The dedicated rail line that will be constructed for high-speed rail will not directly affect Forest and Pamela Fenner’s home, but the resulting road construction needed to eliminate at-grade crossings will. The Fenners have lived about 500 feet from Chester Road near its northern terminus at Perrrymont Road since 1984. An extension of Kingsland Road, which includes an overpass of the railroad and Chester Road, will impact their property.
The Fenners attended a public hearing in Petersburg for the recently completed Tier II Draft Environmental Impact Statement. For the first time, area residents were able to see detailed maps depicting the additional rail line, additional right-of-way that will be needed and road construction, including underpasses and overpasses needed to eliminate at-grade crossings.
“Chester Road is going to be one of the highest impacted areas,” Forest Fenner said. “A lot of the people who live along there are elderly people who don’t get out to these meeting, and who might not know about what’s about to happen to them.”
About 500 people attended the public hearing at Union Station to view the maps, ask questions and make comments to the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). Most of the comments were positive, but some included caveats, such as how it might affect property values and the magnitude of the local impact.
“It’s a boondoggle,” said Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle. “It’s going to disrupt a lot of residents in Chester for the 10 people who will actually ride the train from Richmond to Raleigh.
“We have seven at-grade crossings in the Bermuda District, and I am a little concerned that this high-speed rail is going to negatively affect our day-to-day lives as far as traffic goes, and as far as neighborhoods being split. And also, some of the overpasses being built seem to be very big overpasses for where they should be. I’d like them to pay very close attention to the Woods Edge Road crossing and the crossing at Old Lane. I think those will really affect our traffic patterns and West Lane will affect a lot of neighborhoods.”
Richard “Miles” Waugh, who could lose property to the additional right-of-way, said: “I live on the tracks in Chester in a historic home, lived there for 30 years. It’s a beautiful place and I’ve got no complaints for high-speed rail coming through, I just wish it would. I do think the south of Richmond section has been largely underrepresented by Virginia politicians.”
Waugh said the section of rail between Richmond and Petersburg, and then to Hampton Roads, is far more important than that going on to Raleigh. There are many arguments, including national security, service of military bases and hurricane evacuation, for funding the project.
Funding has been miniscule for high-speed rail in Virginia and the effort has been largely led by North Carolina, which received over $500 million in funding compared to Virginia’s $75 million. DRPT Director Thelma Drake said that completing the Tier II study put Virginia in a better position to receive funding in the next round of stimulus monies to be doled out in the fall.
But not knowing exactly when DRPT will begin construction and how properties’ right-of-ways will be acquired has residents along the CSX rail corridor nervous. Robert and Sharon Taylor have been considering building an addition on their home, but the high-speed rail right-of-way would come within 15 feet of their addition. They’re not sure when the property acquisition will start and feel that they are in limbo as far as making improvements to the home they have owned in Chester Station for over 10 years. “If we build the addition, we’ll have no backyard,” Sharon said.
Robert Taylor also spoke during the public hearing. “My concern is that currently a lot of kids who live in the area, even though they’re not supposed to, cross those tracks going to the library,” he said. “Speaking to folks today there’s no plans to put fencing up there to prevent that from happening.”
He added that there are no sidewalks along Chester Road to allow kids to walk it safely. “I propose having a pedestrian/bicycle pathway [and bridge] following the old [Seaboard] train route.”
The next stage in the project will be to address comments made during the public hearings by mid 2012. According to information distributed during the hearing, construction could begin between 2013 and 2017, depending on the availability of project funding. The construction of the dedicated high-speed rail track would take three to five years to complete.