There is no suitable place to build a commuter rail station in western Fairfax County, transportation officials have concluded, crippling for now efforts by the Virginia Railway Express to expand its service.
While a station in western Fairfax has been on VRE's drawing board since the commuter line opened in 1992, efforts to find a site for the station have drawn sharp criticism from potential neighbors in the small town of Clifton and in the Centreville area who have complained it would bring excessive traffic and development to their communities.
Since March, county transportation officials have been studying 10 potential sites for a station between Clifton and the Fairfax County Parkway. This week, they told county supervisors that there are problems with each of the sites, including road access, high costs and citizen opposition.
While many officials agree that locating a station in or near Clifton is the most logical choice, the town's council has staunchly opposed allowing VRE access to the community, which has a population of about 250, or to neighboring land in a flood plain and wetland.
"The staff recommendation is that these factors really work against any good site in the area," said county Transportation Director Young Ho Chang. "With what we know, we're recommending we not proceed further on the study."
VRE estimates that a western Fairfax station, and a 350 space parking lot, could attract more than 200 new riders. Rail officials said yesterday they were discouraged but not ready to give up.
"We have a future western Fairfax station on our map that is increasingly less likely," said Steve Roberts, VRE's operations director. "As time goes on, the opportunities diminish. I regret that personally. But I haven't asked the board to take the station off the map. We have opportunities to solve some problems. I'm hoping in the near future we have an opportunity to sit down and say, 'This is a valuable addition. . . . Tell me what this is going to take.' "
Fairfax County Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said the board will discuss Chang's report after its summer recess and called the debate frustrating.
"There isn't one potential site that doesn't make someone unhappy," he said. "The issue now is looking at those sites and figuring out if there are things that can be done to overcome the obstacles.
"I'm not overly optimistic," he added. "If there was an answer, we would have found it a long time ago."
Helen Buller, a former Clifton Town Council member, said it was unlikely her community would ever accept a VRE station.
"The vast majority of citizens in town are not in favor of it, and the people outside of town are even more adamant," Buller said. "They bought five-acre lots with the understanding that they'd live in the rural Occoquan watershed and that it would be protected from development and increased traffic. A 300-car parking lot is a major increase in development. . . . It's time to let it go."