The $1.7 trillion federal funding bill that Congress passed last week contained $3 million for the proposed Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail project.
The $3 million will be used by the Virginia Department of Transportation to complete Phase 1 of the proposed rail trail, according to a Dec. 21 press release issued by Virginia’s U.S. senators, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who said they secured a total of more than $200 million in fiscal year 2023 federal funding for Virginia.
On Tuesday, Ken Slack, communications specialist for VDOT’s Staunton District, shared information from officials in the district planning office about the $3 million allocation.
“While there is no official definition of ‘Phase 1’ for the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail, VDOT typically delivers construction projects in three phases: preliminary engineering, right of way, and construction,” Slack said in an email.
He said the $3 million allocation comes from a congressionally directed spending request by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission to pay for preliminary engineering toward the rail trail project.
Based on the findings of the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail Feasibility Study delivered to Virginia’s General Assembly in 2021, the preliminary engineering is anticipated to cost a total of $4 million to $6 million, Slack said.
He said VDOT received $1 million this year from the Commonwealth Transportation Board to further develop and validate the rail trail project’s scope, schedule, and cost estimate. The funds may also be used to determine preliminary engineering and environmental review requirements.
The 48.5-mile, multi-use recreational rail trail would run along an inactive single-track railroad corridor through Warren, Shenandoah, and Rockingham counties.
It would stretch between Broadway and Front Royal and pass through the towns of Timberville, Mount Jackson, Edinburg, Woodstock, Toms Brook and Strasburg while providing bicycle, pedestrian and equestrian access to scenic landscapes and Civil War battlefield sites.
Norfolk Southern Corp. owns the inactive railroad corridor that the proposed rail trail would run along.
Don Hindman, project director for the Shenandoah Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership, said this past summer that the partnership is confident it will come to an agreement with Norfolk Southern to acquire the corridor.
The partnership, which formed in November 2019, is an unincorporated coalition of public, private and non-profit organizations along the proposed route. Hindman could not be reached for comment on Tuesday about the effort to purchase the corridor.
Slack said VDOT officials are not actively engaged in negotiations with Norfolk Southern and are unable to comment on the status of acquiring the property.
According to a study done last year by Robert Cline, a public finance economist, acquisition of the corridor could cost between $15 million and $25 million.
The state’s current two-year budget sets aside about $90 million for multi-use trails. Some of that funding reportedly is allocated for the purchase of the corridor.
If acquired, officials hope the rail trail will be completed by 2030.
The entire inactive rail line is within the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, according to VDOT. It passes close to Seven Bends State Park, Shenandoah National Park, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
In his study, Cline projected that new annual spending in the region due to visitors to the proposed rail trail could total about $32.3 million in 2030 dollars. That estimate is a measure of the increased sales of retailers, restaurants, hotels and motels and other businesses in the region.
The first rail trail segment would be an 11.5-mile stretch between the town of Broadway and Caverns Road by Mount Jackson, according to a feasibility study completed last year by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Officials from that department estimated that the overall project’s total construction cost could range from more than $72.8 million to just over $78.5 million. Those figures represent a combination of estimated preliminary engineering costs, rail removal costs and trail and bridge construction costs.
The price tag for an asphalt surface on the entire trail was estimated to cost about $5.7 million more than a gravel surface.
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