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New trench option could save town and county

Posted on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 2:42 pm

By NATALIE MILLER

H-P Reporter

With a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) recommendation for a DC2RVA rail route needed in less than two weeks, the committee members must consider a new three-track trench option that could cause the least destruction.

At the fourth DC2RVA CAC meeting Monday, Aug. 28 the committee was able to eliminate a few eastern bypass options and learned about the new underground alternative. The three-track alternative, which would run under Ashland, was created based on input from the CAC.

Foley acknowledged that the construction process would be painful for the town. Cecil “Rhu” Harris, County Administrator, recognized that the build period would be difficult, but could alleviate some possible traffic issues.

The CAC was asked to be prepared to make an alternative recommendation before the September CTB meeting.

“What we would like to see this group do is be able to give that kind of recommendation to the CTB, otherwise they may need to make a decision without having the benefit of a recommendation from this committee,” Mitchell said.

Since the committee was not prepared to make any official unanimous recommendation, they eliminated some options that they agreed to not discuss further. Two Eastern Bypass alternatives were taken off the table, including one two-track option that would use the Buckingham Branch and eliminate some land and functionality of Washington Lacy Park.

The second Eastern alternative removed from discussion was another two-track option that would cross I-95 twice, and impact Washington Lacy Park.

The FRA is set to publish the Draft Environmental Statement Sept. 8, which will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. During this period, at least one meeting will be held in Ashland. Those comments will be brought back to CTB by their December meeting.

Representation from Ashland, Hanover and Randolph-Macon College originally agreed that the at-grade, minor improvements in Ashland alternative referred to as the 3-2-3 option would be the least harmful option.

Randy Marcus, CSX Resident Vice President and part of the CAC, said that some modeling completed since the last meeting showed that this option would negatively affect other areas in Virginia.

“Since then our team has had some time to look at it and it showed significant freight delays in places like Newport News, Petersburg and Emporia,” Marcus said.  “Which is not a result we can support.”

Mitchell said at the start of the meeting that funding would play an important role in prioritizing rail projects, with the expansion of the Long Bridge in the Washington, D.C. area at the top of the list.

“We can build all of the expanded track that we want but we really don’t get any benefits of that until the Long Bridge is completed,” Mitchell said. “All of that capacity would still run into that bottle neck.”

The three-track trench option is less expensive than the two other below-grade options through Ashland, with the route projected to cost between $640 million and $930 million. The soft earth and deep bore tunnels are estimated to cost between $1.97 billion and $2.85 billion, and $1.45 billion and $2.09 billion respectively.

By the end of Monday’s meeting the committee had eliminated two eastern bypass options and taken the Buckingham Branch off of the table. The group will still need to come to some kind of consensus for a recommendation by the end of the Sept. 11 meeting.

“We are all in this as a community and all of these options are bad for all of us,” Kristin Reihl, an Ashland citizen and representative for CAC said.

“We need to be fair to the whole process and bring something forward for each category,” Reihl continued.

The next meeting will be held Monday, September 11 to try to decide on a recommendation before the September CTB meeting.

A public informational meeting is anticipated be held sometime before the Sept. 11 CAC meeting to discuss alternatives, with a focus on underground methods.