By Stefanie Jackson – Sen. Tim Kaine visited Cape Charles on Wednesday and walked half a mile on the future Eastern Shore of Virginia Rail Trail, for which he secured $2.5 million in federal funding.
He was confident asking his fellow U.S. senators to support the project because “we’ve seen how these rail-to-trail projects are doing so well all over Virginia” promoting the health of the communities they serve as well as tourism and economic growth.
The public trail will be where nearly 50 miles of railroad tracks once ran up and down the Eastern Shore, a paved surface ideal for bicycling and walking.
Kaine’s early evening hike took him from Rayfield’s Pharmacy in Cape Charles, across the former railroad yard, to the Shanty restaurant at the town harbor, where he spoke briefly to citizens.
$2.5 million will cover most of the cost to build out the rail trail about 2.3 miles from Cape Charles to U.S. Route 13.
Kaine got the money through congressionally directed spending, formerly called earmarks. It’s a way for Congress members to directly fund projects that benefit the people they represent.
Local organizations are spared the long and difficult process of completing grant applications, submitting them to federal government agencies, and waiting for approvals that may never happen.
Congressionally directed spending is an effective way to get money for small, rural towns and counties that can’t compete with highly populated cities that are favored by federal funding formulas.
“We’re able to go to bat for some communities that might not get funds under the traditional formula,” Kaine said.
He is able to get support for projects like the rail trail by talking to senators from rural areas to “make a case not just based on what number crunchers would think would be important. I can make a case on quality of life” and improving health in “a unique part of our state,” Kaine said.
Recreational trails benefit communities not only by providing opportunities to improve public health, they promote tourism and economic growth.
For example, the Virginia Capital Trail, which Kaine also supported, has an estimated annual economic impact of $5 million. (The trail covers about 52 miles from Jamestown to Richmond.)
The Virginia Creeper Trail, a nearly 35-mile-long rail trail in southwestern Virginia, generates about $25 million in tourism revenues annually, according to the town of Abington, where the trail begins.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia Rail Trail will reach as far north as Hallwood and as far south as Cape Charles, where it will connect to the Southern Tip Bike and Hike Trail that ends at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, a stone’s throw from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.