Map courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach
The long-awaited construction of the Virginia Beach (VB) Trail in the Hampton Roads region, thought by some to be out of reach, took a major step forward Jan. 3 following the city of Virginia Beach's approval of $14.9 million in federal funding to build the initial phase of the project.
WAVY-TV, in nearby Portsmouth, Va., reported that the Virginia Beach City Council on Jan. 2 voted 10-0 to accept the funds from President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
In addition, the city noted in a news release that it will provide a $3.9 million local match to complete Phase 1 of the trail. A total of $2.99 million, slated to come from Virginia Beach's general fund, was approved as part of the council vote as well as another $902,000 from the November sale of an easement to Dominion Energy.
In its entirety, the proposed 12-mi.-long and 10-ft.-wide pedestrian and bicycle path will span the full width of the city from the Newtown area east to the oceanfront. It has been listed as the top priority for Virginia Beach's active transportation plan, with safety, wellness and economic activity being its top selling points.
In speaking with WAVY-TV, Walter Camp of the Virginia Beach Bikeways and Trails Advisory Committee, said, "It will be the central spine that connects all the other facilities across the city, [and provide] the greatest safety impact for our residents and visitors, allowing them to move on a path separate from vehicular traffic.
A key figure in the VB Trail's planning over the last several years, Camp added, "This project is so important it's featured as a central element of the comprehensive plan of the city that's being updated."
Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Virginia's two Democratic U.S. senators, announced in December that they helped procure the federal funding for the project, which comes through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant Program to help improve pedestrian safety nationwide.
Additional funding for the capital improvement project includes a $750,000 Federal Community Project Funding Grant awarded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The funding package for Phase 1 of the VB Trail will provide a 3.2-mi. paved shared-use path connecting the city's western border with Norfolk at Newtown Road to Constitution Drive in Virginia Beach Town
Center, where an ADA-compliant pedestrian/bicyclist bridge is to be built over the existing 10-lane Independence Boulevard.
Safe crossings also will be installed at all intersections along the path, according to the Virginia Beach news release.
A little more than a mile of the VB Trail already exists along Norfolk Avenue, from North Birdneck Road to Pacific Avenue, crossing Lake Holly, at the Oceanfront Resort Area and terminates at Rudee Loop.
Future phases of the project would stretch 2.6 mi. from the Town Center to South Plaza Trail and from there to Birdneck Road, a distance of just over 5 mi.
"People of all different ages, abilities and incomes can utilize and be positively impacted by the trail in many ways," said Yeardley Pearson, a cross country runner at First Colonial High School who told WAVY-TV that she has been following the VB Trail's progress for years.
VB Trail Project Planners Aimed High
The pathway was supposed to run right next to Virginia Beach's proposed light rail extension, but when that referendum failed in 2016, the trail project fell by the wayside due to lack of funding, the TV station reported.
"We really thought this was an impossibility because of the meager amounts we were able to get, but it was all we had for doing trails," said City Council member Barbara Henley at the Jan. 2 meeting. "This [was] really one of those things we'd sort of given up on."
Virginia Beach officials applied multiple times for funding, including five attempts at the federal level, before finally receiving the initial $750,000 grant through HUD, procured in 2022 by former U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd District.
"The fact that we got [that money] in the previous earmark with the delegation working together really enabled us to have a much more effective argument when we were going through the grant process," noted Alfonso Lopez, a lead federal lobbyist who works on behalf of the city.
Camp also credited former Virginia Beach Senior Planner Elaine Linn for getting the TB Trail project to this point.
"She recognized there's big federal money out there, and very competitive, but [told us to] shoot for the moon," he said to WAVY-TV. "And we were just so pleased that city council backed the attempt."
Getting the initial $14.9 million grant also bodes well for obtaining funding to develop future phases of the project, explained Anthony Bedell, co-lead lobbyist of Virginia Beach.
"It doesn't guarantee it because it's still a nationally competitive program," he told the Portsmouth news station, "but I think being shovel ready … is important for this administration. They [want to] get that money out and get those infrastructure projects started right away."
According to a document from the recent Virginia Beach City Council meeting, Phase 1 of the VB Trail project is expected to be completed around mid-2029.
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