Last week Shenandoah Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership members signed and delivered a letter to Senator Mark Obenshain, Speaker Todd Gilbert, Delegate Tony Wilt and Delegate Bill Wiley asking for their help to secure funds, included in the proposed budget, for the acquisition of the rail corridor from Broadway to Front Royal for a multi-use Shenandoah Rail Trail.
We, the undersigned members of the Shenandoah Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership, ask you to secure funding for the acquisition of the Shenandoah Rail corridor this session. There is a rare opportunity this year to direct state funds to a project that will build our local economies while preserving a historically important rail line for future use.
The rail corridor in its current state provides no public benefit. In several of our towns it is overgrown with trees and weeds. In contrast, a future rail trail will bring significant economic development to our communities. An updated economic impact study in 2021 projects some $32 million of annual visitor spending, creating more than 300 new jobs.
In addition to spurring economic development for our region, we believe the project will improve quality of life in other significant ways. A multi-use trail will bring public health benefits, safe transportation alternatives, and additional outdoor recreation opportunities, all identified as local needs in the state’s feasibility study.
As you know, the communities in your districts strongly support the concept of the rail trail. The boards of supervisors of the three counties and the town councils of the nine towns along the corridor have all adopted formal resolutions in support of the trail. The towns and counties contributed the funding to the economic impact analysis, and the counties contributed funding for the real estate appraisal that is currently underway. Also, local chambers of commerce, including Shenandoah and Harrisonburg-Rockingham, formally support the project. When VDOT asked for public comments for a Shenandoah Rail Trail as part of the feasibility study, a record 9,283 people responded, most of whom live in the three counties, with 94% of all respondents saying they would use the trail if it were built.
We understand that the corridor will be acquired through railbanking, which ensures that rail service can be restored to the corridor on some future date, if it becomes economically viable again. But with Norfolk Southern’s decision to discontinue rail service along the line and sell the corridor, we have concluded that a multi-use trail is now the best use of the corridor.
Ultimately, we believe that this project will be a full public-private partnership, with funding from local, state and federal governments matched by significant corporate and private philanthropy. We anticipate that local communities and private donors will provide several million dollars to the development of the trail. However, initial funding from the Commonwealth to acquire the corridor is essential.
With overwhelming support from adjacent localities and community members in your districts, we ask you to please do what you can this session to ensure the proposed state-wide trail funding remains in place to secure this important project.
We are very fortunate to have your leadership in the General Assembly at this time, and we thank you for your help.
Top photo by Chris Anderson