‘Monumental’ Ashland to Petersburg Trail Already Gaining Momentum

March 20, 2020 · 3 minute read
‘Monumental’ Ashland to Petersburg Trail Already Gaining Momentum

Many already take advantage of the regional gem that is the Virginia Capital Trail, but another bike/pedestrian project, the proposed Ashland to Petersburg Trail, has promise as an urban north-south connector and protected multi-use path.

This VDOT trail is a monumental collaboration between seven localities (Ashland, Hanover County, Henrico County, Chesterfield County, Richmond, Colonial Heights, and Petersburg), the Sports Backers, and other partners. The concept “is founded on bike master planning efforts throughout the corridor,” says the Director of Outreach for Bike Walk RVA at Sports Backers, Brantley Tyndall. The approximately 41-mile trail is garnering political support and made a big step toward completion during the General Assembly sessions this year.

Largely inspired by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail in Indiana, the ATP would connect key regions and areas of development. The ICT is smaller and entirely downtown, but according to Tyndall, the ICT’s success has shown the value of a car-less path going big with wide lanes and landscaping. Sports Backers’ website calls the Trail “a spine for regional transportation” and “an opportunity to ‘connect the dots’ and establish another long-distance trail that provides opportunities for active transportation, recreation, and economic development.” Tyndall explains that the ATP will be built by localities. “Henrico builds the Henrico section, for example, and the sections can be constructed independently and concurrently. So, it could happen relatively fast.”

According to Sports Backers, “Several sections of the ATP already exist or are planned in localities’ comprehensive and special area plans including the existing Ashland Trolley Line Trail and Chester Linear Park, and the planned Trolley Line Connector in Henrico, Brook Road protected bike lanes in Richmond, and the Northern Jefferson Davis Special Area Plan in Chesterfield.” 

The ATP alignment in Richmond includes Jackson Ward, downtown, and potentially the T. Tyler Potterfield bridge or the Manchester Bridge, but more options could be considered. One reason is that the 2nd Street route for accessing the T Pott Bridge is too steep to be ADA-compliant. 

Tyndall says that Ashland has already started to build, Henrico is looking at the Bryan Park area, Richmond at the Commerce Road area, and Chesterfield also submitted grants for the Route 1 section. “Those sections in the pipeline should see action in the next year or two,” he says.

Many interested parties attended the recent General Assembly meetings where legislation affecting funding of the Trail, House Bill 1541, was discussed. HB1541 would “create the Central Virginia Transportation Authority and raise state taxes to fund projects in Chesterfield County and eight other Richmond-area localities. … The measure has broad support among local governments in the region – particularly Chesterfield, which expects to receive about $45 million a year in new revenue to help tackle its $2.1 billion list of unfunded transportation priorities,” explained Jim McConnell in the Chesterfield Observer on February 5. McConnell writes, “Among the other big-ticket items on [Chesterfield’s] list are … $20 million to build a segment of the Ashland-to-Petersburg trail, a planned mixed-use path that will stretch 41 miles and link the region’s four big localities. It also includes $78 million in other sidewalk and shared-use path projects that would significantly improve connectivity across the county for pedestrians and cyclists.” As of March 4, HB1541 passed in both the House and the Senate and can soon go before Gov. Northam.

Still, the completion of the trail is years away. “There is no firm timeline,” Tyndall says. “The alignment is complete at this time, but things could change, including the name. What’s expected to stay consistent is the growing momentum around it.”

The ATP is projected to cost about $192 million, a bit less than three times the cost of the Capital Trail. This is due in part to the fact that traversing urban areas is often more expensive than rural areas, but it’s important to note that “the ATP is about capitalizing on already great areas like Brown’s Island,” says Tyndall. “These are reasons why elected officials are excited about it. It will be its own economic tourism and health generator.”

Beyond the main corridor, future projects could manifest spur connections. VDOT’s Final Study Report, published February 4, mentions that suggested connections to some locations were discussed by STAG [Stakeholder Technical Advisory Group] members. These discussed locations include Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Richmond Main Street Amtrak Station, Staples Mill Road Amtrak Station, [and the] Appomattox River Trail.

What excites many about this project, says Tyndall, is that “The ATP is about connecting so many places: residences, historic sites, businesses, railbeds, rivers, and more. It could be the backbone of what could become I-95 for bikes.”