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VRE Riders Predict Disarray

Riders express concern about lost parking spaces due to garage construction.

A Thursday, Oct. 12 meeting about the construction of the parking garage at the Burke Centre Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station raised enough questions about parking shuttles and EZ bus routes that officials decided to delay the start of construction for another week.

Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) hosted the “Pardon Our Dust” meeting at Bonnie Brae Elementary School along with county transportation officials, members from VRE and the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. Project officials presented an overview of the project and its timeline, but ended up fielding many questions about some logistics that they agreed needed to be more specifically coordinated.

“We’re doing everything in our power to provide the services needed,” said Bruce Edwards, a county transportation planner working on the project. “We’re taking a look at all options that will help get you to the [Burke Centre VRE] lot.”

CONSTRUCTION ON the garage was scheduled to begin Oct. 23, but work has been pushed back until Oct. 30. A parking shuttle scheduled to take riders from the temporary parking lot at the Burke Centre Library construction site, at the southeast corner of Freds Oak Road and the Fairfax County Parkway, will still begin its service Oct. 23 for those who have not learned of the one-week construction delay, said Edwards.

Parking at St. Mary’s Church, at Zion Drive and Sideburn Road, is not approved to begin until early December, but Bulova said the church has been very cooperative and willing to help the county find extra parking throughout the negotiation process. If the library parking lot fills up before St. Mary’s parking is scheduled to open to riders, Bulova said parking at the church earlier than December should not be a problem. The EZ Bus route goes right by it and riders no longer need to subscribe to ride the bus, she said.

“If you show up, they will pick you up,” said Bulova.

About 130 parking spaces are going to be lost during phase one of the construction project, said Jessie Steiger, the county construction manager working on the project. The library parking lot will have 108 spaces, and the county is trying to negotiate about 100 spaces at St. Mary’s Church.

Once the garage is under construction, the park and ride lot there will be down about 235 spaces, but only about 30 spaces overall because of the church and library spots. But some community members who attended the Pardon Our Dust meeting are worried that they might be one of the 30 cars not getting a space at any of the three lots, especially those riders who take the later morning trains.

“We’ve tried to make sure we’ve accommodated as best as we could,” said Mark Roeber, a VRE representative.

Officials could not guarantee that spaces would be available at the VRE lot based on riders’ arrival times at the lots. With the disruption of the construction, people are likely to adjust personal routines in order to get parking spaces in time for their trains. If on day one things are chaotic, some might change their methods completely, said Mary Cortina, a member of the community VRE garage task force.

“This is not a science,” said Bulova. “We’re going to try to do the best we can. People are going to change their behaviors.”

OTHER RIDERS at the meeting wanted to know how the EZ buses would be able to accommodate the surplus of new riders. Some larger buses will be provided, said Edwards, with a capacity of about 26 passengers as opposed to 18 currently. Riders from the north side fear that without additional EZ bus routes, riders will be left standing on the street.

“We need another route. It’s a no-brainer,” said Ray Foreman. “People are going to park at Target and walk across the tracks. That’s what’s going to happen if you don’t have additional routes on the north side. That’s my prediction.”

Since the county and Smoot Construction, the company building the garage, are emphasizing safety, the last thing they want are riders crossing the tracks on foot.

“If we fail in safety, then we’ve failed everyone,” said Cirilo Paulo, project manager for Smoot Construction. “Our first concern is safety.”

The VRE train schedule had an unrelated schedule adjustment set for Oct. 30, and Edwards said a slight adjustment will be made to the current EZ Bus schedule as a result. Those changes will be made public early in the week of Oct. 21. The county has already decided to run a “strategic bus” behind the current north route bus in case of an overload, said Edwards, and some preliminary talk has taken place about adding an unofficial stop to the route.

Officials are using the time between now and Oct. 30 to determine what other arrangements need to be made or adjusted, and also whether more routes, or at least the unofficial stop, on the north side are in fact necessary. Bulova said the good news is that officials took many of the riders’ concerns at the meeting very seriously and are taking the extra week to address them as best as they can.

The entire planning process of the project has been closely coordinated and communicated with the local community, said Ken Lim, an engineer with the county’s building design branch. So it is only fitting that they continue to follow that routine by addressing new concerns about parking and buses.

“This is a real testimony of the positive side of team work,” said Lim, during the Pardon Our Dust meeting. “This [garage design] is a direct result of citizen input.”