Axios Richmond

Picture of the Richmond skyline.
August 08, 2022

๐Ÿ˜‘ Gosh. Monday again.

Today's weather: Sunny with a high near 93 but a heat index of 100.

This newsletter is 921 words โ€” a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: ๐Ÿš„ Our high-speed rail dreams

Illustration of a multi-colored train moving fast towards the viewer.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

People have been talking about bringing high-speed rail to Richmond for decades now.

Yes, but: While there's been some progress, those fast rail trips up and down the East Coast remain a faraway dream.

What's happening: This summer, the feds announced a $58 million grant to begin developing a high-speed corridor between Raleigh and Petersburg.

  • And last year, the state announced a $3.7 billion plan that will double rail capacity between D.C. and Virginia.

That all sounds promising, but there's still a long way to go.

  • The broad federal plans for high-speed rail between Richmond and D.C. are being pursued piecemeal, and many elements have yet to be funded.
  • As for the Raleigh-to-Petersburg development, for now it's limited to an engineering study, meaning "it's too soon to put a date on the actual rail improvements," Karina Romero, a spokesperson for the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, tells Axios.

The earliest a true high-speed rail connection to D.C. might materialize is 2040, Danny Plaugher, the president of the advocacy group Virginians for High Speed Rail, tells Axios.

What's next: Passengers should still begin noticing improvements in speed and reliability in the near-term.

  • One under-the-radar upgrade: Amtrak's plan to roll out new trains over the next seven years will significantly boost reliability over the current fleet, which in some cases is pushing 50 years old, Plaugher says.
  • That's welcome news to Karri and Ned, whose last last work trip out of D.C. was delayed two hours when a part underneath one of the carriages randomly caught fire.

Our thought bubble: Allow us to daydream a little while we Google international rail timetables.

  • ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น In Italy, you can make it from Rome to Naples โ€” about the distance from Richmond to D.C. โ€” in an hour and 10 minutes at a cost of about $20.
  • ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ And in Spain, a rail trip from Madrid to Barcelona โ€” think Richmond to New York City โ€” takes about 2.5 hours and costs about $35.

2. Ask Axios: ๐Ÿช™ Nickel Bridge money

Illustration of an otter with a word balloon with a question mark in it coming out of its mouth.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Question: How much money does the Nickel Bridge make every year, and when will it get a smart tag lane?

The background: Ah, the Nickel Bridge, the smallest, prettiest and perhaps most contentious bridge in all of Richmond.

The bridge was free for Westover Hills residents until 1960 and a nickel toll for everyone else. Thus, the moniker.

  • The toll steadily rose over the years and, since 2008, has cost 35 cents.

But back to the question: Pre-COVID, the Boulevard Bridge brought in between $1.4 million and $1.5 million in toll revenue annually.

  • That dropped to $1.3 million in fiscal year 2020 and $954,000 in 2021, the latest year for which figures are available.

The intrigue: Traffic and revenues were dropping before the pandemic. Transactions were down 3.8% in fiscal year 2019 from 2018, according to RMTA reports.

Onto a smart tag lane: Last year, EZ Pass transactions on the Boulevard Bridge passed the 50% mark for the first time ever (they account for 70% of payment methods on Powhite Parkway and the Downtown Expressway).

  • But there are no plans โ€” and no specific threshold โ€” to add a dedicated smart tag lane to the bridge, RMTA auditor Paula Watson tells Axios.
  • And there are no plans to end tolls on the bridge.

3. The Current: ๐Ÿ”Œ Big wind farm approved

Illustration of the letters rva written in cursive and flowing like a river.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

๐ŸŒฌ๏ธ State regulators approved Dominion Energy's plans to build a massive new wind farm off the coast of Virginia Beach. (AP)

๐ŸŸ๏ธ City officials narrowed the list of finalists to redevelop The Diamond and surrounding lots to two, but remain noncommittal about when they will reach a final decision. (BizSense)

๐ŸŽ“ Two Richmond-area HBCUs, Virginia State University and Virginia Union University, are pursuing plans to open college prep-oriented lab schools under a new state program championed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. (Times-Dispatch)

๐Ÿงน And the winning entry in the contest to name the city's tiny new bike-lane street sweeper is MF Broom. (Twitter)

  • It's a play off the name of late rapper MF Doom, with the MF, of course, standing for "metal face."
  • A naming ceremony is in the works.

4. ๐Ÿ˜’ Richmond's biggest eyesores

Illustration of buildings drawn in an ugly, sloppy style and a sun that doubles as a smiley face with its tongue sticking out.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In the coming weeks, Axios Richmond is going to take a look at our area's worst eyesores.

  • We're looking for readers to tell us about the ugliest buildings, unfilled craters and lots, tragedies of poor zoning and crumbling infrastructure.

Some ground rules:

  • We don't care about your neighbor's fence. These have to be eyesores we can all hate together.
  • Try not to be too abstract. These also have to be places we can take pictures of.

โœ‰๏ธ Reply with your submissions. If we include your suggestion, you'll receive a hardy thank you in this very newsletter.

New jobs to check out

๐Ÿ’ผ See who's hiring around the city.

  1. Marketing Director at Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity.
  2. Executive Director at Virginia Promise in Action.
  3. Senior Policy Analyst at Virginia Health Catalyst.

Want more opportunities? Check out our Job Board.

Hiring? Post a job.

5. ๐Ÿ— Chicken Fiesta gets crispy

A photo of Chicken Fiesta's new chicken sandwich
Chicken Fiesta, deep-fried. Photo: Ned Oliver/Axios

Richmond's most important local fast-food chain, Chicken Fiesta, is making a late entrance into the chicken sandwich wars.

What's happening: The chain's new menu item is a distinct departure from the charcoal rotisserie birds at the (literal) center of its restaurants.

  • The crispy, deep-fried chicken breast is topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato and a generous spread of spicy mayo.

Ned's thought bubble: As promised, it was quite crispy. And the sauce was great.

  • But it mostly made me realize that what I like about Chicken Fiesta is that it's not deep-fried, making me feel like I've maybe โ€” possibly? โ€” made a healthier take-out choice.
  • I'm sticking with the quarter chicken and a side of rice and beans.

โ›ต๏ธ Karri is back from vacation and did get Ned a fabulous gift to thank him for holding down the fort all week โ€” despite the fact that the he maligned her amazing dog on Friday.

๐Ÿ˜ฌ Ned is really glad Karri is back, even if she ignored strong hints that he did not want a gift and brought him some super creepy finger puppets.