Roanoke Business- Aug. 2016

Page 11


Just behind Sherman Stovall, assistant Roanoke city manager for operations, is where Roanoke’s Amtrak passenger platform will be built.

Photo by Don Petersen

mtrak is running on schedule for its return to in Roanoke in fall of 2017. Even as the Star City prepares to celebrate the return of passenger rail for the first time in more than 34 years, neighbors to the southwest already are pushing to extend the service. The service arrives as part of Amtrak’s extension of its Northeast Regional service into Virginia. The commonwealth invests in extensions that run to Lynchburg, Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News. The Lynchburg extension, which began regular daily service in 2009, outperformed expectations and sparked momentum that led to the push westward to Roanoke. Amtrak estimates it generates a national economic impact of $7.9 billion annually, supporting more than 110,000 jobs through its daily operations plus tourism and supplier impacts. Local governments desire the economic boost that comes with passenger rail. The service tends to create a 3-to-5 percent growth in the number of annual visitors. While short-term construction and engineering jobs come with the line’s upgrades and related construction, the growth in visitors creates potential for a larger, more durable ripple, especially in the restaurant and hospitality industries. A Roanoke-funded study of an intermodal center that incorporates passenger rail estimated Amtrak’s impact at $10.5 million annually. Some in the business community see the potential to connect local residents with the

major metropolitan areas along the Northeast Corridor while also attracting visitors to explore Roanoke’s outdoor recreation. Aaron Ewert, project manager at the Bridges, a 23-acre, $150 million mixed-use development by the Roanoke River, sees potential in transforming how visitors see the Star City. The Bridges sits on the far end of downtown, about a mile from the planned passenger rail platform. Ewert wants to partner with the city to build a bridge that would extend from Williamson Road, near Jefferson Street, over train tracks to a parking deck at the Bridges, and then over the Roanoke River to the greenway. The idea is to create an easy route for tourists to engage with the city’s outdoor economy, including outfitters, gear rental and consignment shops, and other support businesses found in the neighborhoods linked by the greenway network. “Here we are, this new outdoor town,” Ewert says. “Visitors can put their bike on the Amtrak train, ride to Roanoke … get off the train, get on their bike, ride through downtown, find this trail, cross a nice bridge and then bam, you’re on the greenway.” Amtrak service will provide additional benefits, too, he says. “This is what we’ve been waiting for for 30 years. People in all industries in the valley will be able to take advantage of the train coming in. Students, professors, businesspeople can just sit on the train to D.C. and they’re there. Amtrak and the new line of transportation will benefit the Bridges and all of Roanoke industry.” R ROANOKE OANO OA NOKE NO OKE B BUSINESS USIN US INE IN ESS