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City’s rail trail chugging toward spring opening

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This map shows the Virginia Central Railway Trail through Fredericksburg.  Click to view a full-sized PDF.  Source:  http://www.fredericksburgva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1229

This map shows the Virginia Central Railway Trail through Fredericksburg. Click to view a full-sized PDF. Source: http://www.fredericksburgva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1229

Biking and hiking enthusiasts will have a bit longer to wait before they can start pedaling and hoofing the newest Fredericksburg trail.

Public Works Director Doug Fawcett had hoped to have the first two sections of the Virginia Central Railway Trail finished by today.

But it now looks like work may not be finished until February, which would push the official opening to late winter or early spring, he said in a recent interview.

These sections of the trail will run from Essex Street downtown, paralleling Lafayette Boulevard, then cross the Blue and Gray Parkway and then follow the Virginia Central Railway path along the perimeter of Alum Spring Park to U.S. 1.

However, the delay in completion may be welcomed by some motorists.

Two City Council members have expressed concerns about the trail’s impact on peak-hour traffic passing through the intersection of Lafayette Boulevard and the Blue and Gray Parkway.

That’s where Section 1 of the trail ends and Section 2 begins, and where a pedestrian signal will be installed in the coming weeks.

The signal will be timed for a walking period of at least 30 seconds to get bicyclists and walkers across the six lanes there, Fawcett said.

Councilwoman Bea Paolucci asked at a November meeting whether a pedestrian bridge could be built there.

Fawcett said that was considered but it was not a viable solution.

A bridge would need to be at least 18 feet tall to clear vehicles and would need a long ramp on either side to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards on the slope.

A bridge like that would cost several hundred thousand dollars at least, Fawcett said.

When the trail opens, he said his staff will be stationed at the intersection to monitor it and see if adjustments need to be made in the timing of signals.

The trail crosses the Blue and Gray Parkway on the west side of Lafayette Boulevard.

Traffic continuing straight on Lafayette Boulevard in both directions can move while pedestrians are crossing in a parallel path.

But cars turning right onto the parkway heading from downtown Fredericksburg will have to wait.

A new traffic signal will be installed for that lane of traffic as well as a sign barring motorists from turning right on red when pedestrians are crossing.

Currently, that lane has a yield sign.

Councilman Fred Howe said at the November meeting that he was concerned about the impact, especially when people are driving home from work.

Fawcett agreed that 4 to 6 p.m. will be a busy time for both motorists and trail use once it’s finished.

That intersection is the only point where the first two segments of the trail impact motorists, but a similar situation will arise when Section 3 crosses U.S. 1 and continues a few thousand feet to the edge of the Idlewild development.

The city originally planned to build a 3-mile trail along the railroad bed but funding won’t currently cover the last leg so it has been put on hold indefinitely, Fawcett said. The final 0.6-mile stretch would have passed near the Idlewild development and ended at Interstate 95.

One day, the trail could extend through Spotsylvania County into Orange County via the railroad bed, which roughly parallels State Route 3. A portion of the trail is already built and is accessible at Salem Church Road in Spotsylvania.

The first two sections of the VCR Trail in Fredericksburg cost about $1.9 million, which has been paid for by grants through the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

The third section will cost $1.3 million, including the new traffic and pedestrian signals. Currently, the city is expected to pay $300,000 of the cost, but it may pay only $60,000 if a grant application is approved, Fawcett said.

A Federal Highway Administration grant is covering the remainder.

Work on Section 3 is expected to start in the spring as soon as weather allows and finish by mid-August, Fawcett said. Charlottesville-based Faulconer Construction is handling the entire project.

Last year, the city finished the 1.6-mile Rappahannock River Heritage Trail, which completed the 3.1-mile Rappahannock Canal Path loop.

Fawcett said he hopes the VCR Trail will be as popular as those have become.

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw noted last month that the trails are one of the city’s most popular features.

“The trails generate more excitement and bring more pleasure and more positive comment than anything else the city has done,” she said.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

THE VCR TRAIL ROUTE

The Virginia Central Railway Trail in Fredericksburg was to have four sections, but only three are moving forward at this point.

The three sections total 2.9 miles.

Section 1 starts in downtown Fredericksburg near Cobblestone Square. It travels on a 10-foot-wide section of pavement off the roadway, essentially parallel to Lafayette Boulevard until it nears the Blue and Gray Parkway. It then travels under Lafayette along a path that will be lighted. It then loops around and onto a new dedicated lane of Lafayette that leads to the intersection at Blue and Gray Parkway. It ends there at the pedestrian crossing.

Section 2 crosses the parkway, then turns right onto Alum Spring Road, then travels along the edge of Alum Spring Park, ending at U.S. 1 across from the Kings Mill Drive intersection.

That intersection will get a new traffic signal and a pedestrian signal as part of Section 3.

The third section will cover a few thousand feet and stretch from U.S. 1 to an undeveloped section of Idlewild subdivision.

Section 4 was to travel near Idlewild and end near Interstate 95.

—Pamela Gould

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