Residents come out in full force about rail proposal

April 12, 2016

Source: Meredith Rigsby | Mechanicsville Local - Hanover Local - RTD Suburban News

ASHLAND — Hanover County residents packed the Patrick Henry High School auditorium on Monday, April 4, to listen to and weigh in on the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s (DRPT) proposed 123-mile high-speed rail project that aims to cut travel time from Washington, D.C., to Richmond by 15 to 20 minutes.

The vast majority of attendees at the public meeting were there in opposition to the high-speed rail project’s currently proposed track options and many showed up holding large, yellow signs that read “No High-Speed Rail.”

Residents voiced concerns that the two major track options being considered – the addition of a third track on the east side of the existing track that runs through town and the addition of a bypass to the west of Ashland – will negatively impact Ashland’s economic and cultural environment, destroy valuable farm land in western Hanover, and cut through and deplete property values of privately owned property in rural areas that, in some cases, have been owned for generations.

The third option under consideration by the DRPT is no build.

Nineteen residents asked questions at the meeting, including U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1, who asked if all congressional offices located in the area of concern had been contacted, adding that “the first congressional district is in there [the potentially affected area], you have not contacted my office.”

Wittman’s comments were met with applause.

The DRPT is currently conducting a Tier II Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, to determine what types of resources are available in the corridor, how the proposed infrastructure options will actually benefit passenger rails and how to design improvements in a way that will avoid cultural and natural resources and private property, according to Emily Stock, project manager for the DRPT, who gave a presentation at the meeting.

Another resident, Dara Nicely, who sells real estate in the area and also owns property that could potentially be affected by the high-speed rail, said that, because the DRPT is conducting the study, “we are having a hard time selling properties anywhere near a shadow of where this might fall. … “We have builders that aren’t building because they’re afraid they’re going to put a $400,000 house up and be stuck with it and lose the money.”

Stock responded, saying the DRPT’s goal is to get through the study and take lines off maps once a preferred alternative is determined in 2017.

“We need a diverse and multi-modal solution to the growth that we’re experiencing,” Stock said. “Population is going up and it’s not stopping, people need to get from place to place and it’s the state’s position that having a multi-modal solution will certainly help.”

Residents at the meeting also asked why the DRPT wasn’t considering placing the high-speed rail underground or along or down the middle of Interstate 95.

Due to gradient requirements for an underground track and alignments on I-95, Stock said neither option is feasible.

Over the past few months, the DRPT has been conducting aerial photography along the existing CSX corridor and bypass areas along Fredericksburg and Hanover County as a first step in investigating environmental resources along the proposed track lines.

Markers have been placed in the surveyed areas to scale aerial photography both on VDOT rights-of-way and private property, Stock said.

Now that the aerial photography is complete, DRPT staff, in the coming weeks, will be conducting on-the-ground field work.

Letters to property owners that may be affected will be sent at least 15 days prior to any survey work.

“We want to get through this study as soon as we can so we can erase that uncertainty and find a solution that will work,” Stock said.

The DRPT’s Tier II EIS is expected to be completed by fall 2017, after which there will be a 45-day public review and a round of public meetings will be conducted.

The DC2RVA project is being funded by three sources, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) High Speed Rail Grant ($44,308,0000); Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation ($8,101,000); and CSXT ($2,976,000) for a total of $55,385,000.

The public meeting was coordinated by Aubrey M. “Bucky” Stanley, chairman of the Hanover County Board of Supervisors and representative for the Beaverdam District.

Supervisor Faye O. Prichard, Ashland District, fielded questions during the meeting.

“If the measure of the success of a community is the engagement of its citizens, it speaks very highly of our community that you all are here tonight,” Prichard said.

“I’m happy to get information out and people didn’t have information. In my opinion, things went well because people got information,” Stock said after the meeting.

For more information, visit the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation website at