The right place for a new VRE station

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is completing a Statewide Rail Plan.  State and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) officials are assuming that PW County officials will automatically support the grandiose plans of VRE to extend its Manassas line.

But those officials ought to pay attention to the county Planning Commission.  It’s at risk of doing the right thing. At its December 3 meeting, the Planning Commission directed staff to revise the transit portion of the Transportation Chapter.  There’s a chance the Planning Commission will remove plans for new VRE stations west of Haymarket and in Nokesville. 

The Haymarket station would encourage sprawl at the edge of the Rural Area and beyond.  Inviting 2,000 cars/day to drive to Haymarket would create pressure for further widening of routes 29/15/55 so residents in Front Royal and Warrenton could drive to that end-of-line station. 

Haymarket would get a massive garage on the edge of town, huge traffic jams twice a day – and no economic boost.  The experience in Manassas demonstrates that commuters shifting from cars to VRE don’t stop-and-shop; they just git-in-and-go.  

Want a VRE station in Nokesville?  Well, you must want to blow up the concept of steering development to the Development Area.  If you want to encourage massive growth in Nokesville, it would make sense to support a new VRE station in the core of the Rural Area.   Otherwise… it’s nuts.

VRE stations are multi-million dollar taxpayer investments.  We should get a good return on those investments. 

That will happen only if we divert traffic from overcrowded highways to commuter rail.  We can use new VRE stations to divert significant highway traffic – but only if we make it easy for people  to live close enough to those new VRE stations to walk or take a shuttle bus to the train station.  

Inviting Fauquier and Warren County residents to drive to VRE stations in Prince William just spreads sprawl-and-crawl further.  Extending the edge of Northern Virginia deevelopment deeper into the rural counties is dumb planning.   

It’s obvious now that train stations are a great tool to stimulate mixed use, walkable developments.  The Metro stations in Arlington County’s Rosslyn-to-Ballston corridor show how zoning for concentrated jobs and housing, located next to rail stations that offer lots of trains throughout the day, can reduce car congestion. 

If the Planning Commission and Board of County Supervisors are serious about incentivizing developers to create mixed use, walkable communities, then the new Comp Plan will place new VRE stations where we want to stimulate new housing/jobs. 

The Planning Commission took a step in that direction on December 3.  If the final version actually strips out the Haymarket and Nokesville stations, then VRE will be directed to expand its Manassas line only to Innovation/Gainesville.

A VRE station at Innovation offers a solid match with the smart growth philosophy.   We decided long ago to encourage new development at Innovation – to the extent that the county has bought much of the land nearby.  Getting landowner support for a planned “University Town Center,” and designing it to take full advantage of a commuter rail station, ought to be easy.

Taypayers are already building regional recreation and cultural centers and even a GMU campus at Innovation.  The VE station would be in close proximity to the Manassas Mall and the commercial district on Sudley Road, plus some of the highest-density housing in the county.  

In addition, the Vulcan rock quarry, which is already planning to close, offers a great opportunity for creating a lake and a “sense of place.”

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