A compromise in a dispute between Manassas Park and state transportation officials could lead to the ending of resident-only parking spaces in exchange for new sidewalks and an extension of the train platform, sources on both sides said this week.
Under pressure from the Federal Transit Administration, the agency that runs Virginia Railway Express is suing Manassas Park, saying the 151 special parking spaces reserved for city residents are discriminatory.
Manassas Park officials say they won't back down in the face of the federal lawsuit filed Friday, but they acknowledge that they want to negotiate an end to the dispute.
Under the latest proposals, VRE would pay for a $350,000 addition to the train platform that would also extend the roof to provide more shelter. VRE would also pay for about $100,000 worth of sidewalks around the train station. City officials want to extend sidewalks from City Hall on Manassas Drive to the Bloom's Crossing neighborhood.
The plan would in essence exchange one amenity, reserved parking, for another, better walking and waiting conditions for passengers.
Last month, federal officials ruled that because parking at the station was recently expanded with $1.9 million in U.S. funds and federal law prohibits discrimination, residents' parking privileges must cease. And if they don't, federal funds for VRE could be in jeopardy.
Manassas Park officials say that city taxpayers paid for the portion of the lot where the roughly 150 designated spaces are and that they should be able to use them.
The resident-only spaces were set aside in 1998, as part of an agreement to allow nonresidents to park in the lot for free.
In 1999, VRE bought city-owned land to double parking at the station, using federal money. The expansion project included improvements to the original lot. VRE and the city agreed that the resident spaces could stay.
City officials contend that although federal funds were used to double the number of parking spaces at the station to 600, the new spaces constitute a separate, adjacent 300-space lot.
After months of negotiations, the operators of VRE, the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation District Commission and the Northern Virginia Transportation District Commission sued Manassas Park in U.S. District Court in Alexandria last Friday.
The commissions want the court to determine whether federal rules are indeed violated by the parking restrictions and to order Manassas Park to eliminate the restrictions.
Their lawyer said Tuesday that the commissions were forced to file the lawsuit. "The FTA is really with a gun to our head. Hopefully we can come to an agreement,'' said lawyer Stephen A. MacIsaac of Arlington.
A spokesman for VRE said that if an agreement is reached, VRE would put the projects on fast track, jumping ahead of other projects.
"It normally wouldn't be one of the first projects on the list, but we could move it up," said Mark Roeber of VRE.
He said that although there are crowding issues at the Manassas Park station, it isn't as bad as other stations, such as Burke Centre.
Manassas Park Vice Mayor Kevin Brendel said earlier this week that city officials are trying to work with VRE officials to help them in their dispute with federal transportation officials. Brendel said he hoped that railroad officials can agree to the final package of improvements so the issue can be put behind them.
"I wouldn't say we're giving in, but we're trying to be supportive of regional transportation,'' Brendel said.
For the last three months, the city has suspended enforcement of the resident-only regulations, which used to be enforced with a $20 tickets. But the city has not taken down signs designating the spaces.