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Proposed rail-to-trail path could connect portions of Southside

Railroad tracks run through the forest
Crixell Matthews
Railroad tracks run nearby the planned James River Branch Trail. A city commission recommended on Monday that Richmond purchase a 1.8-mile right of way from CSX to facilitate the planned shared-use path. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The city of Richmond took an early step in fully realizing the James River Branch Trail Monday, a 12-year-old proposal to install a rail-to-trail shared-use path through Southside. 

The city planning commission recommended that City Council approve an ordinance authorizing the purchase of an abandoned right of way — stretching about 1.8 miles from Westover Hills Boulevard to Hopkins Road — from CSX Transportation, Inc. If council approves the purchase, it can be arranged by Richmond’s chief administrative officer. 

The James River Branch Trail was first proposed in 2010 but faltered when the city couldn’t match the price tag set by CSX. Now, with state cash, American Rescue Plan Act funds and broad plans to stand up new greenspaces across the city, the project has new life. 

The right of way is now used as an unmarked trail by Southside residents, but city planners envision a greenway with a paved path for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Brantley Tyndall, of Bike Walk RVA, said the James River Branch Trail will connect neighborhoods, employment centers, George Wythe High School and more. 

“It gives people an opportunity to walk to school, bike to local businesses and to get access to active lifestyles and exercise in a place that’s otherwise kind of overly built for cars,” Tyndall said. 

The greenway would cross through the 5th, 8th and 9th council districts. Tyndall said it would connect places that have long been underserved by city government when it comes to nonvehicular connections.

The project was identified in the Richmond 300 Master Plan as part of a “greenway network” in the city. Tyndall said the Branch trail would eventually give Southside residents access to the planned Fall Line Trail, which is planned to extend from Ashland to Petersburg. According to VDOT, construction on the trail will begin in 2023. 

According to planning documents, greenways are “universally accessible paved paths that are a minimum of 8-feet wide and intended for non-vehicle users, such as pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders, wheelchair users, people pushing strollers, and other users that are not using a vehicle for transportation.” 

If approved by City Council, the land purchase would be covered by up to $4.028 million from the state, while approximately $9 million in engineering and construction costs would be covered with American Rescue Plan Act funds over two years. 

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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