Most urban funds used, few remain for bike trail

Published 7:03 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer 

The $1.2 million originally specified for the uncompleted Smithfield portion of the “Park to Park” bike and pedestrian trail from the town’s VDOT “urban funds” has been whittled down to a fraction of that amount over the past five years.

Before the bike trail was envisioned, the urban funds had been set aside to be used to build a turn lane along South Church Street, between the Cypress Creek bridge and the intersection with Battery Park Road. 

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Once exceeding an estimated $2.5 million dollars, the funds never grew to the level that the turn lane project could proceed, as town records from 2013 marked the project in excess of $10.6 million. VDOT announced in 2004 that the turn lane was postponed for a few years and then seemingly abandoned it altogether.  {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In the lead-up to the turn lane, the town had gone ahead and acquired the rights-of-way necessary to build it. 

After VDOT shelved the turn lane project, the Smithfield Town Council voted to use some of the “urban funds” to help complete the South Church Street beautification project in the historic district, and in 2013, had planned to use some of the money for the Smithfield portion of the “Park to Park” trail.

The Town Council pledged to put $1.2 million of its “urban funds” to the trail, but in the years since then, it has embarked on several other projects that have dipped into the pot. 

Of the remaining “urban funds,” $884,800 of the state funds are assigned to the Benn’s Church Boulevard and South Church Street intersection, and $758,147 is assigned to the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex turn lane project. 

One project was a study to look at alternative routes for Smithfield portion of the Park-to-Park trail, at $10,617.

The Smithfield Park-to-Park trail portion is intended to provide seamless bike and pedestrian access from downtown to Carrollton Nike Park. Without the Smithfield portion, the trail begins at the intersection of South Church Street and Battery Park Road and ends at Nike Park. 

There is no public parking available at the trail terminus at South Church Street and Battery Park Road, nor is there a sidewalk available from that intersection to the Cypress Creek bridge. 

At the Jan. 8 Town Council meeting, Smithfield Director of Planning, Engineering and Public Works William Saunders said that VDOT had informed town staff that money in the “urban fund” account had to be assigned to specific projects or else it would be reallocated elsewhere due to changes in state funding policy known as Smart Scale. 

For that reason, funds could not be moved from one project to another, said Saunders. 

Meanwhile, the traffic count along South Church Street, once the impetus for the third turn lane, has dropped since the early 2000s. In 2005, the average daily traffic volume reported by VDOT on that portion of South Church Street was 16,000, and in the most recent report, the number was 13,000.  {/mprestriction}