Caroline divided over joining PRTC
Caroline County officials are taking a closer look at joining a regional transportation commission.
But the county’s primary reason for joining the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, which oversees the Virginia Railway Express, is to collect a local 2.1 percent fuel tax from purchases at Caroline filling stations.
However, the prospect of the local tax has divided the Caroline Board of Supervisors.
Madison District Supervisor Wayne Acors wants the county to be able to collect the tax so that it has to take less money out of the county general fund for transportation projects. The local fuel tax is earmarked for local road and transit improvements, as well as supporting the commuter rail service.
Western Caroline District Supervisor Jeff Black is afraid that higher fuel prices will scare off truckers who fill up at the truck stops off Exit 104 of Interstate 95. He says he’s concerned about the impact to one of Caroline’s biggest businesses.
Caroline Revenue Commissioner Sharon Carter said earlier this year 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 2.1 percent levy.
But the tax shouldn’t be the county’s sole reason for joining, members of the VRE Operations Board say.
The mission of VRE and PRTC is to get people traveling to jobs in Northern Virginia and Washington off Interstate 95 to reduce traffic. The fuel tax is a side benefit.
“For Caroline, just to go in to collect the tax is wrong, and VRE expressed that in [a recent] work session,” said Gary Skinner, a Spotsylvania County supervisor who serves on the VRE and PRTC boards.
The Caroline board sent a letter of interest in joining PRTC over the summer.
In November, supervisors met with Doug Allen, chief executive officer of Virginia Rail Express, and Al Harf, executive director of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission. They fielded questions from the board, but made it clear they were not there to make a sales pitch for Caroline to join the commission or VRE.
VRE created a long-range system plan this summer that included expansion into Caroline as one of many possible scenarios.
However, some PRTC commissioners representing other localities in the Fredericksburg region aren’t sure that Caroline County would be a good fit now.
“We are struggling to meet the current demand of service of the trains just in the areas we currently serve,” said Fredericksburg Councilman Matt Kelly, who represents the city on PRTC and the VRE Operations Board.
He said he doesn’t see how expanding VRE to Caroline makes sense at this time. There are currently fewer than 100 riders from Caroline using the commuter rail service on a regular basis.
“We know they don’t have enough ridership yet to justify a train,” said Stafford County Supervisor Paul Milde, who serves on PRTC and is the incoming chairman of the VRE board. He hasn’t formulated an opinion yet, but is willing to discuss it.
Though there has been talk over the last few years about building a train station in Carmel Church, it was not necessarily for VRE trains.
Currently, the southern-most station on the Fredericksburg VRE line is in Fredericksburg.
Spotsylvania, which has thousands of commuters, is the most recent addition to the VRE and PRTC, joining in 2010. A VRE station is set to open in October at Crossroads Business Park off the U.S. 17 bypass.
Kelly pointed out the difference between Caroline and the other jurisdictions that are members.
“To join would mean Caroline would have a vote on the board, and I don’t know how jurisdictions would feel having a member who has no skin in the game being involved in these decisions,” he said. “I would feel uncomfortable having a locality with no skin in the game.”
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413
WHO’S MINDING THE TRAINS?
The 17-member Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission 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.
VRE BOARD MEMBERS
The Virginia Railway Express is a joint project of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission. Its members include Fairfax, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Arlington counties along with the cities of Alexandria, Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg.