<bt>A wetlands area isn't like a mobile home. It can't be relocated without much effort. But relocating the wetlands area across the tracks from the Burke Centre Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station is one of the proposals being considered by VRE officials.
Since the parking lot at the Burke Centre station is at capacity on most mornings, officials are looking to add more spaces for commuters. With ball fields and the Sideburn Branch stream nearby, expanding the existing lot is not an option currently being considered.
The wetlands area north of the tracks was moved when the Virginia Department of Transportation put in the Roberts Road Bridge over the tracks, eliminating the last at-grade railroad crossing in the area. Local officials proposed building a five-level parking garage on one of the existing lots.
The community of Burke Commons, which faces the station, is backing a plan in which the parking garage would be built on the northern side of the tracks, where the wetlands are. The wetlands would have to be relocated again, which is an extensive operation. The garage would be connected with the station by a pedestrian bridge.
Marc Flaster represents The Commons on the Burke Centre board of trustees. His biggest concern is traffic the garage will attract.
"I personally have some concerns how the traffic is going to flow," Flaster said.
Flaster is also concerned about lighting, security, garage upkeep and the permanence of the structure. He also pointed to concerns over the last few years with VRE and the future of Amtrak. He questioned whether VRE is independent of the future of Amtrak.
"[Supervisor] Sharon Bulova's [D-Braddock] office assured me that it would," he said.
Bulova hosted a few meetings at her office to address the parking issue at the station. She acknowledged the opposition by Burke Centre homeowners to option C, which is putting the 5-level garage on the current parking lot right in front of the station. Flaster attended Bulova's meetings as well and felt a level of acceptance to other options existed. Bulova thinks moving the wetlands might not be as feasible as it was the first time, though.
"I don't think we could get permission by the Environmental Protection Agency to put it there," she said.
"Now you'd be relocating it entirely," said Mark Roeber, VRE spokesperson. "I don't know where you would move it."
The Army Corps of Engineers was involved when Roberts Road bridge was built, and they constructed the new wetlands area on the north side of the tracks. In a document, dated March 8, 1999, "that particular wetlands is protected forever."
Flaster is currently trying to enlist other residents of The Commons to join the VRE task force.
"We're going to do our homework and come up with some options," Flaster said.
Mary Cortina, task force member, looked at the history of the wetlands and bridge and wondered why the garage wasn't considered when the Roberts Road Bridge went up. She refers to the wetlands as "artificial wetlands," since they've already been moved once, she said.
"It would have made more sense when they were putting in the overpass, to plan it then," she said.
THE BURKE CENTRE VRE station isn't the only station that's experiencing parking problems. At Rolling Road, one stop from Burke Centre, the lot is smaller, fills quickly and forces commuters to park on the road. A VRE garage is located at the station in Woodbridge, and funding was recently approved for another garage at the Manassas station, said Roeber.
Beginning in the November-December time frame, the EZ Ride bus system is being incorporated to address the commuter-train parking situation. This is a free shuttle bus to the VRE station, picking up at locations on the north and south side of the tracks, said Bulova.
"We're hoping while the parking garage is going up, this will help," she said. "It is a pilot project."
Last year, Gov. Mark Warner (D) established funding for certain transportation projects, and EZ Ride was one of them.