For the Potomac News
A new day of freer flowing, less stagnant downtown roadways is nearly upon the city, Manassas City and Norfolk Southern officials both promised last week.
Now the only point of dispute is over the definition of “nearly.”
With two miles of double tracking completed last summer and a new crew changing station at Bristow “essentially complete,” city officials want the railway to move crew changing operations out of Wellington Yard and downtown Manassas.
The changing of crews at the yard, located near the heart of downtown Manassas, is a constant source of road blockages and complaints from city drivers tired of flashing lights and falling crossing arms. In the eyes of City Hall, as soon as the new building is operational — which officials determine should be by the end of this month — the switch should be made.
“There’s no need to have the curtains hung,” director of public works Michael Moon said.
In an August 14, 2002, letter to Bob Logan, the Norfolk Southern trainmaster in Manassas,” Moon wrote with the double tracking complete, “the City desires the crew change to start occurring at Bristow as soon as possible.”
However, according to projections made by the Norfolk Southern at the close of 2002, the changing station should and continues to be on pace, according to a railway spokesperson, to be completed by the end of 2003.
Moon concedes because of disputes with the railway over the timetable for the switch, the move could be pushed into the fall, though the city “really doesn’t want to see that happen.”
Susan Bland, public relations manager for Norfolk Southern, said crews will begin changing at the new station only when the structure is complete, meeting all railway labor agreement stipulations.
“If I buy a house, I’m going to want it fully complete, not just a shell,” Bland said.
Moon said the need to meet such stringent requirements was not made aware to city officials when the project was originally laid out.
In April 1999, city, railway and Virginia Department of Transportation officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the multi-phased projects the city and railway have now embarked on. The agreement stipulated the railroad “will relocate their crew change point prior to July 1, 2000, provided the State has acquired the property for the new office facility.”
Both Moon and Bland acknowledge the date set out in the document — which Bland said “has not been binding for a long time” — was a best-case scenario because of the improvements needed to the Bristow site.
But with these essential stumbling blocks out of the way, the move should be made sooner instead of later, Moon said.
“For [Norfolk Southern] to continue dragging their feet is disappointing,” Moon said.
Regardless of the dispute, Bland said the railway is sympathetic to city needs. “All of us look forward to the day when the crews won’t have to change in the middle of downtown Manassas,” Bland said. “We’re looking forward to this as much as the city and community.”
The two other major planned construction projects — Va. 28 and Wellington Road overpasses over the railroad — continue to be pushed back because of drastic cuts in state funds available, a slower than expected acquisition of right-of-way land and a steady parade of four project managers in the past 18 months.
The road overpass of Va. 28 over the railroad and Wellington Road is presently under design, but advertising for construction, originally conceived for September 2005, has been delayed by the state because of funding constraints.
Phase III — the Wellington Road railroad overpass — also continues to slip further into the future.
A road detour on Wellington Road around the future construction site was completed last week. Curve improvements have also been completed as part of the Phase I improvements, allowing trains to travel faster through the city.
A 1992 railroad realignment study completed by the city and county established the need for the overpasses as essential because of the “critical linkage” the roadways represented for fire and rescue units and school bus traffic.
Watching projects over a decade in the making continually being delayed and slashed is frustrating, Moon said.
“We appreciate the fact that these projects are disappearing throughout the state but that does not mitigate our need,” Moon said.