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Caroline looking into joining VRE group

Caroline County officials are in the early stages of pursuing membership on the regional transportation board that runs Virginia Railway Express and plans other transportation projects.

The Board of Supervisors last week directed County Administrator Charles Culley to send a letter to the board of the Potomac & Rappahannock Transportation Commission seeking information about becoming a member.

Supervisor Jeff Sili, who represents Bowling Green, was the only supervisor who voted against sending the letter.

The 17-member PRTC board is made up of 13 elected officials from the six member jurisdictions, three from the General Assembly and one from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. Stafford, Spotsylvania and Prince William counties and the cities of Fredericksburg, Manassas, Manassas Park are already members.

Caroline is in the information-seeking stage about joining the group. The VRE does not extend to the county, but 75 of its residents ride the commuter train to Northern Virginia and Washington and a planned mixed-use development in Carmel Church includes a train station.

“I think they are just exploring whether it is something the group would be interested in us joining,” Culley said of the board’s action.

Spotsylvania became a member of the PRTC in 2010, at the encouragement of Supervisors Gary Skinner and Benjamin Pitts, who had campaigned in support of joining the group. Spotsylvania is expected to open its first VRE station in December at the Crossroads Business Park off the U.S. 17 bypass.

Skinner said the two main reasons the county joined the group were to get more traffic off Interstate 95 and to bring in revenue for the county’s transportation projects through an additional 2 percent gas tax that members of the group can charge. He said Spotsylvania has brought in $12 million in revenue in the three years since it joined.

According to a memo Culley wrote to the supervisors, the most compelling reason for Caroline to join the PRTC would be “to enhance the county’s ability to construct highway improvements.”

Caroline does not have to get its own VRE station to join PRTC though.

Caroline Revenue Commissioner Sharon Carter said that, based on the 87.8 million gallons of fuel sold in Caroline in 2012 and an average retail price of $3.81 per gallon, the county could expect $6 million to $6.6 million in annual tax revenue from the 2 percent levy.

Some of that revenue would go to PRTC administration and local support of VRE, but the rest would go to Caroline to use on transportation initiatives in the county.

Local projects the revenue could be used for include:

  • Interstate 95 interchange improvements at Carmel Church and Ladysmith;
  • Widening and/or improvements of U.S. 1, 17 and 301 and State Routes 2 and 30;
  • Widening and/or improving major secondary roads, including but not limited to State Routes 601,605 and 639;
  • Paving unpaved state roads or rural addition projects;
  • Building industrial access roads;
  • Establishing a VRE station;
  • Support and expansion of the FRED transit service;
  • Traffic safety improvements;
  • Bicycle trails and facilities;
  • School buses;
  • Parking garages or commuter lots.

According to his April report, VRE Chief Executive Officer Doug Allen met with Caroline officials that month and agreed to keep “an open dialogue” to share developments as they progress.

Caroline would need more VRE riders than it has now to warrant its own station, Culley said.

“There has to truly be a plan laid out in order to figure out the operational demands,” said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

It’s not impossible though.

Roeber said it would just have a lot of moving parts.

This isn’t the first time Caroline has considered joining PRTC.

The idea was discussed in 2007 when the county got a $100,000 state grant to study where a passenger rail station should go.

In 2010, the board voted to rezone 1,100 acres between U.S. 1 and I–95 near the Flying J truck stop for Carmel Church Station, a planned mixed-use project that includes homes, commercial space and a train station. It has also been submitted as a possible site for the FBI’s new headquarters.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413