to enter into a contract with the state before local administration could begin.
In Connolly’s application, he wrote that the pandemic “exposed the inability of the Prince William local health district to meet the specific needs of this second largest local jurisdiction and largest majority minority community in the state.”
Wexton’s only local application was $250,000 for a use-of-force analysis of the Prince William County Police Department.
The application says that an independent contractor would evaluate the “environmental factors, or precursors” associated with use of force and recommend adjustments in policies and training programs. The contractor would also determine whether the department should collect more information on incidents of force and what data should be made publicly available.
“The project ... will strengthen police and community relationships during a time where police officer use of force remains a critical issue among law enforcement professionals and the communities they serve,” according to a statement on Wexton’s website.
Prince William Police Chief Peter Newsham said the department’s use-of-force data should be released later this year and the analysis will be a separate initiative. He said the department hasn’t previously released the data, which will cover everything from someone resisting handcuffs to a firearm being used.
“I want to make sure it is as accurate as it possibly can be,” he said.
The county’s Racial and Social Justice Commission’s policing committee recently discussed several different data points.
Curtis Porter, chair of the Human Rights Commission and a representative on the Racial and Social Justice Commission, said at a committee meeting last month that the county should have been seeking information on use of force in the past. “Shame on us as a community for not asking for that data before.”