County still looking for funding to finance Pocahontas Trail improvement project

Staff writer

A year after the Board of Supervisors OK’d a $34 million plan to improve a 2-mile stretch of Pocahontas Trail in Grove, the county is still working to collect the money needed to finance the project.

Recent applications to the state’s Smart Scale program failed to qualify for funding. The county expects to reapply to the program with tweaked pitches with hopes of having a better shot at funding in the 2021 fiscal year. The county also is pursuing other funding avenues for the project, Planning Director Paul Holt said.

The $34 million project would be a boon to the section of Pocahontas Trail between Fire Station Two and James River Elementary School, where the road is mostly two lanes and sidewalk space is scant. The county wants to build a three-lane road, a continuous sidewalk and continuous shared-use path along with other improvements, including burying utilities underground. Further improvements include landscaping, lighting, better drainage and bus pull-offs and shelters

“We continue to pursue other funding for this much needed project,” Holt said.

The county submitted three different applications for the project, with funding requests ranging from $11 million to $43 million. The $43 million request envisioned a start date of 2028 and factored in inflation.

Besides Smart Scale, a state-run program that allocates funds to transportation projects based on an application and scoring process, the county is also looking to reapply to the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program and the state Regional Surface Transportation Program.

Through those two programs, the county has already earned a combined $16 million in funding for the project, Holt said.

Despite the setback, the county remains committed to the Pocahontas Trail project as it was approved by the Board of Supervisors in July 2018, after almost a year of public forums and study.

“The goal is to keep the project as the community provided its input,” Holt said. “The county is very committed to pursuing that concept.”

The county elected to go with a $28 million, three-lane road concept that features a continuous center turn lane with a travel lane in each direction. There will also be an 8-foot-wide shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists and a 5-foot-wide sidewalk for foot traffic.

The county also plans to bury the power lines above the project area. Doing so will cost an estimated $6 million, bringing the project total to $34 million, the project study states.

Only local funds can be used to bury utilities, so the expected $6 million will have to come from the county. That money isn’t in hand yet, Holt said.

In short, the project is a total overhaul of that area of Pocahontas Trail, which officials hope will make the road less congested, safer and more user-friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The county wants to pursue a phased approach that would see small-scale tweaks such as transit shelters and bus pull-off areas built first. The first road construction phase would take place at a roughly half-mile stretch of roadway between Jackson Street and Ron Springs Drive, which would cost $9.3 million, a figure that includes underground utilities.

Following that would come the Ron Springs Drive to Plantation Road segment ($10.2 million) and the Howard Drive to Jackson Street segment ($9.2 million). Last would be the segment between the project’s west limit at the fire station to Howard Drive ($5.9 million), according to the study’s executive summary.

VDOT would need to acquire right of way to make room for the project. How much land — and how many property owners — would be affected won’t be determined until after the project is fully funded and after final engineering is completed, Holt said.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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