Manassas gets final funding for parking deck

Manassas will get the final portion of money needed to build a 330-space downtown garage next year.

The money was included in a record-high $34.1 billion federal highway spending bill that cleared a key House spending panel Friday.

The spaces are needed for Virginia Railway Express train commuters in the day — the Broad Run VRE station last year had its spaces doubled to 600 and is already at capacity. The fast-growing Manassas line just had spaces at the Manassas Park VRE station doubled to 600.

“It’s great news,” said Al Harf, executive director of Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission that co-owns the train line. “This is a very important project both to the city and the VRE. We have an acute parking shortage particularly on the extremities of the Manassas line.”

VRE posted a 14.5-percent ridership increase in May to 13,814 average daily trips, according to its latest report.

The garage is slated to go in at the location of Manassas Frozen Foods on Main Street and the adjacent storage facility, but the city and train line must purchase the land.

The Parrish family owns the Manassas Frozen Foods and has pledged to help with the costs.

From that location near the Center for the Arts, Loy E. Harris Pavilion and downtown businesses, the parking spaces can be used by tourists and visitors at night and on the weekend.

“It’s a top priority for the city. You know how anxious we are to get moving on this,” said Manassas Mayor Marvin L. Gillum.

An initial press release from Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th District, stated that $4.53 million is funded to build the Manassas parking garage, but officials from VRE and Fairfax County said that is an error — the money will be split between the Manassas garage and one sought for the Burke Centre VRE station in central Fairfax County.

Fairfax Supervisor Sharon Bulova, D-Braddock, said the Burke station has voracious parking problems. She will meet with her community Tuesday to discuss the design options for their 1,600-space garage. The lot currently has 500 spaces, she said.

The reason Burke Centre is getting such a large garage is because it is land-locked surrounded by a residential community, said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

“We’ve got to build for the future at Burke because you only get one shot,” he said.

Roeber said federal monies over the last two years have been split between the two projects. If split this year as well, there will be enough to move forward on both projects, he said.

Already banked for the Manassas project is $3.7 million and for the Burke Centre garage, $6 million, he said.

Harf said the funding clears the way for design work to begin on the Manassas garage. It will have its environmental impact review cleared very soon, then a year for design, and then construction, he said.

The rule of thumb with parking garage costs is $10,000 per space, so roughly $3.5 million, he said. But the city’s Architectural Review Board and City Council must approve its design to match Old Town, and with acquisition costs and design work, it will assuredly cost more than that, he said.

The federal bill also included:

? $1 million for 18 OmniLink bus purchases, Prince William region’s local bus service. Over the last three years with federal monies the system has bought 51 OmniRide buses and 16 OmniLink buses, Harf said. Ridership on both lines has doubled in the last three years to 8,000 daily passengers.

? $1 million to widen Interstate 66 westbound from the Rosslyn tunnel to the Dulles connector. Wolf and Rep. Tom Davis, R-11th District, wrote to Gov. Mark R. Warner in June asking him to find money for this project after he accelerated the I-66 widening near Manassas. Estimates for the Rosslyn widening are around $18 million.

? $1.75 million for the I-66/U.S. 29 Gainesville Interchange, a project that had its construction cut from the state’s six-year plan last year. Before the cut, estimates of its costs were upwards of $100 million.

? $6 million to expand the Battlefield Parkway in Leesburg.

? $1 million for an instrument landing system at Leesburg Executive Airport.

? $75,000 to upgrade U.S. 50 in Fauquier and Loudoun.

? $25,000 to upgrade U.S. 17 in Fauquier.

Wolf spokesman Dan Scandling said any additional appropriation funding for a Metrorail extension to Tysons will be in a separate bill up for a subcommittee vote later this summer.

It still needs to be authorized in a new federal six-year transportation authorization act, which could be finished next year. This act makes projects able to be funded by Congress, and the funds are then appropriated in the annual appropriation bills.

Federal transportation appropriations bills are approved annually. The subcommittee’s highway bill is $2.5 billion more than last year’s and $4.8 billion more than the president requested, said the American Highway Users Alliance.

The six-year reauthorization legislation also sets the federal gasoline tax rate — a reason the measure is delayed because increasing it could be political liability but it would allow more projects to be funded. The tax is set at cents on the gallon, so it has not kept up with inflation, proponents point out.

Virginia has put in for the $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion extension of Metrorail to Tysons Corner to be included in the next reauthorization plan, said Karen Rae, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation

Federal dollars are expected to pay for half of the cost, with Virginia picking up 25 percent and a new Fairfax County taxing district in the Dulles Corridor covering 25 percent.

Rae said there is a possibility the reauthorization might not occur next year because “it’s a tough time and there’s clearly not enough money to do all transportation projects across the country.”