Businesses help fund VRE study

With the cash-strapped General Assembly unable to help fund a study to extend Virginia Railway Express rail service to western Prince William County, the private sector is stepping forward.

Several large landowners in the Gainesville area, including U.S. DataPort, have committed nearly $70,000 toward $100,000 needed to study extending the VRE Manassas line out to Gainesville/Haymarket and Beale-ton in Fauquier County.

“Having a government sector plan and having a delivered development are two different things,” said Lewis Shadle, U.S. DataPort senior vice president, whose office has been used for recent meetings on the study. “As developers, we all have vested interest in having this happen. The last thing you want is further development without infrastructure.”

Prince William Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District, was unable to secure state funding for a study this year with the commonwealth tasked with closing a gaping $3.5 billion hole in the budget.

Fauquier officials in December asked that cost estimates be refined before they further consider an extension. Constructing a station in Bealeton along with improving the railway would cost an estimated $43 million, according to estimates two years ago.

Several factors affect the feasibility of an extension, including potential ridership and added operating costs.

A study gauges potential ridership to determine whether an extension of service would be profitable. For example, the current number of riders from Fauquier County who board VRE at the Broad Run station would have to grow from 100 to 375 if Bealeton were to get a station.

Operating cost estimates are not available for a Gainesville extension, but three morning and three afternoon trips to Bealeton has been estimated at an additional $800,000 a year.

Officials said a study is needed because these figures are still rough. And the concept of an extension could change as the process continues. Shadle said that during a discussion last week it was brought up that a station could be built between Manassas and Gainesville near the [email protected] William tech park.

Funding arrangements also would need to be worked out, as Fauquier County does not send its 2-percent gas tax to VRE as do Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park. Railroad upgrades would allow Norfolk Southern to increase its freight capacity and its financial support could be sought.

Shadle said federal agencies with mission-critical functions based in Washington, D.C., have expressed interest in relocating to areas with mass transit, and “I clearly want Prince William to be a target of their interest.”

The VRE Operations Board on Thursday is expected to sign off on a plan for a $100,000 state technical assistance grant that the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation could award this summer, according to a VRE report. A combined public-private funding arrangement could net a finished study report as early as November, Roeber said.

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