Expensive parking

Are 144 exclusive parking spaces worth $1.9 million?

That’s what the Federal Transit Administration is asking Manassas Park officials who continue to hang on to reserved parking spaces at the city’s commuter rail station. A six-month standoff over the parking spots at Manassas Park’s Virginia Railway Express station is threatening the same federal funds that made expansion of the facility possible early last year.

Since the VRE station is used by commuters from Manassas Park, western Prince William and other regional localities, the feds believe the parking spaces should be open to all commuters using the trains. Manassas Park officials have claimed that the spots, which are currently reserved for cars bearing Manassas Park city stickers, were established prior to the expansion of the station and should be allowed as an incentive for the city’s mass transit patrons.

Manassas Park has known the FTA’s position on the issue since July and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, which oversees VRE, is requesting that the city voluntarily comply.

If the city stays the course, a number of different scenarios could ensue. The federal government could ask the city to repay $1.9 million in federal funds used to expand the VRE parking lot. The PRTC could also lose out on much needed federal grant money for construction of new VRE facilities. PRTC depends heavily on these federal funds.

This parking lot dispute is not unlike a fight between a compact car and an SUV over a prime parking spot at the supermarket. Regardless of who may be in the right, the laws of gross tonnage favor the SUV.

The cost of doing business with the federal government is often the abandonment of exclusivity. Had the entire complex been paid for by the taxpayers of Manassas Park, the struggle of the 144 parking spots would be worth a fight. Since the money for the facility came from the broad pool of federal taxpayers, then commuters must be served on a first-come-first-served basis. That is, unless Manassas Park is willing to dig into the city’s coffers and cough up the $1.9 million the feds put into the project to begin with. Then they can do what they want with the lot.

For now, it’s time for Manassas Park officials to concede and hand over the spaces to the general population of railway commuters. VRE is an asset that many cities, towns and hamlets throughout Virginia would love to have and Manassas Park is a better city because of it.

There are other priorities which must be addressed for the city’s enhancement. That’s why the city needs to give up the reserved spaces… and move on.

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