Evaluation of Tri-Cities Train Station continues by regional board

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: January 21, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

Dinwiddie, Petersburg remains in play for new train station

VIRGINIA – The region’s transportation planning organization will continue their evaluation of over 500 pages of data centered around a proposal to build a new train station in the Tri-Cities, with several locations across the region remaining on the table.

Last Thursday, 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, the Crater Planning District Commission, and Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, delegated to VDOT’s Richmond District engineer – said it is their hope to be able to present their findings on the Federal environmental assessment on the Tri-Cities Area Multimodal Train Station project during the MPO’s next meeting in February.

In November of last year, it was expected that the organization would receive that report during their meeting last month but, citing scheduling conflicts and other factors, that was not possible and the technical advisory committee, TAC for short, began gearing up late last week to digest the 536-page report issued by the Federal government in 2017 that walked through the project and its possible impacts from a number of different areas.

Within the nearly 600-page report, the Federal government has narrowed the original 13 sites that ranged from as far north as central Chesterfield County to as far south as the Dinwiddie-Petersburg line down just four locations: the facility’s current location in Ettrick near Virginia State University, Petersburg’s Collier Yard area near the border between Dinwiddie and Petersburg, a site in Central Colonial Heights along the city’s Boulevard business corridor, and a fourth site in Chesterfield along Branders Bridge that has not received much support from either the Federal government or local officials part of the conversation over the station.

That report names Colonial Heights as the “preferred alternative” for a new station which, no matter where it is built, would 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. The report puts the station at a cost ranging anywhere from $9 million to $17 million, depending on the site selected.

According to the federal government, while all four sites were found to have no significant environmental impacts, the Federal Railroad Administration said in their environmental assessment that the Colonial Heights location “is the most accessible and visible under consideration, as it is located approximately one mile from I-95 on a major arterial that provides convenient access to population centers in the region,” “The site is less than a three minute travel time to I-95,” and “Access from I-95 to the proposed site is provided along existing major arterials, Temple Avenue and Boulevard.”

It also touted Temple Avenue’s new roundabout for improved traffic flow, along with the site’s access to public transportation via a bus route that ran along the Boulevard operated by Petersburg Area Transit at the time of the study.

In the summer of 2018, PAT discontinued the Boulevard section of the route after a falling out over funding between the transit authority and the city of Colonial Heights, who said it was not financially feasible for the city to continue the service, with a price tag of $400,000 being connected to the route, according to published reports

As talk of the project continued, a memo provided to the MPO and Crater District Planning Commission, a member of the regional transportation board, by a local group fighting to keep the station in Ettrick near VSU implied the decision of where the station should go may be heavily guided by local input from the MPO.

That draft memorandum stated, “[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 addition, that memo revealed Colonial Heights has begun pursuing Federal funding to help pay for the station, along with being willing to commit local dollars to the cause. 

According to the document, it states the city has submitted an application for funding last summer “requesting $9.6 million for the design-build of the Tri-Cities Area Multimodal Station at the Boulevard site,” adding the city has “proposed a match of $1 million in local funds with an additional $1.4 million to come from the state’s SmartScale Program,” but the state’s commitment is “unconfirmed” as of the time of this August 2018 memo.

With three localities vying to call the new station their own, the MPO’s policy committee agreed it would be in the board’s best interest to let their technical committee review the environmental assessment and bring back their findings, looking at all aspects of the study under a microscope, including things that might have changed between the time the study was conducted and present day.

“I don’t see our task as coming to make a recommendation to the [policy] committee,” MPO Technical Advisory Committee representative Johnnie Butler told members at the meeting last week. “Our task should be explaining how well the study was done, the summation of it, the recommendations that were made in it, and if we find any faults in the way that it was done.”

When asked by Dinwiddie representative William Chavis, the four remaining sites that were evaluated in the EA remain under consideration – Ettrick, Collier Yard, Colonial Heights, and Branders Bridge. 

Regarding support, at the time of the EA, officials said a vast majority of comments expressed support for the Ettrick and Colonial Heights locations, with Ettrick earning only a few more comments of support than the Colonial Heights site.

In regards to locality support, 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.

For local leaders involved in this process, their focus is on making sure every piece of data is properly vetted to allow for an informed decision to be made.

“I’d rather it is done right than quick,” Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors Vice-Chair Steve Elswick said as the county’s voting member on the MPO, adding the technical committee shouldn’t feel pressured to rush to have their review completed by February and there can be flexibility with the timeline.

“I am with Steve on this,” Chavis remarked, “I would rather we do it right than try to rush.”

The technical advisory committee has begun their work and they are expected to deliver some form of a report or an update to the policy committee on their process during the MPO’s February 28 meeting in Petersburg.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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