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Two Pedestrian Bridges Damaged by 2019 Floods Set to be Replaced

The bridge over Four Mile Run near Glencarlyn Park is closed (via Gillian Burgess/Twitter)

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Two years ago, torrential rain caused massive flash flooding in Arlington that washed away six pedestrian bridges.

Fast forward to today and two of the bridges that suffered the worst damage in the July 2019 storm — at Glencarlyn and Lubber Run parks — are set be replaced over the next year, and should be ready by the summer and fall of 2022, respectively.

The work is a long time in coming for cyclists and the Bicycle Advisory Committee, which has been asking for regular updates since the flooding. Cycling advocate and former BAC President Gillian Burgess said while roads were quickly repaired for travel, cyclists missing the Glencarlyn bridge have spent the last two years taking long detours or wading through shallow portions of Four Mile Run to reach the other side.

“It’s still not clear to me why all these steps take so much longer for a pedestrian bridge than they would for a street,” Burgess said. She added that of all the bridges destroyed, the Glencarlyn bridge near 301 S. Harrison Street “is by far the most important bridge for connectivity.”

That’s because the bridge provides the most direct access to the Long Branch Nature Center from the W&OD Trail, she said. It also provides cyclists a crossing to get to the Lubber Run trails to the north.

A parks department spokeswoman said the county prioritizes projects based on factors like use and need.

“The County repairs and replaces pedestrian bridges within its park system using a systematic approach, strategically repairing or replacing the most heavily used or most heavily deteriorated bridges until the point is reached that all bridges are in good repair,” Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

According to Burgess, the department has cited finding funding and navigating the permitting and review processes as sources of delays between 2019 and 2021.

Kalish said progress is being made on two bridges, funding for which was included in the county’s 2022-2024 Capital Improvement Plan.

“The County is currently designing a new bridge to replace the one damaged near the dog park at Glencarlyn Park,” she said. The new bridge, in the same location as the last bridge, should be completed by summer 2022, she said.

Location of the pedestrian bridge over Four Mile Run (via Google Maps)  

For now, conditions are sub-optimal for trail users, Burgess said. The current detour adds about 20-30 minutes to those on foot. For cyclists, the problem with the detour is not necessarily the added time, but the fact that it’s along a trail that is badly paved with steep sections.

Most cyclists opt to descend into the stream and wade across at one of two fords to the north and south of the bridge. To the north, cyclists ascend near picnic shelters, where the trail is sometimes blocked by park cars. But the biggest problem for crossing via the north or south ford is the terrain.

“It’s a steep hill down and a steep hill up,” Burgess said. As for the trail itself, she said, “I don’t bike with kids on it. When I’m by myself, I worry about the bike not making it because of the blind curves and lots of hills.”

Cyclist and nearby resident Amanda Lowenberger said that for her and her family, “this is nothing more than a daily inconvenience, but one we can afford.”

She said she doesn’t mind occasionally wading through the stream but would like the bridge re-built soon.

“I do volunteer stream water monitoring for the county, and I have a 9-year-old who likes to splash around in the water, so I end up in the stream on a regular basis,” she said. “But still, it would be great to have that bridge as an option again.”

Lowenberger said she worries that the slow speed to redo the bridge puts the burden on those who can least afford it, “such as people without cars who rely on these bike routes out of necessity.”

Glencarlyn has a second pedestrian bridge connecting park visitors to a playground, which was also washed away.

“The second bridge lost in Glencarlyn Park is considered a lower priority because there are other ways to get to the playground,” Kalish said. “There is currently no schedule to replace this bridge.”

Over in Lubber Run Park (200 N. Columbus Street), two bridges were destroyed but, similarly, only one will be replaced, “as the two bridges provided similar access,” Kalish said.

The county is in the middle of designing the bridge, which “should be completed by fall 2022,” according to Kalish.

The two bridges were located northwest of the Lubber Run amphitheater and at the halfway mark between the restrooms and Route 50, according to the project page.

The two remaining washed-out bridges, in Bon Air Park and Gulf Branch Park, are considered lower priority, Kalish said.

“Due to frequent flooding in Bon Air Park, the replacement of this bridge is a lower priority to evaluate for repair and replacement in comparison to other bridges in the County,” she said.

Map via Google Maps. Hat tip to Gillian Burgess.

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