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Officials break ground at Spotsylvania VRE station

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Ceremonial clods of mud christened the future site of the new Spotsylvania County Virginia Railway Express station on a rainy Tuesday morning.

But the heavy rain, a leaky tent and muddy mess did nothing to dampen the spirits of giddy officials as they officially broke ground on the site in the Crossroads Industrial Park off the U.S. 17 Bypass.

Work has already started on the station and the new third track. Crews should soon start work on the 1,500-space lot, too.

Several area supervisors and Del. Mark Cole spoke to a crowd gathered under tents and umbrellas Tuesday, recounting the path to the project’s start and touting the station’s potential economic impact.

“This is a really big step for this county,” said Supervisor Gary Skinner, also a VRE Operations Board member.

Skinner and fellow Supervisor Greg Cebula, who represents the district where the new station is being built, see the station not only as a way of getting the county’s more than 1,000 commuters to and from work but as a way to eventually bring more people and business to the county.

The path to this point has not been completely smooth.

A divided Board of Supervisors voted in 2009 to join VRE, years after Fredericksburg and Stafford County had become partners with the commuter rail service.

Spotsylvania has spent several of its five years as a VRE member trying to get a station planned and built.

County officials initially hoped to have the station open by late 2013. But technical and funding issues caused initial delays. Once those problems were dealt with, the county ran into a problem securing the 25 acres needed for the lot.

The property owners, George Lester and Fitz Johnson, have told the county they wanted fair value to sell the property or to lease it. The county isn’t interested in leasing the property or the price the developers have said they want for it.

The county eventually asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to intervene and secure the property through eminent domain.

In July, VDOT filed a “certificate of take” in Spotsylvania Circuit Court.

That allows the county to start the construction process, even if the property owners and VDOT go to court to settle the price for the land, which seems likely.

The developers, whose land around the station was rezoned by the county for mixed-use development before negotiations started for the lot, say they support the station but continue to seek a better price for the land.

Skinner told the crowd at Tuesday’s ceremony that they hope to have the station ready in about six months.

But he also hinted at a possible earlier opening—around Christmastime.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436