August 08, 2022
😑 Gosh. Monday again.
Today's weather: Sunny with a high near 93 but a heat index of 100.
This newsletter is 921 words — a 3.5-minute read.
1 big thing: 🚄 Our high-speed rail dreams
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.
- 🇮🇹 In Italy, you can make it from Rome to Naples — about the distance from Richmond to D.C. — in an hour and 10 minutes at a cost of about $20.
- 🇪🇸 And in Spain, a rail trip from Madrid to Barcelona — think Richmond to New York City — takes about 2.5 hours and costs about $35.
2. Ask Axios: 🪙 Nickel Bridge money
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 97-year-old neighborhood bridge, officially named the Boulevard Bridge, is the only non-highway toll road in the city.
- It opened in 1925 and was built to lure homebuyers across the river and into newly built Westover Hills.
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 — and no specific threshold — 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: 🔌 Big wind farm approved
🌬️ State regulators approved Dominion Energy's plans to build a massive new wind farm off the coast of Virginia Beach. (AP)
🏟️ 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)
🎓 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)
🧹 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. 😒 Richmond's biggest eyesores
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.
✉️ 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
5. 🍗 Chicken Fiesta gets crispy
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 — possibly? — made a healthier take-out choice.
- I'm sticking with the quarter chicken and a side of rice and beans.
⛵️ Karri is back from vacation and did get Ned a fabulous gift to thank him for holding down the fort all week — despite the fact that the he maligned her amazing dog on Friday.
😬 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.