More time needed in extensive review of Federal train station report

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 14, 2019 | 5:45 p.m.

Dinwiddie continues push for Collier Yard site near I-85, county line

VIRGINIA – Citing the need to review additional information and wanting to do their due diligence in reviewing over 400 pages of federal documentation, the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s technical committee has requested more time to complete their detailed analysis, suggesting a springtime decision on where they believe the region’s new train station should go.

During the MPO’s meeting in Petersburg, representatives from the organization’s technical committee said they will need until at least April to provide a full report on their review of the Federal government’s environmental assessment of the Federal Railroad Administration’s report on the Tri-Cities Multimodal Train Station, a 536-page report that details a multimillion-dollar proposal to build a new train station in South-central Virginia to serve the growth Southeast High-Speed Rail corridor between Richmond and Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Currently, four localities are vying for the new station or to keep it in their backyard. Colonial Heights has been recognized as the “preferred alternative” in the Federal report, touting the station’s proximity to various key population centers and access to major roadways, like the Boulevard business corridor, Temple Avenue and Interstate 95. 

Dinwiddie County and the City of Petersburg jointly have interest in bringing the station to the Collier Yard area of the city, just off Interstate 85 near Boydton Plank Road, which supporters say would make more sense for a station of this scale, given its access to key roadways, like the Interstate 85-95 interchange and U.S. Route 460.

Chesterfield County is also among the four areas interested in the station, wanting to see the FRA renovate or completely build a new station at Amtrak’s current location in the community of Ettrick just outside of Matoaca and within walking distance of Virginia State University, a key population group that officials have said rely on public transportation like the rail station since first-year students are not allowed to have cars on campus. 

Following the revelation of a draft memo from the Federal government during the Summer of 2018 that seemed to imply they would prefer to have the localities come to a consensus on where they believe the station should be located, the MPO tasked their technical advisory committee in late Fall of last year with reviewing the 536-page report and to bring back a recommendation for the MPO policy board, comprised of local government leaders from Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Prince George, Petersburg, among others, along with Crater Planning District Commission and Virginia Department of Transportation reps, that would be considered. 

Since the board’s last meeting in early January, that committee has meet five times and has engaged with the Federal Railroad Administration to garner more information on the report as the review various elements of the environmental assessment’s processes and conclusions, along with the comments received during the Federal report’s public comments period and those that came in after that time, as recently as November 18 of last year.

During their four in-person meetings and a fifth conference call, that board discovered that the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization’s study group tasked with reviewing this project were somehow not provided a key document, known as the Finding of No Significant Impact report, which included full comments received as part of the review process and responses to those questions. 

“I suspect that it had been considered a Federal Railroad Administration working document but, we reached out to FRA and they said we could have it to review and our study working group could do what it would’ve done at the time,” one of the representatives of the MPO’s technical committee explained. 

According to Johnnie Butler, who also serves on the technical committee, the original report had roughly 70 comments, which they are now reviewing in detail, including grouping questions or comments that are similar in nature together, analyzing responses to those questions and ensuring that the concern or question was answered in a satisfactory manner. 

In addition, Butler said those comments submitted after the public comment period on the original study, over 40 in total, have also been reviewed and responses have been made. 

Even still, given the sheer scope of their work, Butler said they hope to have the entire review of the Federal report completed by the Spring.

“We hope to have this wrapped up about April or May,” he said. “I think it is optimistic to have it wrapped up by April,” the second time the technical committee’s review has been extended by the policy committee to allow for a thorough analysis. 

Echoing their comments from January, policy board members said they preferred an extensive review, as opposed to an expedited review. 

“We said to be thorough, not quick,” Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors Vice-Chair Steve Elswick said. 

According to that Summer 2018 Federal Government draft memo, a consensus among members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and its members “would better enable a project proponent to garner state/local match to any selection application for Federal funding.”

That document also revealed Colonial Heights has already begun pursuing funding from the Federal government to help pay for the station, adding that are willing to commit local dollars to the cause. 

Regarding support, at the time of the environmental assessment, 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.

The MPO’s policy is board is expected to make a decision following the technical committee’s analysis sometime in the spring.

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