Albemarle County has been awarded over $2 million in funding for a route selection study and partial construction documents for the Three Notched Trail (TNT), a long hoped for shared use path from the City of Charlottesville extending through Ivy, Crozet, the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Afton, and into Nelson County. The trail would provide a car-free connection to the University of Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, and the Appalachian Trail.
“Thanks go to our county staff, especially Jessica Hersh-Ballering and Kevin McDermott who wrote the application, and to the Board of Supervisors who supported it,” noted TNT Planning Group Chair Allie Hill in the press release. Her leadership has been a vital force in moving the project forward since the idea’s inception a decade ago. “Thanks are also due to the many trail supporters from Charlottesville and Crozet who signed the petition and wrote letters in support of the trail, which brought its importance to the notice of the County.”
The grant application was submitted in April of 2022 and the award was announced on August 9 by U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA). It was awarded through the Department of Transporta-tion’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure Sustainability and Equity (RAISE)—a discretionary grant program that helps communities plan and carry out projects with local or regional impact—which is in turn part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last year.
The grant award includes funding to: conduct a feasibility study to identify potential alignments for the shared use path from the Blue Ridge Tunnel through Crozet to the City of Charlottesville; conduct public outreach to determine a preferred alignment; design the entirety of the preferred alignment; and identify segments of the alignment that would have independent utility if constructed separately.
The Three Notched Trail (TNT) is named after the historic road that extended from Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley dating back to colonial times, historically marked by three horizontal hatchet “notches” on trees along the way. A shared use path following the Three Notched Road is highlighted in the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan, the Crozet Master Plan, the Jefferson Area Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and the most recent Virginia Outdoors Plan. Segments of the shared use path were prioritized in the 2019 update of the Albemarle County Transportation Priorities list.
“One of the things we’ve talked about for trail placement is to potentially connect it with some stretches of railroad,” Hill said. “It could provide the basis for a “Rails with Trails” project, as almost 200 trails have been built in the U.S. using the easement land running parallel to still-functional railroad tracks. The Capital Trail [from Richmond to Williamsburg] is the model that we’re using. When it was constructed it cost a million dollars a mile. It was built as a long-term, car-free transportation alternative for residents, approximating roadway standards for grading, drainage, signage, and accessibility.”
A “shared use” path is typically a 10-foot-wide paved trail that is physically separated from the motor vehicle travel way and allows bi-directional pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Once built, the 25-mile TNT will provide local residents and visitors with car-free transportation and recreational opportunities while having a significant impact on the safety of vulnerable road users, connecting neighborhoods to schools, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving quality of life by increasing opportunities for physical activity and access to nature, and having a positive impact on the local economy by attracting visitors to the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway to visit local businesses.
“We expect the study to take approximately two years, from consultant search to final documents,” Hill explained. Following the completion of this project, Albemarle County staff will identify opportunities—including Transportation Alternatives, Revenue Sharing, Smart Scale, and future rounds of RAISE—to fund construction of the shared use path segments until the entire distance between the Blue Ridge Tunnel and Charlottesville is completed.