NRV Leaders meet to discuss passenger rail initiative
Over 70 leaders of municipalities and community organizations representing the New River Valley united to present a compelling appeal at the New River Rail 2020 Legislative Reception Aug. 20 at the Radford University College of Business and Economics building.
Jennifer Mitchell, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, keynoted the reception.
“The local partnership here is very impressive. It is a real element of success for bringing passenger rail here in the future,“ Mitchell said. “There is a good case to be made for extending passenger rail to the New River Valley.”
Radford University President Penelope W. Kyle welcomed the community leaders who are hopeful that the Commonwealth of Virginia will support extending passenger rail service to communities comprising the largest urban concentration west of Roanoke.
“We are advocates of this program and we want to do everything we can to support it. Radford University is a proud partner in this undertaking,” Kyle said in her welcoming remarks that included a reflection on the historical value of rail transport to Radford students.
New River Valley Rail 2020 is comprised of officials from the counties of Montgomery and Pulaski; towns of Pulaski, Christiansburg and Blacksburg; City of Radford; Radford University and Virginia Tech; Virginia Tech Foundation; New River Valley Regional Commission; New River Valley Economic Development Alliance; The Blacksburg Partnership; Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce; and the New River Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Co-chair of the steering committee and retired chief executive of the Virginia Tech Foundation Ray Smoot said, "I think it would be safe to say that there has not been a project that I recall that has garnered the almost unanimous support from so many groups and bipartisan support from so many legislators. That speaks to how united we are to move this project forward."
The community leadership’s solidarity was also a point of pride to New River Valley Rail 2020 co-chair Wally Nelson, vice president of the SIA Group.
"It is a testament to the community to have this kind of turn out for tonight’s event," Nelson said. "The project has support that crosses almost every government line and includes major universities and businesses. I find that very refreshing."
Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands said, ”Anything that can be done to better connect the New River Valley to the rest of the world is going to be better for the Commonwealth as well as for the Virginia Tech community.”
As part of the program, New River Valley Rail 2020 presented an update about the feasibility study it has commissioned. The survey has received more than 4,400 responses since its launch in March 2015.
Kevin Byrd, executive director of the New River Valley Regional Commission, said, "Our task is broken down into two pieces. The first is to document the demand or what kind of ridership we would have from the New River Valley and surrounding communities and the second is to find a station location we can all rally around."
Byrd outlined the following preliminary observations about the travel habits of New River Valley residents, visitors and university students.
Byrd also reviewed some of the respondents' comments to illustrate the breadth of the public’s enthusiasm about the potential of passenger rail. Among the benefits cited by survey respondents were easing traffic congestion along the area’s interstates, improving travel safety, enhancing quality of life, facilitating regional commuting and increasing the opportunity to enjoy local and regional tourism venues.
New River Valley residents can fill out the brief survey online.