Park-to-park trail misses the cut for state funding

Published 12:45 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

A now $23 million proposal for funding Smithfield’s portion of the park-to-park trail didn’t make the latest short list of projects slated to receive state funding.

Virginia Department of Transportation staff listed the multiuse trail and widening of South Church Street at 258th out of 394 applications statewide for the fifth round of Smart Scale funding. Districtwide, it ranked 38th of 54 projects across Hampton Roads.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board, a 17-member panel appointed by the governor, began using VDOT’s Smart Scale formula in 2016 for evaluating the cost versus benefit of transportation projects. Projects chosen via Smart Scale receive 100% state funding and are added to the CTB’s six-year improvement program.

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According to Jamie Oliver, who heads Isle of Wight County’s transportation division, the Smart Scale formula looks at a variety of factors, including a project’s ability to mitigate congestion, enhance safety, provide access to employment opportunities and the population density of the submitting locality, as well as the overall cost. From this, VDOT assigns each project a Smart Scale score. The higher the score, the more likely the project will receive state funding.

Smithfield’s portion of the park-to-park trail scored a 1.8 Smart Scale rating, multiple projects behind the 3.09 cutoff for the latest round of state funding.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board will vote on its final choices for state funding in June. Those selected would receive their state funding between the latter half of 2023 and 2029.

“Now that the project has been scored through Smart Scale, we will begin looking at alternative funding options,” said Smithfield Town Manager Michael Stallings of the park-to-park trail.

Isle of Wight County completed its 3.1-mile portion of the trail, from Nike Park in Carrollton to the corner of Battery Park Road and South Church Street, for $8.6 million in 2021. Smithfield’s 1-mile segment would continue the trail down South Church Street and across the Cypress Creek Bridge to Windsor Castle Park.

As of 2019, Smithfield’s segment was estimated at $3.3 million. As of April 2022, the cost had nearly doubled to $6 million due to the scope having expanded to include roadwork. As of last summer, when the town was preparing to submit its Smart Scale application, the estimated cost had again drastically increased to $17.8 million. The final submitted Smart Scale application requested $22.9 million from the state, and had listed a total project cost of $23.1 million.

In March 2022, engineer Andrew Farthing of Kimley-Horn and Associates told town officials that the two-lane stretch of South Church Street was too flat to accommodate curb-and-gutter drainage infrastructure for the proposed bicycle and pedestrian path. To allow water to flow off the road rather than pool at its center, the street would need to be reconstructed with artificially created high and low points.

At the same meeting, Farthing proposed achieving the needed drainage by widening the street to include a center turn lane, which VDOT had considered in 2008.

According to Stallings, the $23.1 million estimate included cost escalation based on the year it was likely to receive state funding, as required by the Smart Scale process.