Rails with trails for Virginia?

Cycling group pushes for ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’

Large subsidies given to railway projects should also be used to create thousands of miles of new trails alongside those railways, say the Virginia Bicycle Federation.

Their recent petition asks the State Governor to support ‘rails with trails’ on all major railroad projects in the state.

The central idea of the petition is that citizens should benefit directly from railroad projects that receive government subsidies for new construction or improvements.

Although the petition calls for ‘trails with rails’ only within Virginia it is backed by some 25 organizations on the state and national level, including Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a US non-profit organization working to preserve and convert disused rail corridors to trails, as well as lay trails alongside existing railways.

Other backers include the Adventure Cycling Association, the International Mountain Biking and the League of American Bicyclists.

The VBF summarise their reasoning and demands:

"…government is looking at railroads as a key component of our transportation infrastructure for the twenty-first century. Railroads are experiencing an unprecedented level of interest and expansion. …..Upgraded railways will help reduce the number of cars and trucks on our roads, and decrease air pollution, energy use, and wear and tear to our highways.

"The Resolution asks Governor Kaine to ensure that, as these railroad projects are planned and implemented, rails with trails are included as a required and integral of them.

"Rails with rails have proven to be a safe and viable way to provide facilities for people to walk and cycle throughout their communities."

Virginia has already invested over US$60 million in rail projects in the state and billions more state and federal dollars are being sought for continued investment.

Current upgrades passing partly through Virginia include the Crescent Corridor from New Orleans to the Ports of New Jersey. This Crescent Corridor splits in Birmingham, Alabama, with a branch routed along the I-81 corridor in the Shenandoah Valley through Roanoke and another branch traveling east of the Blue Ridge through Danville, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville, ending in Manassas.

Another upgrade is the Heartland Corridor, which would connect the Port of Portsmouth with Chicago. The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor would connect WashingtonDC, RichmondVirginia, and RaleighNorth Carolina.

VBF added: "Asking for these facilities while in their early planning stages is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create thousands of miles of trails connecting communities throughout Virginia and the United States."

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy point out there are already are 200 rails with trails projects in the US totaling more than 2,000 miles. These should be distinguished from rails to trails projects which aim at the conversion of disused rail corridors to trails. The current total of both types of trails comes to more than 15,000 miles, with a further 9,500 miles plus in the project stage.

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