The city is moving forward with plans to build an 11.5-mile biking and walking path that one day will anchor a regional trail for a variety of transportation options that connects with Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
Construction is scheduled to begin in late fall on the first of four phases of the Suffolk Seaboard Coastline Trail, a 10-foot-wide asphalt path that follows the old Seaboard Coastline railway.
City leaders said the project, estimated to cost between $7 million and $11 million, will provide easier access for residents and tourists to destination spots across the city.
The path is planned to become part of the 41-mile South Hampton Roads Trail. Each city on the trail is working out funding and land-use issues to establish connecting paths.
But progress on plans for the Suffolk trail, announced nearly eight years ago, has slowed as state transportation dollars have shrunk.
Since 2006, Suffolk has received about $1.9 million in state and federal grants to help with its portion. The path will originate downtown and run to the border with Chesapeake, but the first phase to be constructed is a 3.3-mile section that extends from Nansemond Parkway in the Driver area to Town Point Road at the Chesapeake line.
Environmental permits and easements already have been acquired for that section, making it easier to start with, said Helen Gabriel, assistant director of the Parks and Recreation Department,who serves as project manager.
Gabriel said the trail provides a direct path for commuters without the hazards associated with vehicular traffic, and the project also boosts recreational opportunities for cyclists, walkers and runners.
"We're all about healthy and active living," she said. "This gives an amazing opportunity for families to get together and walk."
No motorized vehicles will be allowed on the path, and there will be trail heads along the way with parking and bathrooms.
Bicycle lanes and paths are somewhat rare in Suffolk's rural and suburban landscape, but that's changing as these features are planned for road projects throughout the city.
Bruce Drees, president of the Tidewater Bicycle Association, said those efforts please cyclists who want an easier way to get in and out of Hampton Roads from the west.
Drees, who serves on an ad hoc committee for the regional trail, said Suffolk's picturesque landscape also would be a destination spot for tourists and pump money into the Hampton Roads economy. The lack of state and local funding makes developing the project difficult, he said.
"Everybody looks at the project and says, 'This is great,' " he said. "And we're like, 'OK, send money.' "
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