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VRE Eyes Parking Expansion

At the Burke Centre Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station, the parking situation has come to a point where the baseball fields next to the lot may turn into parking lots sometime in the future.

Other options are being examined, but according to Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), the fields were constructed with the understanding that they may have to go in the future and be relocated if possible.

"It was always planned that way. We need the space for the ball fields, too. It's going to be painful," McConnell admitted. McConnell is on the VRE board, but Burke Centre is actually in Supervisor Sharon Bulova's (D-Braddock) area. Bulova is following the issue, noting that Rolling Road station is in need also.

"We're trying to do two things, interim improvements and more capacity at Burke Centre and Rolling Road. They're looking at the feasibility of structural parking," she said. "We need to be out addressing the overcrowding issue now."

Roger Sims, past president of the Fairfax Little League, attested to the need for ball fields. He's heard the talk about the parking lot expansion but pointed out that Burke Centre owns that land, not Fairfax County. The deal, he recalled, was that VRE would have to relocate the fields.

"I knew they were talking about expanding the parking lot. Nobody has had any discussions with us," he said, while he manned the temporary Christmas tree sales lot next to the field. "There's a ton of room down there," he said, pointing to an open area behind the current parking lot.

Tom Wade of the Burke Conservancy agreed that the Conservancy owns the land but hasn't heard about putting parking lots on the ball fields.

"That belongs to the Conservancy. I'm not so sure we'd be interested in giving it up," he said.

VRE spokesperson Mark Roeber noted that they are examining other options first, including reformatting the current parking lot. In the future though, a parking garage may be what the station needs.

"They're going to look at restriping and reconfiguring," he said. "We're waiting for Fairfax to release a study."

The Board of Supervisors recently approved spending up to $100,000 in state aid from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to design interim parking lot improvements, as recorded on its Dec. 12 agenda.

The lot currently has 550 spaces, and VRE hopes to add eight to 10 more spaces with the restriping.

Roeber was not part of the ball field decision but heard about the possibility.

"Previously, we were told there was other available land. We were not involved in that discussion," he said.

One option Wade has heard was to allow commuters to park in the community center parking lot up the hill from the station. This would only be feasible sometimes, and definitely not in the summer, when the pool is open. Another suggestion was parking on the grass, which would lead to cars getting stuck in wet weather.

Another option is to utilize existing parking at either the Target store across the tracks from the station or the former Kmart up Roberts Road.

"The owner of the property where Target was did not want that during the holiday season," Roeber said. Kmart just filed bankruptcy and there have been no further discussions with them, according to Roeber. Wade noted that Wal-Mart was taking over that property in the near future and would need the spaces.

"There are not a lot of options close to the stations," Roeber said.

RIDERSHIP ON THE VRE has grown steadily, though. In its infancy, the target number of riders was 14,000 a day, which was stretching it back then, but now they surpass that.

"A few years ago, that was astronomical. We were over 14,600 the other day," Roeber said.

Although some parking lots on the system aren't full, namely Quantico, Leland, Manassas Park and Broad Run, the train cars are standing room only. Roeber said they are trying to cope with that as well.

"We keep bringing in some trains, hook and crook. We are bringing in a few bi-level cars in the new year," he said.

Fairfax resident Wayne Koblenz, a VRE commuter, gets to the station early.

"I'm here at 6 [a.m.], so I don't have any problem," he said.

Chantilly resident Judy Smith is another early bird.

"I have to get the 7:15 train to get a spot," she said, noting that if she waited for the next train, she might not find a spot or would have to park on the grass.

"It's getting to be a problem," she said.

VRE conductor Steve Watson sees the full lot every weekday morning from the driver’s seat on the train.

"That lot gets full every day. There are a lot of different options on the table," he said. "Burke is one of the busier stations."