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James River Projects Among $7.4M Cuts To Richmond’s Proposed Capital Budget

rendering of access steps to river
An artist rendering of the proposed Huguenot Flatwater accessibility ramp. (Courtesy of the James River Outdoor Coalition)

Two projects that would increase accessibility to the James River for pedestrians and disabled residents may be delayed by last-minute cuts to Richmond’s capital budget.

Last week, Richmond City Council voted to slash $7.4 million in proposed capital improvements in order to balance next year’s budget. Included in the proposed budget was $330,000 for renovations at the Huguenot Flatwater ramp. The renovation would have allowed people with disabilities to access the ramp in Southwest Richmond for paddling and fishing. Funding for the project was cut nearly in half.

Sally Wetzler is with the James River Outdoor Coalition, the non-profit partnering with the city on the Huguenot Flatwater ramp renovation. As a disabled paddler herself, Wetzler said the project is important to make the river more accessible.

“People with disabilities should have the same access to city parks and the ability to go to the river and get in the river as every other citizen of Richmond does,” she said.

The Huguenot Flatwater access ramp would compliment another access ramp down the river at Reedy Creek that was installed in 2012.

Wetzler said the $330,000 in proposed funding would have covered almost all of the construction costs. The cuts will invariably mean delays.

“It’s going to take longer to get it done and the longer it takes, the more expensive it is going to be,” Wetzler said. “The longer this project takes, the longer people with disabilities won’t have a way to get to the water.”

Proposed funding for a new sidewalk near Brown’s Island also ended up on the chopping block. The allocation was cut from $400,000 to $282,558. That project would have filled a missed pedestrian walkway on the north side of Tredegar Street, between the Belle Isle parking lot and the entrance to Brown’s Island.

Justin Doyle, community conservation manager at the James River Association, said the project would have allowed for safer for pedestrian access.

“When visitation is high, especially during events on Brown’s Island, you really need more capacity to keep pedestrians off of Tredegar Street and separated from vehicular traffic,” he said. 

The decision to cut $7.4 million in capital improvement projects was needed to balance Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed budget. A majority of City Council members voted down a proposed 7.5 percent property tax increase, leaving them with a $21 million budget gap. 

Richmond City Council is expected to approve the proposed cuts on May 13, but Fourth District Council Member Kristen Larson is already launching an effort to restore the funding to some of the capital improvement projects.

Larson said she working on an ordinance that would restore funding for the two James River accessibility projects, as well as proposed funding for renovating community centers and the Richmond Ambulance Authority building.

The ordinance would earmark some of the money left over from the 2018-2019 fiscal year for the renovations.

“The Huguenot Flatwater ramp is an important project,” Larson said. “People from all over the city and beyond come to the parks, and it’s important to have this accessibility option.”

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