A long-discussed plan for an approximately 25-mile bike and pedestrian path connecting Charlottesville to the Afton area could be closer to a reality.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors at its Wednesday meeting supported applying for a planning grant for $1.5 million to $3 million for a shared-use path from the Blue Ridge Tunnel through Crozet to Charlottesville, likely along the U.S. 250 corridor.
If the county gets the grant — a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant — it would pay for a feasibility study of potential path alignments, public outreach to determine a preferred alignment, 60% of design for the entirety of the preferred alignment and to identify portions of the path plan that could be their own projects.
“It’s a large funding amount that would allow us to view the project with a wide lens,” said Jessica Hersh-Ballering, a county principal planner for transportation. “We could envision the best route for the full 25 to 30 miles of shared-use paths that would touch three localities. It allows us that big picture view that we couldn’t get planning this path just one small segment at a time.”
She said the process is “incredibly competitive,” but there is an additional $500 million this round. Applications are scored on how effectively the project targets safety, environmental sustainability, quality of life, mobility and community connectivity, economic competitiveness and opportunity.
“Right now the only people biking and walking along the corridor are either those strong and fearless types or people who have no other options,” Hersh-Ballering said. “Even with low numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians, there have been two relatively recent fatalities — one bicyclist, one pedestrian — along the [U.S.] 250 corridor between Charlottesville and Crozet.”
The Rivanna Trails Foundation previously petitioned the board to conduct a feasibility study of the path. Supporters have said it would not only serve outdoor enthusiasts but also commuters. It could also bring tourists to the area, similar to what the Virginia Capital Trail has done for the Richmond-to-Williamsburg area.
Hersh-Ballering said it’s very unlikely that the county would plan and then build it “in one fell swoop.”
“We want to find those pieces that would have independent utilities so we can construct them one at a time with our usual smaller funding sources,” she said.
Hersh-Ballering said if this planning grant is successful, construction could be funded directly through a RAISE capital application or other grant programs or as a component of other Virginia Department of Transportation projects. It could also be funded or constructed through proffers from developers.
“I’m so excited to hear you say this today,” Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said. “This is going to make a lot of people out west very, very happy.”