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Proposed bicycle-pedestrian bridge over Potomac receives $20 million in federal funding

A proposed bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians between Crystal City and the Southwest Waterfront area of D.C. has received $20 million in federal funding to move forward.

When complete, the 16-foot-wide shared-use path will connect Long Bridge Park and East and West Potomac parks via the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the Virginia side, the bridge will be located behind the Long Bridge Park Aquatics & Fitness Center (333 Long Bridge Drive), which opened last year. It will eventually provide a connection to the expanded and relocated Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station set to open in 2024.

Several local elected officials, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey and Alexandria Vice-Mayor Amy Jackson, gathered this morning (Friday) at the aquatics center to hold an oversized $20 million check and celebrate the project, which could be completed by 2030.

“This is going to be a major gateway for Arlington that allows residents and visitors who walk, bike or roll to come to this beautiful facility and the environs around Long Bridge Park, but then be able to move on to Crystal City and National Landing and points beyond via the Mount Vernon Trail and the robust bicycle infrastructure that we are developing that will go all the way through to the City of Alexandria,” Dorsey said. “This helps meet Arlington and our region’s goals of moving more people with less automobile traffic. ”

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) secured the funding from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, which was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Warner co-wrote.

“I am thrilled to announce this new funding for the Long Bridge Pedestrian Crossing project. This $20 million investment was made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law I was proud to help write and will help the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VRPA) complete a new span across the Potomac dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians,” Warner said in a statement. “This project is a key component of the broader effort to fix a major rail chokepoint and expand commuter and passenger service over the Potomac River.”

The shared-use bridge serves as environmental mitigation for the Long Bridge Project to add a two-track rail bridge next to the existing two-track 117-year-old Long Bridge, owned by the freight railroad company CSX Transportation. Once completed, the expanded railway is projected to bring an annual $6 billion in benefits to the region by 2040, according to a press release.

“We would never even be in the running [for funding for this project] if it weren’t for the infrastructure bill,” Warner told reporters after the event. “That’s got $58 billion additional dollars for passenger rail. We intend to make sure the District and Virginia get its share and it’s our hope the passenger rail bridge would open before the end of the decade.”

The goal of the $2 billion Long Bridge Project, discussions for which began in 2010, is to alleviate rail congestion on the existing Long Bridge. Annually, up to 1.3 million Amtrak passengers and 4.5 million VRE commuters traverse the bridge, in addition to CSX freight trains, according to a project website.

Officials say that the aging bridge is heavily utilized and frequently experiences bottlenecks, and — as if to prove their point — a freight train and an Amtrak train sped by within five minutes of each other during the media event.

Meanwhile, pedestrians and cyclists looking to cross the Potomac at this point have to navigate crossings shared with vehicles and maneuver a 10-foot-wide shared-use path on the 14th Street Bridge.

The lead agency on the project will be the VPRA, which the Virginia General Assembly created in 2020 to “promote, sustain and expand the availability of passenger and commuter rail service in the Commonwealth,” said VPRA Executive Director DJ Stadtler.

While elected officials heralded the new pathway over the Potomac, pedestrians and bicyclists in attendance told ARLnow that the 16-foot bridge is still too narrow to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Stadtler told ARLnow that VPRA’s initial 10% complete designs proposed a 14-foot bridge, but in response to feedback, is widening it to 16 feet for the 30% complete designs. The agency has “considered all options” and has determined the current proposal is an appropriate width, he added.

There will be opportunities for the public to weigh in next spring.

During the event, Dorsey joked about the bridge width.

“What did you say, a 20-foot bridge?” he said, to cheers from cyclists in attendance.

Other local and state officials also weighed in on the significance of the bridge funding.

Katie Cristol, Arlington County Board Chair:

Today’s announcement will pave the way to build an unprecedented, purpose-built bicycle and pedestrian bridge that will become a major gateway to Arlington, Long Bridge Park, Crystal City and beyond. Arlington is extremely grateful to Senator Warner for his leadership in securing funding for this important project that will enhance mobility and accessibility across our region.

Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, National Landing BID President and Executive Director:

The National Landing Business Improvement District is thrilled that the United States Department of Transportation is dedicating such significant funding to support The Long Bridge Bicycle and Pedestrian Crossing Project. Long Bridge Park is an incredible, 36-acre amenity that is treasured and highly utilized by the National Landing community, and we look forward to welcoming new bikers, pedestrians, soccer players, swimmers and more as the bridge will provide greater accessibility and connectivity across the region. National Landing is already Virginia’s most walkable downtown, but it’s projects like these – focused on people-centered infrastructure and multimodal integration – that will make National Landing a more connected region, within itself and across the DMV.

DJ Stadtler, Executive Director of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority:

VPRA’s Long Bridge Project includes not only a new bridge dedicated to passenger rail, but also a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, which will make it safer and more convenient to cross the Potomac River. This RAISE grant highlights how the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Federal Government are partnering to support multi-modal infrastructure investments that will benefit not only Virginians, but also residents of our nation’s capital. We would like to thank Senator Warner for his support of this worthwhile project.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser:

We know that people in our region want more opportunities to get around without cars. People want to live and work near train stations, they want to get around on bikes and scooters and buses and enjoy all that this region has to offer. We know that more trains and bike paths mean more opportunities to do exactly just that.

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