By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: November 18, 2018 | 1:40 p.m.
Regional board to review federal report on proposed Colonial Heights train station
VIRGINIA – After a federal memo surfaced that appeared to imply officials in Washington, DC would like the input of localities as they work to find a suitable location for a new train station in the region, the regional board that oversees transportation locally will take some extra time to thoroughly vet currently-available information while seeking to answer some lingering questions.
During last week’s meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization – a multi-jurisdictional board comprised of members from Prince George, Dinwiddie, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Petersburg, Chesterfield, the Petersburg Area Transit Authority, Crater Planning District Commission, and Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, delegated to VDOT’s Richmond District Engineer – in Petersburg, the board unanimously agreed to task their technical advisory committee with conducting another full review of the Federal environmental assessment on the Tri-Cities Area Multimodal Station to answer questions of the board, community, and local leaders, with the results of that review expected to be released in early 2019.
The move comes a few months after the MPO was provided a copy of what is being described as a draft memorandum between officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration by the Concerned Citizens of Ettrick, a group of residents advocating for the train station to remain in the small Chesterfield community just over the Appomattox River.
In that memo, it states, “[The] FRA strongly advises that the State and localities resolve their disagreement on station prior to the conclusion of the [environmental assessment] process,” adding that such resolution, “would better enable a project proponent to garner state/local match to any selected application for Federal funding.”
In the 2017 assessment from the Federal government, of the four sites vetted – the current Ettrick station in Chesterfield County near the campus of Virginia State University, a site along Colonial Heights’ Boulevard corridor just north of Temple Avenue, Collier Yard near the Petersburg/Dinwiddie County line, and a site along Branders Bridge Road near Colonial Heights – in the extensive report, the “preferred alternative” was the Colonial Heights site, which would occupy a space in currently mostly empty parking lot of an equipment rental company at a cost estimated from $9 million to $12 million.
Wherever the station is built, it will serve the growing Southeast High-Speed Rail corridor between Richmond and Raleigh, North Carolina, with the station featuring a new building, an additional platform, parking for 30 to 50 cars and an access road, if needed.
With this draft memo now out in the public space, some members of the MPO feel this has somewhat reopened discussions about exactly which of the four sites is truly a viable option, with Dinwiddie representative and supervisor William Chavis continuing to advocate for the new station to be developed at Collier Yard near Halifax Road in Petersburg.
“We thought they had made up their mind that it was either going to be Ettrick or Colonial Heights, but now this letter throws Collier Yard back into the mix,” Chavis said, noting this process has taken over a half-decade to progress.
According to federal documents, Collier Yard is the most expensive build option of the four on the table with an estimated price tag of $14 million to $17 million, mainly due to some design considerations at the site, including needed clearing, the need for a pedestrian bridge and an access road.
In regards to locality support, at the time of the report, officials in Prince George, Dinwiddie, Petersburg, Hopewell, and the PAT authority selected Collier Yard, the Colonial Heights site was chosen by Prince George and Colonial Heights, and the lone support of the Ettrick location was Chesterfield County.
The ADEC Center in Colonial Heights, home to several businesses, could have a new neighbor as the Federal Railroad Administration’s report sees this site as the “preferred” location for a train station that would replace the station in nearby Ettrick. (Michael Campbell)
Despite being the highest priced of the four, Chavis said he hopes the organization’s technical committee looks at the assets Collier Yard offers as part of the project, particularly its rail access to all four cardinal directions and proximity to Interstates 85 and 95.
Advocates for keeping the station in Ettrick, led by the concerned citizens organization felt there were a number of inconsistencies and “invalid statements” made in several documents associated with the development of the project.
During their presentation to the MPO in September, among their points, the organization stated the “train station is one of the few Amtrak stations that is economically viable because of long-distance commuters composed of students and families at Virginia State University.”
In past communications, the university has stated that the station plays an important role in student life, particularly for its first-year on-campus students, who are not allowed to have a car during that time. According to the concerned citizens, “20 percent of VSU students ride the train and school enrollment is expected to double in five years.”
In addition, The Concerned Citizens of Ettrick reiterated “Federal and State regulations demand ‘no harm’ to this community … or reimbursement be provided to replace [the] financial damage.”
In regards to Colonial Heights being the preferred alternative, the citizens organization argues that the Lakeview community, which sits on the opposite side of where the station would likely be placed and right against the rail line that moves through the city “is and will be decimated by current plans to take away property for roads.”
They also believe the cost estimates for property at the Colonial Heights site was “grossly underestimated at $83,000.” According to information provided by the city’s assessor’s office, the actual value of the three sites totals $2.5 million.
The ADEC Center’s two parcels, which features the equipment rental business and other shops are valued at just over $800,000 and is where the physical station building, pedestrian access to the platform and parking area would be located. Across the street, the parcel known as Towne Center, which is home to a series of offices could be impacted by the additional platform that would be part of the project. The assessor’s office valued that property at over $1.6 million, bringing the total cost of land without moving costs to $2.5 million.
In the federal report, it states that private property will need to be acquired at the ADEC Center to “construct a station within the existing parking area” and depending on the alignment of the Southeast High-Speed Rail track at the site, property would need to be acquired at Towne Center but, “design solutions may minimize, if not eliminate, the need for acquisition during the subsequent engineering phases for SEHSR.”
These questions, including property acquisitions, community impacts, and others will be looked at by the MPO’s technical committee as they digest this information and bring back a recommendation to the board in January of 2019.
Even as the MPO prepares to reviews thousands of pages of reports and public comments, that draft memo states “there is no Federal action compelling preparation or completion of the Tri-Cities Multimodal Station” and “no final decision on station location has been made or issued, and all comments received on the [environmental assessment] are under consideration.