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VRE station parking impasse slows project

Work on the Virginia Railway Express expansion in Spotsylvania County is finally moving along.

But not quite as originally planned.

Completion of the commuter rail station and parking lot in the Crossroads Business Park off the U.S. 17 Bypass was expected to have been completed before the third set of tracks was done.

But now as crews work to clear the way for the additional tracks, Spotsylvania officials have decided to seek state assistance to get the station and parking lot project moving.

Construction workers are clearing the right of way along Benchmark Road alongside the current tracks where the third tracks will run.

VRE officials hope that the initial phase of the third tracks will be ready for use by the end of the summer, said Rich Dalton, VRE’s deputy chief executive and chief operating officer.

Once that section is finished, work will start on the second phase for the third set of tracks, which will run from the north side of the U.S. 17 Bypass and connect to the two-track mainline south of the Fredericksburg train station.

Progress on acquiring land in the Crossroads Business Park for the 1,500-space parking lot at the planned station is moving along more slowly.

Officials had originally expected the station to be open by now, but numerous issues have popped up, with the most recent problems caused by stalled negotiations for land for the commuter parking lot.

CSX Transportation owns the land where the station will be built, so that isn’t an issue.

The county had been negotiating with businessmen George Lester and Fitz Johnson, who own the property needed for VRE parking.

The businessmen recently gained county approval to build 610 apartment units and commercial space next to the station site.

But the negotiations for the roughly 25 acres for the parking lot have proven fruitless.

So the county recently asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to handle the property acquisition.

“They can facilitate it better,” said Spotsylvania County Administrator Doug Barnes.

The property has been appraised and the lot design is ready, Barnes said. He hopes to have a better idea about a construction timeline in a few weeks.

VDOT’s Kelly Hannon said the department plans to handle the land negotiations “as quickly as we can.”

VDOT regularly acquires land, mostly for road projects.

Typically, sales agreements are reached between the state and the landowner. Other times the state takes property through its power of eminent domain for land needed for public use.

If VDOT’s offer of “just compensation” is rejected by the landowner, the matter can go to court.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436