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Smooth Commute Despite Construction

Construction begins on new parking garage at Burke Centre VRE station.

One week after the start of the construction project at the Burke Centre Virginia Railway Express Station, officials and riders say the parking situation has turned out better than anyone expected.

Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) started a community task force for the garage in September 2003. Residents and riders met several times to discuss the design and capacity of the new garage and reached an agreeable outcome. Many of the task force members attended an Oct. 12 “Pardon Our Dust” meeting, and expressed concerns about temporary parking and shuttle service during the construction of the garage. Their worries are turning out for the better after the first week and a half of construction.

“It’s been very smooth; almost seamless,” said Mark Roeber, spokesperson for the VRE. “All the advance work has helped to make the transition very clean.”

Most of the concerns at the “Pardon Our Dust” meeting were about not having enough spaces at the station lot and at the temporary lot. Since phase one of the construction has taken away 130 spaces at Burke Centre, and only 108 spaces have been provided at the temporary lot at the Burke Centre Library site, riders were sure that late arrivers would be out of luck.

“There has been good utilization of the EZ bus system,” said Roeber. “People seem to have migrated properly, and at no point has there been chaos.”

CONSTRUCTION CREWS arrived on site Monday, Oct. 30 after project officials made a last-minute decision to delay the project for one week. The delay gave them extra time to work out some of the details with the EZ bus routes and the shuttle buses between the station and the temporary parking lot at the intersection of Freds Oak Road and the Fairfax County Parkway.

Jessie Steiger, the county’s construction manager for the project, was on site for the first three days to help direct traffic and answer questions. She said that switching some two-way streets to one-way caused some confusion, but everything else was going well. The main parking lot didn’t fill up until Wednesday, Nov. 1, she said, and it seemed like the shuttle buses were running smoothly.

“I heard comments that it is running better than expected, which is always nice to hear,” said Steiger.

Ridership is generally lower on Mondays and Fridays, said Roeber, but even with the lower numbers, the temporary parking lot wasn’t even a quarter full by the afternoon commute. The shuttle buses were on schedule all week, said Angela Bruce Dunson, a rider from Clifton. Her bus was waiting for her when she parked her car Friday, Nov. 3, at about 7:45 a.m.

“It’s working fine,” she said. “There have been plenty of spots.”

The only hiccup so far in the operation was a power failure on Monday, Nov. 6, around 5 p.m., said Bruce Edwards, a Fairfax County transportation planner. Construction crews cut the main power line just before dusk and had to bring in temporary light towers and a generator to provide adequate lighting for arriving train riders, said Steiger. The lights throughout the parking lot and on the train platform were all out.

“Safety is our number-one priority,” said Edwards.

Edwards said the construction crew did exactly what it was supposed to by calling in the problem immediately. Edwards went to the site to ensure everything was being done, and crews were working to restore power by dusk the following day.

Ridership seems to have increased at the Rolling Road station, said Roeber, but there is no evidence of decline at the Burke Centre Station. During the planning stages, officials stressed to people who could make the switch to the Rolling Road Station to go ahead and do so, and it appears people have, he said.

“The multitude of options available for people are certainly paying off,” said Roeber. “We’re hoping once we’ve seen a full week of the flow and feedback, we’ll have a better handle of where ridership is at.”

Volume has also increased on the Burke community EZ bus routes, as expected. The extra week of planning gave officials time to make sure an extra bus was in the rotation and that people who could migrate to Rolling Road would, said Roeber.

“Aside from them cutting the power line, everything is going great,” said Steiger.