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Too much, too soon?

Decision to underground U.S. 1 utilities gets mixed reviews from sups The Prince William Board of County Supervisors has decided to share the burden of paying for the U.S. 1/123 widening project. However, the vote to do that last week left some supervisors thinking the board moved too soon on the largely federally-funded project.

Too much, too soon?

Courtesy photo/ VDOT
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors has decided to share the burden of paying for the U.S. 1/123 widening project.
However, the vote to do that last week left some supervisors thinking the board moved too soon on the largely federally-funded project.
On Dec. 3, the supervisors voted 5-3 to approve undergrounding utilities for its U.S. 1/123 interchange project, a likely investment of $10-12 million by the county.
The county made the decision after the Virginia Department of Transportation elected not to fund that portion of the project.
After much deliberation by the board, the supervisors chose to fund their share of the project through the county's transportation capital reserve fund.
The decision essentially wipes out the $11 million in the reserve fund. While county staff pointed out that the emptying of the fund will not affect the county's AAA bond rating (that only applies to the county's general fund rainy day coffers), the decision nonetheless left Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland (R) mystified.
He wasn't necessarily opposed to the project, just the timing of the decision to fund it.
"We are moving way too quickly," Candland said during the deliberations. "We have to look at these projects in a holistic view and we need to weigh [the importance] of other projects."
Occoquan Supervisor Mike May (R) and Coles Supervisor Marty Nohe (R) also voted against the project. May was hoping for more information regarding the reliability of undergrounding utilities before he made his decision.
Woodbridge Supervisor Frank J. Principi said this will be an excellent return on investment, pointing out the various conditions of the overhead poles in that area of North Woodbridge and how that impacts people's views of the area.
When completed, U.S. 1 will be six lanes between Mary's Way and the Occoquan River and will sport a bridge over U.S. 1 that will connect Va. 123 and Dawsons Beach Road.
"The undergrounding of utilities in north Woodbridge will drive up property values, increase tax revenues, and create jobs," Principi wrote in an email last week. "Our investment will also improve electric reliability and enhance the aesthetic value of our eastern gateway."
Neabsco Supervisor John Jenkins (D) championed having underground utilities in light of the recent storms that have hit the U.S. 1 corridor in recent years.
Potomac Supervisor Maureen Caddigan (R) also supported the decision, in large part, because she wanted to return the favor for the supervisors approving the recently completed widening of U.S. 1 in her district.
That project also involved undergrounding utilities.
Chairman Corey Stewart (R) said in the short term, it was a lot of money. However, he said it was worth it due to the likely escalation of costs should the project be delayed significantly.
As it is, there will be an approximate year delay due to the board's decision to underground the utilities. The state is in the middle of right-of-way acquisition, which is scheduled to cost roughly $85.5 million.
Preliminary engineering has been done to the tune of $13 million.
No money has been allocated to fund the construction portion of the project.
According to VDOT statistics, U.S. 1 currently carries 35,000 cars per day while 123 carries 21,000 a day. Projected volumes for 2036 are 75,000 for U.S. 1 and 36,000 for Route 123.
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