One of Charlottesville resident Nick Hamblet’s favorite places to run is a section of the Rivanna Trail between Barracks Road and Fontaine Avenue and he’s not alone.
“This section of the trail is almost always in the best shape of any portions and my guess is that this is because it is the most heavily trafficked,” said Hamblet.
However, the non-profit organization that operates the trail has warned its members that the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 could close a section of the 19-mile pedestrian and bicycle path that encircles the city of Charlottesville.
“As currently designed, the southern terminus has the potential to close off access to trail users permanently,” reads a Sept. 14 notice on the Rivanna Trail Foundation’s website.
In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board formally awarded a $136 million contract to the team of Skanska-USA and Branch Highways to design and build the 6.2-mile four-lane bypass through Albemarle County.
The southern terminus would replace the existing right-in, right-out intersection between the U.S. 29-250 bypass and Leonard San-dridge Road. Motorists looking to drive from eastbound U.S. 250 and the bypass would travel via ramps that will be built in a valley where the trail is currently located.
“Current drawings suggest up to two miles of trail might be impacted,” said Diana Foster, a former president of the RTF. “Up to one and a half miles of trail might be closed temporarily or permanently.”
However, VDOT officials said that it is too early to tell if the trail will be affected.
“VDOT is waiting for the conclusion of the environmental re-evaluation before the design-builder can begin detailed design work,” said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
On Sept. 27, VDOT is holding a public meeting at Jack Jouett Middle School to take comments on an environmental assessment to determine if previous studies are enough to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Federal Highway Administration is expected to determine by the end of the year whether VDOT can proceed with the project, or whether additional environmental studies are necessary.
“There will be public involvement during the design phase, and VDOT will consider the public input and concerns during that pro-cess,” Hatter said.
The draft environmental assessment contains no mention of the effect the southern terminus will have on the Rivanna Trail.
The trail has crossed over the land since 1999, when VDOT granted permission.
Foster said the RTF is not taking a position for or against the bypass, but wants VDOT to be aware that the 19-mile long trail is an important component of the regional trails master plan.
“Closing this section might destroy the loop and might prevent future connected trails in this part of the community,” Foster said. She added there are no alternative easements to reroute the section on either a temporary or permanent basis.
“This is a highly built-up area with numerous roads and very little open land. Ivy and Old Ivy Roads are especially unsafe for pedestrians because they lack sidewalks,” Foster said. “Keeping walkers and cyclists on a trail separated from cars, such as the Rivanna Trail, is the safest alternative.”
Hamblet said he is hopeful that the trail will continue to serve the North Grounds area.
“I’ve heard that VDOT was helpful and willing to work with the Rivanna Trail Foundation when Leonard Sandridge Road was put in place, so I’m optimistic that this section of trail will still be around after this work, even if it’s moved,” Hamblet said.