Big Plans for the VCR Trail

Picture of a bike trail with a rest area along the side with a bench, a trash can, and a historic markerBy Aaron Frank

The leafy Virginia Central Railway (VCR) trail is one of the most heavily used trails in Fredericksburg, extending from near downtown westward towards Idlewild, offering pedestrians and bicyclists a pleasant recreational and commuting opportunity from neighborhoods and access to Alum Springs Park. Efforts are underway to improve and extend the trail to connect directly downtown, extend beyond Idlewild, and recently improved road crossings across Rt.3, Rt.1 and a new I-95 crossing have been discussed. Many Spotsylvania residents are already familiar with the trail, albeit on a different 3.9-mile stretch between Gordon Road and Salem Church Road; an I-95 crossing would advance efforts to connect the two stretches of VCR trail, creating a truly regional opportunity for recreational and functional transportation.

The first planned phase of improvements consists of an extension from the current trailhead at Lafayette Boulevard at Essex Street to the Chatham Bridge downtown, and a westward extension from the current terminus at Idlewild to I-95, setting up a future interstate crossing. The Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (FAMPO) – the regional transportation planning entity – has applied for project funding using the State’s SMART SCALE funding program. Projects are ‘scored’ based on numerous characteristics such as safety, congestion mitigation, accessibility, environmental quality, economic development, and land use. The preliminary SMART SCALE project scores have been released and show the projects score well; the State’s Commonwealth Transportation Board makes the final decision later this year in June.  

FAMPO more recently contracted with transportation consultant Michael Baker to study several options to create grade-separated, protected routes for the VCR to safely cross I-95, and to improve the existing Route 3 and Route 1 crossings. The VCR currently has at-grade (walk-signal) crossings at Route 1 and Route 3; these crossings delay trail users and motorists alike and interrupt an otherwise continuous trail. The consultant studied both aerial and tunnel crossings across Rt.3, Rt.1, and I-95 with preliminary designs illustrated in the consultant’s presentation.  Environmental, utility, and transportation impacts were considered, and the study recommends:

    • A tunnel bored under I-95 to connect the City of Fredericksburg to the Spotsylvania portion of the VCR trail ($10.9-11.4 million estimated cost)
    • A Bike/Pedestrian bridge over Route 1 ($3.7-5.2 million estimated cost)
    • A Bike/Pedestrian bridge over Route 3 ($3.8-5.3 million estimated cost)

If supported by key stakeholders including the City, Spotsylvania County and VDOT, the projects could ultimately be built with state funds by the late 2020s. Or, the local governments could fund the projects and advance the timeline of one or more of these projects significantly.  Following the consultant’s recent presentation, discussions will continue this spring and FAMPO will now consider whether to include this in the next round of SMART SCALE applications for state funding. These improvements would help Fredericksburg’s trail system grow into a regional network, allowing greater recreational and non-vehicular commuting options for residents, and supporting bike-tourism in town.

If you support or would like to learn more about these improvements, contact FAMPO to share your thoughts and support an application for state funding. Fifteen Minute Fredericksburg will continue to provide updates as it relates to these trail improvements.

Here’s a link to Michael Baker’s full presentation for the FAMPO Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee:

Aaron Frank is the City of Fredericksburg’s citizen representative on FAMPO’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), a member of the City’s Pathways Committee, and a resident of Ward 4.

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