Not much urban fund money left for town bike trail work

Published 6:58 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer

Bicyclists told the Smithfield Town Council that they want the bike and pedestrian trail finished. 

What’s missing from the Park-to-Park trail is the portion that would connect it to downtown Smithfield. 

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That final leg is in the hands of the Smithfield Town Council.  

Currently, Isle of Wight is overseeing the construction of the portion that runs along Battery Park and Nike Park roads, but it will not connect with downtown Smithfield unless the third portion is built. 

The third portion, to extend from the intersection of Battery Park Road and South Church Street, is under the purview of the town. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

However, funding for the project has gone elsewhere and there is now only $221,015 left in the town’s “urban fund” to build it, according to Town Manager Brian Thrower. 

Smithfield resident Cristin Emrick attended the Town Council’s Jan. 8 meeting to push for the final mile that would connect Windsor Castle Park with the trail — making it genuinely “park-to-park.” 

While the town funded a study looking at three possible routes, it had yet to proceed further. 

“Once the entire trail is completed, it would connect 8,000 households to more than 10 miles of trails, as well as shopping and government facilities,” Emrick said, adding, “our town is a collection of communities with no ability to safely walk the short distances between neighborhoods, or access shopping and recreation facilities.” 

“Many people have been calling this a bike trail, and I want to discourage that,” she said, and instead, Emrick referred to the trail as “multi-use” — appropriate for pedestrians, leisure riding and children riding their bikes with their families.

Emrick acknowledged no less than 10 members of the public in the audience at the meeting, whom she asked to stand in support of the bike trail project. 

Smithfield resident Greg Vassilakos also supported the extension of the bike and pedestrian trail to Windsor Castle Park, among other suggestions. 

 “Traffic circles and pedestrians don’t mix,” he said, referring to a recent Kimley-Horn traffic analysis calling for a roundabout at the intersection of Benns Church Boulevard and Cypress Crossing and Gumwood Drive. 

Isle of Wight County resident Leah Dempsey also spoke during the public comments section of the meeting, saying that she’s been a part of the “Park to Park” bike trail effort since 1999 — 20 years. Like Emrick, Dempsey emphasized how beneficial a fully-connected “Park-to-Park” trail would be for local businesses, and how it would further unite the community. 

Town Council did not directly respond to the topic of extending the trail to Windsor Castle Park at the meeting. 

In an interview on Jan. 14, Town Council member Beth Haywood, whose campaign was in support of the bike and pedestrian trail, said, “It seems that other projects have come up and there’s no funding for it anymore.”

“That’s the only space right along Church Street that doesn’t have access to pedestrians,” she said about the strip of road between Royal Farms on South Church Street and the Cypress Creek Bridge. 

“I think there are a lot of people in town who are in support of this who haven’t spoken out as much,” said Haywood.  “It’s very important to have safe ways for people to get through town,” she said, adding that the path would be promote physical activity and a stronger community. 

In 2013, the town signed a resolution calling for the use of VDOT urban funds to cover the cost of the town’s portion of the bike trail. 

At the time, the cost for the final leg of the trail was estimated at around $1 million. 

Of the $1.9 million left in the town’s “urban fund,” $221,015 is left for the bike trail. The remainder has been earmarked by the town for an alternative bike route study ($10,617), the sports complex turn lane ($758,147), the South Benn’s Church Boulevard intersection and roundabout study ($82,203) and improvements of the Benn’s Church and South Church Street intersection ($884,800).  {/mprestriction}