After a 10-day extension, the public comment period for the environmental impact study of the Richmond to Raleigh high-speed rail line was closed without fanfare. Chesterfield County leaders agreed to a resolution in favor of the project that bisects the Bermuda District, however, with caveats.
Chesterfield’s transportation department has issues with some of the track design: The Woods Edge Road and Marina Drive crossings must be provided grade separations and not be closed as currently proposed; passenger rail service at the Ettrick Station must continue regardless of the high-speed rail service; The extensions of Pine Forest Drive and Walthall Industrial Parkway must be eliminated; the Old Lane crossing should be relocated and a grade separation to align Hamlin Creek Parkway should be provided. If this cannot be accomplished, additional road improvements should be provided to accommodate the increased traffic using Hopkins Road and Centralia Road, and the railroad overpass of Route 1 must be lengthened.
According to the resolution passed by the board, other concerns need to be address as soon as possible. The supervisors asked for: A list of all commercial and residential displacements in Chesterfield County; specific plans showing how access will be provided to and from developed and undeveloped parcels impacted by new road alignments and crossing closures and noise studies for new road alignments and widening, along with specific plans for noise abatement.
They asked for sufficient design details to demonstrate that: Bridges and underpasses will accommodate future road widenings; bike and pedestrian accommodations are included and landscaping and screening will be provided, especially in residential areas. The board also wants to see: specific locations of security fencing; adequate traffic analyses to ensure the proposals will accommodate anticipated traffic; details and renderings for the proposed Centralia Road loop; that siding locations are clearly identified and confirmation that impacts at sidings have been addressed.
As most county officials have stated, North Carolina is driving the high-speed train, but Virginia is quickly catching up. Recently, Virginia applied for $57 million to complete the next phase of planning for the Tier-II environmental impact study and begin the planning of a new rail bridge across the Appomattox River from Chesterfield into Petersburg.
According to Virginians for High-Speed Rail (VHSR) the high-speed rail project could provide the area with jobs. The entire project in the southeast is projected to create or sustain an estimated 228,000 jobs, including 75,000 construction jobs, as well as about $30 billion in economic development.
But, in Chester, what are the direct positive impacts of high-speed rail? Danny Plaugher, executive director of VHSR, said those in Chester “could have a future Virginia Railway Express commuter stop which could travel between Ashland and Petersburg that would feed into high-speed rail stops in Richmond and Petersburg.
“This would allow someone from Chester the ability to get on a commuter rail, head north or south to transfer to a HSR train and have near connectivity to Boston, Charlotte, Atlanta, Jacksonville, New York, Virginia Beach and Newport News without the need to drive more than a couple of miles to the station.”
Plaugher points out that if this were just an American recession, gas would stay cheap, but this is a global recession.
“So when the economy picks back up, you’re going to see gas back near 2008 levels, as China and India ramp up production of various goods,” he said. “The improvements to the rail line for HSR will benefit other modes and give Chesterfield the ability to have a rail option to attract higher paid residents that might not want to live in or near the city, but want to commute without the hassle of $4- or $5-a-gallon gas, very similar to the Fredericksburg-Washington relationship, where a lot of professionals want the suburban life and commute via commuter rail into D.C. every day.”