By Amir Vera, The Progress-Index
ETTRICK — The location of a regional multimodal passenger station that would link the Tri-Cities to Charlotte and Raleigh N.C., and Washington, D.C., has been narrowed down to four sites.
The latest updates came during a Sept. 16 public meeting sponsored by Michael Baker International, the lead consulting agency for the project. The four sites include two in Colonial Heights, one on the Boulevard and one at Branders Bridge, one in Ettrick at the existing Amtrak train station and one in Petersburg at Collier Yard.
Ken Mobley, project manager for Michael Baker International, said there were concerns with the Branders Bridge site because of its proximity to residential development. Mobley also said the land around this site is privately owned and the owner would like to develop a business and home in the location. Lastly, Mobley said the land is a forested property that used to be a quarry. Within that forested land, he said, is a species that has the potential to become endangered.
“We as a study team and as professionals have concerns about Branders Bridge. We will probably recommend that it not go forward after tonight’s meeting,” Mobley said.
The Boulevard site is also privately owned. The Amtrak station site in Ettrick is on land owned by CSX, which Mobley said is already within rail right-of-way ownership. The Collier South site is located on land owned by the city of Petersburg.
“The three stations that remain have trade-offs with each one of them so there are reasons for someone to like or not like each one of them,” Mobley said. “Overall the region will provide us guidance.”
Citizens at this public meeting were given the chance to give their feedback as to which location they believed to be the best site.
Charles Epps, chief executive officer of Appomattox Drugs in South Chesterfield, feels the Amtrak station is the best site because it is centrally located for students at Virginia State University and is essential to the build up of Ettrick.
“We need to build Ettrick up, not take businesses out,” Epps said. “You have the convocation center here, the kids need to get back and forth and they can walk to the train station. Virgina State University is right there, kids can jump on the train to go to Washington, D.C., and just to get around. Half of these kids don’t have cars and they’re going to take something vital like that and put it somewhere where no one can use it, but everyone who has a car. It doesn’t make sense.”
However, Petersburg resident Michael Edwards said it would best benefit the region if the station was in the city.
“It would benefit not only Petersburg, but the surrounding localities as well. It is the only site that has quick and easy access to the interstate. With most of the other sites, a person would have to go through congested areas. It is also the most spacious site with the most ample parking and it’s going to be the most cost-effective site to manufacture because the land is city-controlled,” he said.
Public comment is open for citizens throughout the region to speak on their preferred site. The comment period closes Sept. 30, after which Mobley said Michael Baker International will compile the comments and give the information to the study working groups for each jurisdiction. Mobley said the study groups will then go through a process, then give Michael Baker International a ranking and input on the remaining three stations. Mobley said he and the consulting company will then see if there is consensus that will go into a draft environmental study, known as Tri-Cities Area Multimodal Station National Environment Policy Act Study, in order to determine where the station could go and the possible impacts that would be caused from its construction.
This draft study will be published Nov. 6.
Another public comment period will then be open to citizens until Dec. 6. Mobley said the final draft of the environmental assessment, which will include the chosen site of the train station, will be released Dec. 21.
“I think the biggest thing after that is to start identifying the funding to go into the design process,” Mobley said.