The idea of extending VRE service to the Gainesville-Haymarket area dates to 2004 and earlier. Population growth and the availability of affordable new housing in western Prince William beyond the central Washington, DC-Arlington-Alexandria core area were acknowledged in the 2004 VRE Strategic Plan, VRE’s long-range planning guide, as two of the factors supporting the extension of VRE service westward along the I-66 corridor.
In 2005, the Virginia General Assembly directed the development of a Gainesville-Haymarket Extension Implementation Plan to identify the necessary actions and estimated costs to facilitate the VRE service extension. Additional studies completed in 2009 confirmed the merits of the extension, identified an initial set of potential station locations, and developed an updated set of capital and operating cost estimates.
In 2014, the VRE Operations Board adopted the VRE System Plan 2040 as its new long-range plan. System Plan 2040 provides a framework for capital investments and actions that VRE should pursue through 2040 to best meet regional travel needs. The continued, expansive growth in housing in western Prince William County and beyond coupled with emerging employment centers such as the Innovation Technology Park, Virginia Gateway and George Mason University’s Prince William Campus point to the Gainesville-Haymarket area as a leading prospect for new transit service. This was confirmed in System Plan 2040, which identified the VRE GHX as a priority to expand mobility in the I-66 corridor. In total, the plan’s recommended system investments and service expansion, including GHX-based service, will enable VRE to carry over 40,000 new weekday trips by 2040, more than double the 19,000 daily trips carried today.
Concurrent with development of the VRE System Plan 2040, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and DRPT completed a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for multimodal transportation improvement concepts along I-66 from Haymarket to the Capital Beltway/I-495. The VRE GHX was among a set of multimodal improvements evaluated in the EIS to provide new travel choices and enhance transportation safety and travel reliability in the I-66 corridor. The EIS concluded that no single improvement concept would provide the transportation capacity needed to meet expected future travel demand or mitigate congestion within the corridor.
In July 2013, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) endorsed advancing for further study a set of ten transportation improvements within the I-66 corridor outside the Beltway – including express lanes, additional general purpose lanes, rapid bus service, a Metrorail extension and the VRE Gainesville-Haymarket Extension. The current VRE study is the next step to advance the VRE GHX as one of the multimodal solutions to transform the I-66 corridor. The study is anticipated to take approximately two years to complete. If the analysis supports continued project development, final design and construction would follow. Passenger rail operations could begin in 2022 or later, contingent upon Norfolk Southern approval and funding availability.