In 2020 the General Assembly directed state agencies to conduct a feasibility study for the Shenandoah Rail Trail. This study, requested by our Valley legislators, involved a deep dive to assess the need for a multi-use trail, find out the community’s views, and then, quite literally, look at the nuts and bolts of existing corridor infrastructure to see if a trail would fit and be safe.
GREAT NEWS – the study found that a Shenandoah Rail Trail IS feasible and also that there is overwhelming support for the concept.
Here are some of the study’s high points:
– People really want a safe place to recreate. A community survey conducted as part of the study found that 94% of respondents would use the trail if built. Respondents indicated they would walk, bike and run on the trail for recreation, exercise and for social or family outings.
– Localities agree that the rail corridor needs to once again serve the public. The nine towns and three counties along the route are primed and ready to transform the un-used rail corridor. Not only have they passed formal resolutions of support, many localities have also started planning for town-to-trail connections and access points.
Feasibility Study for a Linear Park in the Shenandoah Valley, Figure 2, MetroQuest Public Survey Results.
– The safe shared-use trail is needed! Many local and regional area plans have identified the lack of safe and accessible outdoor recreation and transportation options and endorsed the concept of developing expanded bike and pedestrian facilities throughout the region.
– The trail will benefit our community. A Shenandoah Rail Trail would neighbor many vulnerable populations and stand to increase the quality of life for residents, bringing both physical and mental health benefits.
– The trail offers safe transportation. With limited public transportation options and many households in the region without access to a car, a Shenandoah Rail Trail will provide a safe alternative transportation option both within and between towns and connect to existing public transportation networks.
– The trail offers safe and accessible recreation. The multi-use trail will be separated from cars and other traffic and developed at a gentle grade so it can be enjoyed by folks of all ages and physical abilities.
– Many trailheads and points of interest already exist. Several of the trailhead locations proposed in the study already exist in and around town parks. The corridor also passes through many of our local historic and cultural resources as well as by a number of destination museums, eateries and lodging.
Feasibility Study for a Linear Park in the Shenandoah Valley, Figure 21, Strasburg Visitor Center at Hupps Hill Civil War Park.
– The current alignment of the corridor is mostly good-to-go. The existing rail right-of-way is wide enough to fit a 10′ wide path and most of the road crossings are located in areas that have low vehicle speed and lower traffic volume. Most existing road crossings have adequate sightlines, but of course, the study still recommends safety signage and crosswalks.
– Bridges are in decent shape. Although the existing bridges require repair, particularly the bridge decking, they do have good structural capacity.
The study estimated the preliminary cost of the purchase and conversion of the corridor into a multi-use trail. As we expected, it will be a significant investment, but the benefits clearly outweigh the costs to ensure a currently unused asset can once again serve the community. And the Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership, a multi-jurisdictional coalition formed to assess the possibility of a multi-use trail from Broadway to Front Royal, is committed to seeking funding from private philanthropy and corporate-giving as well as advocating for state and federal investments.
All-in-all, after reading this report, it’s hard not to be convinced that transforming the un-used rail corridor into a Shenandoah Rail Trail is a great idea for our region. If you’d like to read the full study and see for yourself, you can do so here.
Top photo: Feasibility Study for a Linear Park in the Shenandoah Valley, Figure 19, Segment between Ash Street and US 11 in Town of Strasburg.