Brad Reed, a planner with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Staunton District, said the point of any feasibility study is to understand the public’s opinion and interest on a proposed project.
Based on results from a recent survey on the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail feasibility study, Virginians find the proposed recreational trail spanning from Broadway to Front Royal a good opportunity to showcase the Valley.
“Our success was resounding for this effort, setting a record actually for service responses on any VDOT survey that we’ve performed in the past,” Reed said.
During Wednesday’s Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail webinar, Reed was one of four speakers to provide updates on the feasibility study’s progress, and focused his presentation on revealing the results the survey, which received 9,283 responses.
The webinar was hosted by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, in collaboration with VDOT and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
The survey, which ran from May 17 to June 25, gathered input on transforming 48.5 miles of an out-of-service Norfolk Southern rail corridor into a multiuse linear park. The proposed rail trail covers the northern end of Rockingham County and goes through Shenandoah County before ending in the central part of Warren County.
Broadway and Front Royal will be the two endpoints for the trail, which will also pass through Timberville, Mount Jackson, Edinburg, Woodstock, Toms Brook and Strasburg.
Reed said 70% of survey respondents identified as living in the Shenandoah Valley. Harrisonburg, Front Royal, Woodstock, Strasburg and Broadway were the top five localities where respondents live.
In the survey, Reed said people were asked whether they would use the trail if it is constructed, what their interests in the facility are and if there are any potential benefits.
Of the more than 9,200 responses, Reed said 96% of people reported being interested in the project and 94% said they would use the trail if built.
The survey also asked how people would use the trail, with most citing reasons as exercise and recreation.
“The largest percentage of respondents said they would use the trail for exercise,” Reed said.
The last item Reed touched on during his presentation was the more than 5,400 written comments received in the survey, which voiced further support for the project.
Reed said only 3% of respondents identified concerns over the project.
With survey results showing a wide range of support from Virginians, Jennifer Wampler, DCR trails coordinator, said it also received support from nine towns, three counties, one city and two planning districts.
“Towns do recognize this project won’t be cheap and seem willing to put some skin in the game,” she said.
To go along with the public survey, the various state departments also reviewed trailhead locations, completed roadway crossing analysis and reviewed alignment conditions.
If completed, Brad Shelton, with Michael Baker International, said the rail trail will be divided into six segments to allow user flexibility if built individually.
Shelton said the first segment will be 11.5 miles long and stretch from Broadway to Caverns Road in Shenandoah County. The segment is proposed to be the longest of the six.
“There’s very little overgrowth along this segment,” he said. “And this segment has the best views of the mountains.”
When the trail crosses main roads, Shelton said, the crossings will be placed on low-volume, residential or commercial roadways, adding that signage and pavement markings will be placed for both trail and roadway users.
The next steps to be taken include estimating construction costs, analyzing roadway crossing treatments and determining trailhead locations.
Kelly McClary, director of DCR’s planning and recreation resources division, said the department will be accepting additional comments on the survey until Aug. 21 to be included in the feasibility study.
The study will begin to be written in August, with a draft expected to be ready between September and October, McClary said. The department is required to submit its report to the chairs of the House of Delegates Committee on Appropriations and Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations by Nov. 1.