Route 5 Feasibility Study

Route 5 Bikeway Executive Summary Final Report

Route 5 Study Corridor

Route 5 links Virginia's modern capital, Richmond, to her colonial capital, Williamsburg (see Figure 1). Two lanes for much of its +50-mile length, this primary roadway provides access to the James River plantations, the Richmond National Battlefield Park, the Colonial National Historic Park, and other historic sites. Route 5 also provides connections to many recreation and conservation areas such as the Chickahominy Wildlife Refuge and the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery.

In 1975, Route 5 was designated a Virginia Byway, the second roadway in the Commonwealth to be recognized for its scenic character. In the following year, most of Route 5 was selected to be part of the BikeCentennial Trail, now referred to as the Trans-America Bicycle Trail. In the early 1980's, the same section of Route 5 was designated as part of Interstate Bicycle Route 76.

Despite development over the last twenty years, for the most part the Route 5 corridor has retained its scenic character and historic setting that led to its designation as a Virginia Byway and a bicycle touring route (see Figure 2). Nonetheless, bicycling conditions on Route 5 are less than ideal. The road is generally narrow (20 to 22 feet wide), the posted speed is 55 miles per hour, and there are a large number of trucks on the road (75 to 130 per day).


In the early 1990's, the Virginia General Assembly directed both the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) to assess improvements to Route 5, including better accommodation of non-motorized users. The first report, completed for the General Assembly in 1991, raised the possibility of widening Route 5 to provide bicycle lanes. The second report, completed a year later by DHR, expressed concern over the effect of such a widening on the roadway's distinctive tree canopy. This led the Department of Historic Resources to recommend that other alternatives for improving bicycle and pedestrian access also be considered, including a shared use path through the corridor.

Shortly after presentation of these two reports to the General Assembly, funds were obtained from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Interim Scenic Byways Program to conduct a bikeway feasibility study along Route 5. The purpose of the study was to determine the feasibility of locating a hike/bike trail along the Route 5 corridor between Richmond and Williamsburg. The primary objectives of such a shared use (also referred to as multi-use) trail in the area would be to:

  • Offer multi-modal transportation options
  • Enhance safety
  • Respond to the General Assembly
  • Promote tourism and economic development
  • Provide recreational opportunities
  • Highlight natural and cultural resources
  • Complement scenic qualities of the byway
To address the many facets of such a project, the study was completed by an interdisciplinary team of specialists in transportation/bikeway planning and design, landscape architecture, cultural resources, safety, tourism, environmental planning, and consensus building. Working closely with local governments and the public, the team assessed the technical and political feasibility of alternative improvements in the Route 5 corridor. This feasibility study report documents the methodologies that were used, the process to evaluate feasibility, and the outcomes and/or conclusions that were reached.

Elements of the Feasibility Study

The study process was set up to evaluate project feasibility from a technical perspective (i.e. cost, safety, design considerations, potential impacts, etc.) as well as the level of public support for such a facility. Assessment of public support and community acceptance was accomplished through a comprehensive public involvement program. Assessments regarding technical feasibility were based upon data collection efforts and subsequent analysis of preliminary and final alternatives. The two study elements were completed simultaneously and were interactive with each other.

Public Involvement

A comprehensive public involvement process served as the foundation to evaluate feasibility of the bikeway project with regard to "political feasibility" or public acceptance. Public involvement began early on in the study process and continued proactively through to the end. The project corridor involves five separate jurisdictions, each with their own perspectives and plans for Route 5: City of Richmond, Henrico County, Charles City County, James City County, and City of Williamsburg. The first step in the study process was "scoping," where community leaders, business owners, special interest groups, state/federal agencies, and public officials from each locality were interviewed to identify key issues.

It was evident from the beginning that there are often conflicting interests along the corridor. For example, to some people, any development along Route 5 was perceived as potentially damaging to the scenic integrity of the byway. To others, development was viewed as an economic benefit to the community. From a recreational perspective, pedestrian users sometimes had different views than bicyclists, and advanced bicyclists had different preferences than basic adult, teenage, and child bicyclists. While many considered the tree canopy to be the essence of the roadway's aesthetic appeal, others viewed it as a potential safety hazard for motorists. It was recognized from the outset that for there to be a multi-use facility along Route 5, compromises would be necessary on the part of interested parties along the corridor, the potential users of the facility, and public agencies. Furthermore, the design concepts would need to be flexible.

Drawing on the initial interviews, a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) was established to act as the primary avenue for regular input from the diversity of individuals and groups who had an interest in the study's outcome. The CAC was comprised of representatives from key interests in the study area: landowners, planning staff from all five localities, the NAACP, local civic groups, the Virginia Trails Association, the Historic Route 5 Association, the Richmond Area Bicyclist Association, the Virginia Bicycle Federation, the Historic Triangle Bicycle Advisory Committee, and other important groups. At each CAC meeting, enough technical information was provided to aid discussion, but the key to the success of the meetings was creating a forum for open discussion about critical issues and potential solutions. Each member was encouraged to actively participate and express his or her concerns.

Another project advisory committee formed for the study was the State Resource Group (SRG). Members included the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, VDOT representatives from the central office and districts, and the Federal Highway Administration. Meetings with this committee focused on information exchange and review of technical findings.

In order to evaluate public acceptance, the study team met nine times with the CAC and eight times with the SRG. Two sets of project briefings were also given to the local Boards of Supervisors. Over the course of the study, the study team developed and refined alternative concepts to respond to the interests and concerns of the advisory groups. At the recommendation of the CAC, three general public information meetings were also conducted along the study corridor prior to selection of the final alternatives. During the final alternatives analysis, additional meetings were held with citizens in the Greensprings Road corridor of James City County to discuss options for location of a separate path in that specific corridor. A professional facilitator presided over each CAC meeting and other public meetings in each locality.

Technical Studies

To evaluate technical feasibility, the study team first reviewed previously prepared reports and appropriate documents. An inventory of existing conditions was then compiled. Using primarily existing sources of information augmented with limited field reconnaissance, data collection efforts within the study area focused on:

  • Traffic and accident data along Route 5;
  • Roadway and right-of-way dimensions;
  • Location of parallel utility easements;
  • Location of active/inactive railroad corridors;
  • Sensitive environmental resources; and
  • Landscape features.
Based on the information collected, several general assessments of the corridor were made including an assessment of bicyclist/pedestrian safety, a scenic viewshed analysis, and an assessment of potential environmental impacts. In tandem with the public involvement component of the study, the information was also used to develop and evaluate a wide range of alternatives. Predictions were not made for potential use of the facility in terms of anticipated bicyclist and/or pedestrian volumes. Such predictions are highly variable and are generally considered to be unreliable.

Study Process

Key elements of the study process, from project initiation through the final alternatives analysis, are briefly described below.

Establishment of Project Goals

Early in the study process, goals for the bikeway project were established based on a review of earlier studies and additional input from a variety of sources and interviews. These goals were a direct outgrowth of the study's background objectives as described on page ES-2.

As a recreational amenity in the area, one goal of the bikeway would be to serve as a shared use facility that would serve and attract a variety of users including pedestrians, hikers and bicyclists. Furthermore, bicyclists at various skill levels, not just advanced cyclists, would be accommodated. Through the course of the study, it was decided that the facility would be designed for basic adult and teenage bicyclists (Group B) and, where practical, provide opportunities for family bicycling.

Other goals of the bikeway included providing a connection from Richmond to Williamsburg, and providing convenient access to key attractions and destinations along the way. One of the major issues driving proposals for a bikeway in this corridor is and has been a desire to facilitate and enhance the public's understanding and appreciation of the numerous historic and natural resources near Route 5.

Route 5 serves as a vital commuter route and source of economic livelihood for residents and businesses in the area. Therefore, serving local needs as well as regional needs was also an important goal for the bikeway. Development of the bikeway concepts attempted to complement existing and future land uses in the area, to improve general safety of motorists and non-motorists, and to minimize potential impacts on private properties.

Finally, maintaining and preserving the scenic aspects of the corridor and minimizing harm to the environment were considered to be important goals as well. One of the most distinctive components of Route 5 is the existing tree canopy evident along sections of the road which helps to create both a visual and physical buffer between the road and adjoining land uses.

Preliminary Alternatives Analysis

Taking into account the varied character of Route 5, the study team first developed a number of preliminary concepts that fell within four basic categories:

  • Widening Route 5 to provide additional travel lane width and paved shoulders to better accommodate bicyclists on the road;
  • Constructing a paved shared use path adjacent to Route 5 within existing VDOT right-of-way where feasible;
  • Constructing a paved shared use path within the petroleum pipeline corridor north of Route 5 and/or within a short rail corridor near Richmond; and
  • Designating existing parallel roads without improvement as part of the bikeway.
The study team and two project advisory committees (CAC and SRG) collaboratively conducted the screening of a wide range of alternatives. Key findings, which led to the selection of three final alternatives, were:
  • Shoulder bikeways on Route 5 should be a minimum of six feet wide because of high motor vehicle speeds and a large number of heavy vehicles in the traffic stream.
  • The existing 110-foot right-of-way through 20 miles in the central section of Route 5 provides a unique opportunity to construct a path separated from the road with only minimal effect on the tree canopy and scenic character of the corridor.
  • Similar opportunities are available in James City County on both Route 5 and Greensprings Road through the use of electric utility and scenic easements.
  • A separate path within the petroleum pipeline corridor is not feasible because of land use incompatibility, the potential for significant environmental impacts, lack of public support, and its remoteness from key attractions.
  • A separate path in or along a short rail line near Richmond, on the south side of Route 5, is not feasible because of recent plans to re-activate the rail line.
  • The most feasible parallel roads for incorporation into the bikeway (without improvements) are the Colonial Parkway and Alternate Route 5 in James City County.

Final Alternatives Analysis

Combined, the technical screening of alternatives and input from the public resulted in the selection of three final alternatives which were then evaluated in greater detail.

  • Alternative 1 (Shoulder Bikeway): This alternative is strictly an "on-road" concept the entire length of the project. From the Richmond City limits to its intersection with the new Alternate Route 5 in James City County, Route 5 would be widened to include 12-foot travel lanes and 6-foot paved shoulders on both sides. It would then continue on Alternate Route 5 into Williamsburg utilizing the shoulder bikeways already included in that roadway's design. In much of the corridor, this design would require the relocation of existing grassed slopes and drainage ditches.
  • Alternative 2 (Shared Use Path): This "off-road" concept would consist of a separate 10-foot path adjacent to Route 5 from the Richmond city limits to the Greensprings Road corridor in James City County. From that point, the shared use path would proceed to Jamestown, although a specific location is not currently proposed within the Greensprings Road corridor. From Jamestown, the Colonial Parkway would be used (without improvements) to access Williamsburg. For this concept, the path would be located on only one side of the road, offset approximately 10 to 25 feet from the edge of pavement. Streams and wetland areas would primarily be crossed on new structures. In some areas, the path width would be reduced to 8 feet to minimize impacts to wetlands or other constraints.
  • Alternative 3 (Combination): This alternative is a combination of Alternatives 1 and 2. It would incorporate the shoulder bikeway design from the Richmond city limits to Long Bridge Road in Henrico County and the shared use path design as described above through the remaining project length. Based on safety concerns expressed by the public, a unique aspect of this alternative is a minor widening of Route 5 from Long Bridge Road to the Chickahominy River. The minor roadway widening would require only minor changes to the open drainage system along the road.
Through extensive coordination and compromises on everyone's part, the CAC was able to reach consensus on Alternative 3 as shown in Figure 3. This alternative is responsive to local concerns and the varied conditions within the +50-mile corridor. For example, the shoulder bikeway on the western end toward Richmond and the minor roadway widening in eastern Henrico and Charles City County will enhance safety for all roadway users including farm equipment, mail carriers, other motorists and bicyclists. An added benefit of the minor roadway widening is that it would accommodate the advanced bicyclist who may prefer the on-road bicycling experience to the off-road path. The separate path provides a great opportunity for hiking and bicycling, and increased economic benefits from tourism. Furthermore, the concept design for Alternative 3 is not expected to have significant environmental impacts and can be constructed largely within existing right-of-way. If implemented, the composite design will enhance the scenic aspects of one of America's most historic travel corridors and provide numerous benefits to the community and state.


Highlights of the results of the technical analyses and public participation process completed for this feasibility study are summarized below.

  • Substantial support for the project in general exists from a diverse cross-section of the public.
  • Safety is of utmost concern to key interests along the corridor.
  • The three final alternatives as conceptually developed for this feasibility study will impact sensitive environmental resources but these impacts are relatively minimal and not anticipated to be significant as defined by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • A fully developed shoulder bikeway is generally not acceptable through Charles City County and James City County due to potential impacts to the tree canopy.
  • A separate shared use path is generally not acceptable through Henrico County from the Richmond city limits to Longbridge Road due to potential right-of-way conflicts. With few exceptions in isolated spots along the remainder of the corridor, the final design options can be constructed entirely within existing VDOT or utility rights-of-way.
  • Consensus was reached among the CAC that Alternative 3 is the preferred option.
  • The Boards of Supervisors in Henrico County, Charles City County, and James City County all endorsed the concept of a bikeway and each one passed a resolution supporting efforts to move forward into preliminary engineering and final design.
  • Alternative 3 was specifically endorsed by the Charles City County Board of Supervisors. The minor roadway widening element for Alternative 3 in Charles City County is critical to local support in that County.
  • A preferred path location within the Greensprings Road corridor area of James City County has not yet been identified. Additional technical work and public involvement will be required during preliminary engineering and design to reach consensus in the community as to the best option for a path from Route 5 to Jamestown in this area.
  • The project is both politically and technically feasible to construct.
  • Continued coordination and cooperation with local governments and the Community Advisory Committee are essential through final design.
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Page last modified: Oct. 14, 2012