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More Parking, More Riders?

Construction for a new parking garage will be visible at the Burke VRE station beginning this fall.

The second of two major groundbreakings in the Braddock district kicked off Saturday, July 29, with a lot of excitement from county, state and federal officials.

“This is a very big day in Burke,” said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock). “These are two projects that are joined at the hip.”

The two projects, the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) parking garage at the Burke Centre station, and the Burke Centre Library, have been in the making for some time. The major connection between the two now is the parking situation. While the VRE garage is being constructed, additional parking at the library construction site will be offered with a free shuttle bus service to the VRE station. Construction is slated to begin around September or October, and at that time residents and riders will be notified about alternative parking locations.

THE GARAGE, like the library, is designed for compatibility with Burke Centre’s nature theme. The sleek garage will feature brick facades, decorative planters and a clock tower.

“We don’t just want a big block concrete garage here,” said Sam DiBartolo, a local resident who has followed the design process from the beginning. “It has to fit in with the other architecture in the area.”

DiBartolo, like many others, didn’t like the sound of a huge parking structure backing up not only to Burke Centre residences, but to Burke Stadium, the Little League field next to the VRE station. In the initial concept design meetings, many residents’ body language, said Bulova, was negative at best. DiBartolo drew a sketch of the garage and included a clock tower, to add some character to a typically boring type of structure. Architects went with it and included it in the final design, giving the building some character to go along with the character of Burke Centre, said DiBartolo.

“It’s been a delightful process,” said Patrick Halpin, the main architect for the project from Wisnewski Blair and Associates, Ltd. “There has been heavy citizen involvement.”

Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) said he helped obtain $23 million of the $28.8 million federally funded project through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program and congressional earmarks. Davis said the local, state and federal level commitments to mass transportation will help the atmosphere and traffic problems in the region.

“We’re never going to be able to do it [solve traffic problems] with enough pavement,” said Davis. “A very important part of our transportation future is going to be by rail.”

THE PROJECT, part of the Board of Supervisors’ Four-Year Transportation Plan, will include 1,290 garage parking spaces, and 225 surface spaces. It will also have bus shelters, pedestrian amenities and a Kiss & Ride drop-off area.

“The VRE has always been a part of my main concern,” said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). “I’m just so happy that our rail is growing and it’s so successful.”

The Burke station is the third largest in terms of ridership for the entire VRE system. Heavy use is usually the most common at the ends of the line, said Dale Zehner, chief executive officer of the VRE. The top two stations currently are the ones at the ends of the line, but he expects that might change once the Burke garage is built.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that when this garage is built it [Burke VRE ridership] moves up to second, or even first,” said Zehner.

The population crunch in the Burke area is what prompted the need for a parking solution, said Bulova, since parking was a problem at the station from the very beginning. Patrick Gloyd, president of the Burke Centre Conservancy, said he thinks the project has met the needs of the community and that most residents will be satisfied with the way it turns out.

“The design integrated vegetation, and people won’t have to park in the grass anymore,” said Gloyd.

Supervisors Bulova and McConnell, Zehner and Kathy Ichter, director of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, all pointed their gratitude toward Davis. McConnell said Davis “has supported us from the very beginning with money from Congress.”

“Anytime you can get cars off the road is a good thing,” said Davis.