Henrico County VA

Virginia Capital Trail plans discussed

County, state officials disagree about where path should lie


The future of the Henrico portion of the Virginia Capital Trail got a little clearer earlier this month, but perhaps a little more confusing at the same time.

At a public meeting in Varina, VDOT officials displayed plans for the 10.5-mile stretch of the Williamsburg-to-Richmond trail that will travel along Route 5 in eastern Henrico.

Those plans call for the trail to be separated from the road and located mostly along the northern side of Route 5 – both changes from what the county’s Board of Supervisors adopted as its preferred plan more than a decade ago.

The new design plans resulted from VDOT’s desire to save money – building the trail attached to Route 5 would cost almost twice as much, VDOT project manager Ian Millikan said – and impact as few property owners as possible. The Henrico portion of the trail is expected be completed by early 2014.

But Varina District Supervisor Jim Donati was miffed by the proposal, which he said doesn’t represent what the county and most Varina residents support.

Building the trail as an attachment to Route 5, he said, would provide necessary space for bikers and walkers while also giving room for postal delivery vehicles to to make their stops without impeding the flow of traffic.

Citizen opinion about the plan at the Feb. 3 meeting at John Rolfe Middle School was mixed. Several bicycling groups have consistently endorsed a separate trail, contending that it would be safer and would lend itself to more use. (Other portions of the trail that have been constructed or are planned are also separate from the road.)

But other attendees were concerned that the separate trail – located between 10 and 30 feet off the road at various points – could negatively impact their land.

Construction of the Henrico portion of the trail is expected to cost $9.5 million. Funding already exists from a combination of federal sources that are specifically designated for non-roadway projects.

Adding more potential confusion to the mix is a study of the Route 5 corridor between Laburnum Avenue and 7th Street in the city, which was initiated by the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission last summer, in partnership with Henrico County, Richmond, VDOT, the GRTC and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. That study seeks to identify ways in which various forms of transportation can be best utilized to serve the corridor in years to come.

Donati worries that that study – expected to be completed by early next year – could confuse residents and possibly counteract VDOT’s plans for the trail. For example, he asked, what would happen if the study proposed widening Route 5 to four lanes after plans for the trail already had been approved?

During the renovation of Varina Elementary School, the county built what it expected to become a portion of the trail in front of the school, on the south side of Route 5 – where it expected the trail to run. But the new plans would place the trail on the north side of the road there.

VDOT already owns right-of-way property along Route 5 within which it can build some of the trail. Officials decided that running the trail along a mostly northern route would reduce the number of properties that would have to be disrupted and also limit the amount of land that might need to be purchased to provide room for the trail, Millikan said.

Upon completion, the trail will span 54 miles.
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