COLONIAL HEIGHTS — After several years of multijurisdictional deliberation, impact studies, and community input, a property on the Boulevard in Colonial Heights has been chosen as the Federal Rail Administration’s (FRA) preferred site for a new Amtrak Train Station.
Plans for a new station came about several years ago as the existing station in Ettrick – built in 1955 – is considered under federal standards to be too small to handle even its current ridership levels.
The FRA began to consider a number of properties in Colonial Heights, Petersburg, and Ettrick for a new, larger Tri-Cities Multimodal Station, but following a study they conducted in conjunction with the Crater Planning District Commission, a property on the Boulevard in Colonial Heights was chosen to replace the existing Ettrick station.
The study took into consideration a variety of elements including environmental impact – which involved studying the way the train station could affect animal life, the land itself, and more.
According to Colonial Heights city officials, a property in Petersburg was ruled out as they found a train station would impact land with Civil War historical significance. Another property previously considered in Colonial Heights was also deemed unfit after a community of owls were found inhabiting the area.
Also as part of their study, the FRA and Crater Planning District Commission asked Petersburg, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Prince George, and Dinwiddie County officials to take the three considered locations – Petersburg, Ettrick and Colonial Heights – and rank them in the order where they would like to see the new station be built. While several of the localities chose themselves as the first option, Prince George picked Colonial Heights.
In addition to taking all of the community leaders’ opinions into consideration, the FRA also provided a 30-45 day period in which Tri-City citizens could write in and voice their questions and concerns about the project.
Following their in-depth study, which totals 563 pages, the FRA ultimately decided on Colonial Heights for a new 3,700-square-foot train station. Their preferred site is a property on the Boulevard near the railroad overpass, in the large parking area in front of the Rent-E-Quip business. The project will require the city’s acquisition of some property there, because it’s private land and not currently city-owned property.
According to Colonial Heights City Manager Douglas Smith and Mayor Gregory Kochuba, the FRA chose the subject property in Colonial Heights for a variety of reasons, including its accessibility, visibility, and its three-minute travel time to the I-95 interstate. The FRA also preferred the Boulevard site due to its central location, close to existing population centers – Fort Lee, Virginia State University, downtown Petersburg, and downtown Colonial Heights.
“To get to the Ettrick Station, it’s kind of off the beaten path to get there, and there isn’t much parking … it’s kind of weird how it’s designed. So this [new train station] will be very visible, quick access, [and] centrally-located. It will give quick and easy access to all of the surrounding communities,” said Kochuba. “It’ll support Hopewell, Prince George, Dinwiddie, Petersburg, and Colonial Heights.
“So obviously people who will come in from Fort Lee, people from Petersburg, Hopewell, Prince George, they’ll come in and stop and eat something before they get on the train or shop or pick up some snacks, so it’s going to obviously generate great revenue for us,” he added.
In addition to regular train services, the FRA is also looking at bringing a high-speed rail system – a type of rail transport that operates significantly faster than traditional rail traffic – to the station in Colonial Heights sometime in the future. The high speed set of rails would be on a separate track and would venture from Colonial Heights to other cities or dense population areas, such as Washington D.C. and Raleigh, North Carolina.
“Right now, the priority and the first step is to get the regular train station in. But later if the high speed rail goes in, that will be a significant impact – especially for the millenials who want to work where the pay rate is much much higher but be able to have more affordable housing here,” said Kochuba. “And … when you get [a high speed rail station], do you develop? If that’s the case, you can see how this high speed rail would cause us to grow and develop.”
While the exact cost of the new Amtrak station has not yet been determined, the Environmental Assessment previously issued by the Crater Planning District Commission and the FRA included a cost estimate of 9-12 million dollars. Smith and Kochuba both note that funding assistance will be crucial and heavily sought after for the project. The Colonial Heights City Council has already given support to apply for several grant applications to assist with station funding, and they plan to continue looking for additional funding opportunities as the project moves forward.
“Some of the grant funding is like an 80/20 split, with them paying 80 percent and the city paying 20 percent,” said Kochuba. “Not all of them are, but one or two of the ones we were entertaining were.”
City officials are excited that Colonial Heights has been chosen as the FRA’s preferred site, and they look forward to serving the Tri-City community and generating revenue in the process.
“We’re excited that we’re being considered as the location. Of course not all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed, but we’re still waiting for the final report to come in. I think it’s a great opportunity; it’s very positive for the community,” said Kochuba. “It will provide an increase in revenue, we’re centrally located, we’ll be servicing not only the surrounding areas but Fort Lee – which I try to provide a quality of life for them, and if we can have an easy-to-access train station, that’s awesome for soldiers. So it’s a great opportunity, and it leads for a lot of future enhancements if it then materializes into a high speed rail. It will create a facelift over in that area, and that’s kind of like a domino effect once you start improving and enhancing. ”
“It’s giving the opportunity to serve not just our city but the whole region,” added Smith. “Construction is down the road, but it’s certainly great to be considered the preferred site, and we’ll work on the grant applications and try to see what materializes coming down the road toward getting that station built.”
The time frame for the train station project has not yet been determined as the city waits on the final No Significant Impact report to be issued.