Back Bay NWR Alternative Transportation Study


Back BayThe City of Virginia Beach received a $449,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration (part of the Department of Transportation) to study transportation alternatives for visitors to reach Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (BBNWR) without using private motor vehicles. Transportation alternatives can include providing trams from populated areas of the city to the refuge, construction of a shared-use path for biking and walking, and development of canoe/kayak facilities.

​The grant program is called the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program, or “TRIPP” for short. Its purpose is to foster alternative transportation to federal lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests. TRIPP was eliminated in MAP-21, the current federal funding law for transportation, but these grant funds are still assigned for this project.

 Scope of the Study

This grant is for an evaluation of transportation alternatives. The City's application outlined three specific alternatives:
  1. Extend the tram service beyond Sandbridge. Trams are operated within the Refuge, using volunteers to give guided tours, but this would expand the service along Sandbridge Road and establish remote parking area(s), perhaps at the planned Refuge visitor center and/or in the Red Mill area.
  2. Build the Back Bay Refuge Trail. This work includes mapping, wetlands delineation, environmental documents, and preliminary design and cost estimates, but no actual construction.
  3. Improve water access. Several canoe/kayak launch sites exist around Back Bay. We'll look at how we can improve them or add more in additional locations. 
The program also requires that there be a no-build alternative to set a baseline against which the other alternatives can be compared. 

Based on public input (see below) the study included two new alternatives and two variations on the original alternatives: 

  • ​NEW: a water taxi running between the western and eastern shores of Back Bay
  • NEW: a shared-use path following Sandbridge Road from Sandpiper Road to Lotus Road
  • VARIATION: make Sandfiddler Road a bike route, either instead of or in addition to Sandpiper Road
  • VARIATION: where the Back Bay Refuge Trail follows Sandbridge Road, from Sandpiper Road to “McClanan’s Curve”, place the trail along the south side of Sandbridge Road rather than the north side

 Public Input

The first citizen information meeting was held on August 7, 2014 to discuss ideas for enhancing environmentally-friendly visitor access to BBNWR and False Cape State Park. 95 people attended and 58 submitted comment forms. Over 100 more people submitted comments and suggestions via Virtual Town Hall. The study's Technical Advisory Committee reviewed all of the comments to determine which of the suggested alternatives met the criteria to be included in the study:

  • ​Reduce traffic congestion
  • Enhance visitor mobility, accessibility and safety
  • Improve visitor education, recreation and health benefits
  • Protect sensitive natural, cultural and historical resources
  • Reduce pollution

    ​The alternatives that met these criteria were added to the study and have been evaluated for practicality and financial feasibility. 
    Public Meeting Documents - August 7, 2014

    A second citizen information meeting was held on November 5, 2015 to discuss the results of the study and to obtain feedback.
    Public Meeting Documents - November 5, 2015​


    • February 2012: FTA announced the grant selections
    • August 2012: The City contracted with HRT to serve as the administrative pass-thru from FTA.
    • February - June 2013: The City advertised a Request for Proposals and selected a consultant.
    • March 2014: FTA completed processing the grant paperwork. 
    • June 2014: The study officially began with some initial background research and field work, such as wetlands delineations and surveying for the three known alternatives.
    • Phase 1 (June - October 2014): Public engagement process and initial project research.​
    • Phase 2 (November 2014 - August 2015): Evaluate the alternatives and prepare the draft report.
    • Phase 3 (September - January 2016): Review the draft report with the public and FTA, and then finalize the report. ​​


    The first map is an overview of the area. Inset A provides a close-up of Little Island Park launch and the entrance to the Refuge. Inset B provides a close-up of the existing visitor's center in the Refuge.

    Overview of Back Bay 

    Little Island Park 

    Current Visitor's Center
    ​​​​Updated 3/16/201​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​6​
    Contact Information