The last piece of funding needed to begin preliminary design of a commuter train to Haymarket moved through the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The House approved the $104 billion transportation appropriations bill, $1 million of which could end up in Prince William County and Manassas if the U.S. Senate gives the bill its approval.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-11th, secured the $500,000 that will partially fund the $4 million initial design of extending service on the Virginia Railway Express Manassas Line to Haymarket.
That rail line would include three planned stations: Haymarket, Gainesville and Sudley Manor, which would extend from the Manassas station. The line’s current terminus, Broad Run near Manassas Airport, would continue service as well.
If the money receives final approval, VRE officials will hire a firm to begin designing the commuter rail line that could move up to 5,500 passengers a day, according to Mark Roeber, spokesman for VRE.
The other half of the area’s $1 million appropriation could come in the form of a study on bus rapid transit, or BRT.
That money would fund a study to see if BRT is an appropriate addition to Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway, said Dan Scandling, spokesman for Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th.
Wolf secured that funding, along with $20 million for the Dulles Metrorail project to the airport and eastern Loudoun County, which was included in the House version of the transportation funding bill.
The I-66 study would determine if BRT is feasible, and if so, where it could pick up passengers and drop them off, Scandling said. Those who could most benefit from the BRT could be commuters in western Prince William and Fauquier counties, he said.
“We’ve got to start looking at ways to have other forms of transportation in the I-66 corridor outside the beltway,” Scandling said. “And this study will start answering those questions.”
It’s something that could lead to a consideration of rail — at least it did in the Dulles corridor in the 1990s, he said.
Wolf – who likens BRT to a train on tires – first advocated the buses in the Dulles corridor in the 1990s as a precursor to rail in order to build ridership, Scandling said.
“It’s showing that the 66 corridor is going to start getting the attention needs,” Scandling said.
The $500,000 earmarked for VRE was secured by Davis. That money complements previous federal grants secured by Davis, local money, Virginia Rail Enhancement funds and another earmark from Virginia Sen. Charles J. “Chuck” Colgan, D-Manassas.
The money will help put commuter trains in western Prince William on the drawing board, Roeber said.
The VRE-to-Haymarket study could take between 16 and 18 months to complete.
VRE will be able to determine how much track it would need to build in addition to existing Norfolk Southern lines, Roeber said.
Once the design is complete, VRE needs to begin securing the $200 million to $250 million needed to build the additional tracks, stations, parking areas and interchanges where the tracks intersect roads.
“When we get down to stations in the preliminary designs we’ll really be working with the county to map out where those stations will be placed,” Roeber said.
The Haymarket station would likely be located outside the Town of Haymarket, he said.
Gainesville’s station is planned for the area near Nissan Pavilion and the Virginia Gateway Business Park.
The Sudley Manor station would be located somewhere near Sudley Manor Drive where it intersects with the rail line.
The likelihood of the Senate approving the $500,000 design funds “for all intents and purposes it looks pretty good now,” Roeber said.
But earmarks can always fall by the wayside during committee negotiations, he said.