Virginia Capital Trail under construction, but obstacles remain on Richmond end

Construction of the 1,100-foot segment started this week along 18th Street near the floodwall in Richmond.

Ride the Capital Trail Take a video tour of the first segment to open, an 8-mile stretch from Jamestown to the Chickahominy River.

Richmond's Canal Walk is marching east as the Virginia Capital Trail.

Simons Construction Co. started work this week on the city's first substantial phase of the trail, a 55-mile recreational path being built between Richmond and Williamsburg.

The $2.3 million section will extend about 3,500 feet from the floodwall near 18th Street to Great Shiplock Park. It will thread under the CSX trestle along Dock Street and connect to a short trail section that was built in 2007 off the eastern edge of the Canal Walk.

The project will include a shield to protect trail users from falling railroad debris, said Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond.

When finished in about six months, the trail will be lined with historical markers, benches and landscaping, and it'll give cyclists, joggers and perhaps even commuters direct, easy access between Tobacco Row and downtown.

"We're really excited that Richmond is going to see the riverfront section going forward," said Beth Weisbrod, executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation. "This is going to be the first commuting trail. Symbolically, that's a huge step to making Richmond a bicycling, pedestrian-friendly city."

The Capital Trail now includes 15 miles of path that are open and accessible to the public, including a 7-mile stretch in Charles City County that opened this week.

But when and how the Richmond portion extends farther east is less certain, and it could get muddled in debate over development along the eastern riverfront.

At Great Shiplock Park, the trail will stop at the site of Echo Harbour, a proposed high-rise condominium, hotel and office project. The developers have offered to build the trail as part of Echo Harbour, but the project continues to face community opposition because of its potential impact on views of the James River from Libby Hill Park.

Meanwhile, the city is moving ahead with plans to buy the 1.6-acre Lehigh Cement Co. property, just southeast of Echo Harbour, for use as open space and a park with the Capital Trail running along what would be an abandoned railroad line.

The City Council will consider authorizing the $2 million Lehigh purchase after a public hearing Monday. However, members are considering making the sale subject to another sign-off by the council once the cost of building demolition, environmental cleanup and rail removal has been determined.

Collectively, Lehigh and the adjoining city-owned Richmond Intermediate Terminal property would provide about 1,300 linear feet for the Capital Trail, according to a staff memo sent to council members in advance of Monday's hearing.

But the city could lose the terminal property if the family of Richard Ripp follows through with plans to buy the property for $725,000 through an option granted through a 2004 lease agreement with the city.

While he said the sale is scheduled to close Sept. 10, family spokesman Michael Ripp said yesterday that it remains amenable to a delay that would allow the city, the family and other parties to hammer out a comprehensive agreement on riverfront development.

If the Ripps end up buying the Intermediate Terminal property, the city could have to negotiate with the family for use of the rail easement for the Capital Trail, said Dexter C. White, the city's director of the Department of Public Works.

From the Intermediate Terminal, the Capital Trail would feed into Rockett's Landing, a development that extends along the city's riverfront and into eastern Henrico County. The developers have committed to building the trail across their property, most likely in phases, said Richard Souter, a vice president with the WVS development company.

"In our mind, we were going to build a trail down there anyway," he said.


Contact Will Jones at (804) 649-6911 or wjones@timesdispatch.com.

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