The effort to build a north-south trail from Petersburg to Ashland is gearing up for a financial boost next month.
The Central Virginia Transportation Authority is expected to vote to earmark around $108 million toward the Fall Line trail, a proposed 43-mile walking and biking trail that would connect Petersburg to Ashland, at its upcoming Dec. 3 meeting.
The trail was most recently projected to cost $234 million, and about $73 million in state and local funding was considered in hand for the project, as of late September. Final costs, funding methods and the exact trail path are still being worked out.
The CVTA is a regional authority established last year to administer earmarked tax revenues to transportation projects in the Richmond region. PlanRVA, a regional planning district, provides staff support to the authority.
CVTA Interim Executive Director Chet Parsons, who is also transportation director at PlanRVA, confirmed the expected earmark and on Monday said the authority expected to ask the General Assembly and governor’s office to close the remaining funding gap in the state’s budget.
About $53 million of currently earmarked funds comes by way of the state, while the remaining $20 million is expected to be covered by local funds put up by the localities along the route. Another $14 million in local funds is considered a potential commitment, according to a VDOT presentation at a late September meeting of the CVTA.
Most of the trail would have to be built from scratch, though it would also connect existing trails at Chester Linear Park and Ashland Trolley Line Trail and planned local projects, according to the Fall Line website.
The Fall Line trail effort is led by Sports Backers, a Richmond nonprofit that promotes and organizes regional running races. The Capital Trail Foundation and localities also are involved.
Louise Lockett Gordon, director of Sports Backers’ Bike Walk RVA program, said the organization’s familiarity and participation with individual walking and biking projects in the region helped plant the seed for conversations about a north-south trail similar to the Virginia Capital Trail, a walking and biking trail that runs 52 miles from Richmond to the Williamsburg area.
The initial feasibility study for the Fall Line trail, originally called the Ashland to Petersburg Trail, was conducted and completed in 2019. The trail was renamed Fall Line last year.
“We took a step back and could sort of see how a trail between Petersburg and Ashland could line up with just connecting some of those planning dots,” she said.
Unlike the Capital Trail, which primarily runs through rural terrain, the Fall Line will pass through population centers more often. As a result, trail advocates suspect the Fall Line will be used for everyday travel more regularly than the Capital Trail.
“It will be different. Much of the mileage of the Virginia Capital Trail is in the rural landscape. In the Fall Line corridor you’ll see more of a mix of rural, suburban and urban,” Gordon said. “It becomes a regional spine, the I-95 of trails if you will, that connects people.”
Gordon said it took about 12 years to finally establish the Capital Trail, which was formally opened in its entirety in 2015. She’s hopeful the Fall Line can be wrapped up in under a decade.
“We have a lot of regional cooperation and support for this trail. I think that we’re looking at more of an eight-year window to completion,” she said.
Questions about what entity would take the lead in coordinating construction or what entity would operate the trail have yet to be determined.
The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation is a supporter of the project and would be open to managing the trail should it be built, the nonprofit’s Executive Director Cat Anthony said.
“We have been advocating for it as well. As the process has progressed I feel like a lot of jurisdictions have come to us for lessons learned,” Anthony said. “We’d be potentially open to (operating the trail). It would depend on a lot of conversations and resources.”