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Posted at 03:18 PM ET, 07/26/2011

VRE officials to discuss the future of the commuter-rail system

Virginia Railway Express officials will host a strategic planning session Friday to discuss the future of a commuter-rail system that is bursting at the seams.

The VRE operations board will meet with VRE employees to evaluate the commuter-rail system’s strategic plan for the first time in almost a decade. A blueprint for VRE’s future, the strategic plan was created in 2002 by consulting firm Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas and guides the future growth and development of the system through 2025.

Friday’s meeting, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the PRTC Transit building in Woodbridge, is open to the public and expected to last about five hours. Officials plan to look at everything from ridership and parking to capital needs, funding and expansion opportunities.

When VRE was created in 1992, Northern Virginia officials hoped it would carry 10,000 people a day. This year, VRE has surpassed the 20,000 daily ridership mark numerous times, and trains are full of standees. A lack of funding and storage space, however, stifles the system’s future growth.

“We hit over 20,000 on a regular basis. What are we going to do to prepare for the next wave of growth? Because it is not going to stop,” VRE Spokesman Mark Roeber said. “That is something they will discuss.”

Prince William County Supervisor and VRE board member W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) said he plans to bring up VRE’s expansion into Gainesville and Haymarket.

The proposed project, which could cost up to $244 million, would extend VRE 11 miles on Norfolk Southern’s B line into the Gainesville-Haymarket area. The project includes up to three stations, near Innovation @ Prince William Technology Park, Jiffy Lube Live and the Interstate 66-Route 15 area.

“This has been part of the plan before I was even on the board,” Covington said. Extending to Gainesville “could have a major impact and take 5,000 people off the road. There needs to be some real strategic planning though to make this happen.”

The VRE Operations Board has approved funding for the project’s preliminary engineering work, but VRE is waiting for approval from the state to proceed, Roeber said, noting the state is funding the engineering. Funding for the rest of the project has yet to be identified.

Covington said other issues he wants to discuss Friday include parking at Broad Run-- a station in Prince William’s western end that is packed daily — and a reverse commuter train.

Covington said he knows it will likely take 10-plus years to get the reverse train but that it is crucial for business growth in the community to connect downtown Washington with Prince William’s innovation center and George Mason University.

By  |  03:18 PM ET, 07/26/2011

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