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The National Park Service is starting to work on plans to improve safety along the portion of the Mount Vernon Trail that winds through Arlington County.

South of the City of Alexandria, in Fairfax County, it will make similar improvements to the trail and reconstruct that portion of the GW Parkway.

The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail runs from Mount Vernon in Fairfax County to Roosevelt Island near Rosslyn, passing by Crystal City as it parallels the GW Parkway. NPS says it is time to address deferred maintenance needs and safety along the entirety of the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail and the southern portion of the 15.2-mile GW Parkway.

“The road and trail improvements being considered would enhance the visitor experience for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists,” the NPS project webpage says. “Potential improvements to the road include the implementation of a road, crosswalks and intersection changes. Potential safety enhancements for the trail would include potential trail widening and intersection improvements.”

Plans to widen the trail come two years after a report was released recommending this change due to heavy use and crash risks.

“The MVT is beginning to show its age, from deteriorating pavement and bridges, to limited accessibility features, and outdated signage and striping,” the report says. “These attributes, combined with increasing usage and user behavior, contribute to risk exposure and considerable crash history.”

For instance, from 2006-10, there were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail.

Crash locations along the Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington (via National Park Service)

The report also found the trail has “meandering curves, timber bridges, and in some areas, dense vegetation.”

While controlled by the National Park Service, over time local volunteers have stepped up in an attempt to keep it clean and safe for users amid sparse maintenance from the park service.

NPS says it aims to provide solutions that maintain the parkway’s “scenic and historic character,” and an assessment will determine the potential environmental impact of the changes.

“The Plan is needed to help preserve the historic parkway for future generations, improve the visitor experience, reduce annual park operations and maintenance costs, and improve visitor safety,” writes GW Parkway Superintendent Charles Cuvelier in a public notice of an upcoming meeting about the project.

A virtual public meeting presenting initial plan alternatives will be held on Dec. 6 from 7-8:30 pm. There is no need to pre-register.

“Engaging with you is a critical part of our preliminary engineering and planning process,” the press release said. “Your feedback will be used to refine project designs and to support the analysis of any environmental impacts.”

The website has more information on how to join the meeting:

At the time of the meeting, click the link to join on your computer or mobile device and enter the Webinar ID (Webinar ID: 314-024-315) and your email. If you do not have Go-To-Webinar, you will be prompted to install a small file to your computer or download the app on your mobile device.

You can call into the meeting (no video) using the toll-free phone number and conference ID:

Call in number: (877) 309-2074

Phone Conference ID: 278-447-448

After the meeting, comments will be accepted from Dec. 6 through Jan. 4, 2023.

NPS last made changes to this stretch of the parkway and trail in 2012 to improve safety near the Memorial Circle and at several crossings. Changes included replacing signs, installing rumble strips, painting directional symbols and moving a crosswalk.

Although the plan’s scope only addresses the stretch of the Mount Vernon Trail through Arlington, the GW Parkway through Arlington sees its fair share of crashes.

Less than a week ago, a car drove off the GW Parkway and into the Potomac River near Columbia Island Marina and the Humpback Bridge. One occupant died and the other occupant was hospitalized.

One hotspot on the GW Parkway, near Key Bridge, frequently sees overturned vehicles during rainy weather.

The park service is currently in the midst of a major rehabilitation of the northern section of the GW Parkway that passes through Arlington and Fairfax County.

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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.

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Arlington County is applying for $15 million in federal funding to improve cycling and walking connections around Arlington National Cemetery.

The money would partially fund the construction of a long-proposed Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Wall Trail along Washington Blvd, which would connect Columbia Pike and the Pentagon City area with Memorial Avenue and the Arlington Memorial Bridge into D.C.

The Arlington County Board is scheduled to review the application on Saturday.

“The ANC Wall Trail will provide a missing link in the County and regional non-motorized network that will complete a bicycle and pedestrian connection between all three of the County’s major development corridors,” the county says in a report.

Right now, the cemetery is an “effective barrier to demand for non-motorized travel to and across Memorial Bridge,” according to the county, as security concerns after 9/11 led the Department of Defense to prohibit travel through the burial grounds.

The trail would run along the western side of Washington Blvd from Columbia Pike to Memorial Drive. Currently, there is a trail on the other side of Washington Blvd, a highway also known as State Route 27, but it gets dicey near Memorial Circle for pedestrians and cyclists looking to access the nearby Mt. Vernon Trail or cross into D.C.

Renderings of Arlington National Cemetery expansion and Columbia Pike reconfiguration project (via National Capital Planning Commission)

The Columbia Pike interchange with Washington Blvd is set to be modified as part of the ANC Defense Access Roads Project, which will also move Columbia Pike closer to I-395, realign S. Joyce Street, build a new S. Nash Street connector road, and remove part of Southgate Road.

This work, funded by the federal government and managed by the Federal Highway Administration, will facilitate the addition of 70 acres to the southern portion of the cemetery, making room for 60,000 burial sites and space for the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center.

Road work is underway, and early next year, road users can expect to be redirected from the Pike to side streets near Pentagon City. The new burial ground could open in late 2025.

New cycling and pedestrian facilities and grading for the connection to the future ANC Wall Trail are also included in the project. Part of its scope includes designing the trail, for which Arlington County agreed to pay $500,000.

The county expects final designs to be developed over the next year or so. The overall cost of the trail is estimated at $25 million.

Once the wall trail is built, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to connect to Pentagon City via S. Joyce Street at the southern end of the ANC Wall Trail. It will allow safer bike and pedestrian travel between Pentagon City and Columbia Pike to D.C. and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

North of Memorial Avenue, cyclists and pedestrians would be able to link up to the existing trail alongside Route 110, which provides a connection to the Iwo Jima Memorial, to Rosslyn, and to the larger network of bicycle and pedestrian trails along the R-B corridor, the county says.

The $15 million, if awarded, would come from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity” (RAISE) program, which has $1.5 billion earmarked to reimburse localities for surface transportation projects.

The Transportation Department caps awards at $25 million, and one state can receive no more than $225 million. Awards must be split evenly between urban and rural areas.

There is a “low likelihood of a funding award compared with other external transportation capital funding programs,” the county report notes.

Arlington applied last year and was denied funding — along with every other application from Virginia, according to the report. Staff will be meeting with federal transportation staff to understand why and plan to use that information for the new application.

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Construction has started on major renovations to the Crystal City Water Park, JBG Smith announced Monday.

JBG Smith will update the existing, 1.6-acre park at 1601 Crystal Drive with new restaurant kiosks and seating areas, a full-service restaurant, new water features — including a “water wall” with a bar perched on top — and a stage.

The Arlington County Board approved plans for the park in March 2021, after deferring an earlier proposal that members predicted would lead to unsafe pedestrian and cyclist interactions.

The privately-owned park has long hosted small food and drink vendors. The new kiosks will highlight local, minority- and women-owned businesses, “local favorites” and “renowned names,” JBG Smith says.

“We are particularly excited about the Water Park kiosks, which will serve as incubator spaces where up-and-coming chefs and [restaurateurs] can experiment and grow,” JBG Smith Senior Vice President of Retail Leasing Amy Rice said in a statement.

In addition to decorative water features, the revamped park will also feature public art installations and a building with public restrooms and bike facilities near the entrance to the Mt. Vernon Trail. JBG Smith says it is working with Virginia Railway Express to build an accessible connection to the future entrance of the relocated VRE station.

The Water Park is not the JBG-owned public space getting upgrades. Two blocks south at 2121 Crystal Drive, a lightly used private park space in front of an office building will see renovations and the construction of a 5,587-square-foot restaurant. Work on that project also started recently.

The restaurant, named Surreal, will be led by Chef Enrique Limardo and his team, which are behind Seven Reasons and Imperfecto in D.C.

JBG Smith expects to complete both the Crystal City Water Park and Surreal in 2023.

“We see these both as inviting public spaces where families will enjoy a sunny day and colleagues can gather after work for a drink, a bite to eat and live music,” said JBG Smith Executive Vice President Bryan Moll in a statement.

Visitors will be able to keep their drinks in hand as they walk these open spaces. Last year, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority gave the developer the go-ahead to establish a “sip and stroll” zone within the boundaries of Crystal City Water Park and the courtyard.

It will be Arlington’s third “sip and stroll” zone, after the Village at Shirlington and Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row).

These two projects, plus Amazon’s second headquarters and other redevelopment projects by JBG Smith, will triple the number of retail businesses in Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, dubbed National Landing, the developer says.

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Morning Notes

As seen along Fairfax Drive in Ballston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Board Calls Out Youngkin’s Auditor Veto — “The Arlington County Board said Wednesday that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s veto of its police oversight bill was ‘deeply frustrating.'” [WTOP, Arlington County]

Sen. Kaine Has Long Covid — “Sen. Tim Kaine got covid-19 in the spring of 2020, and nearly two years later he still has mild symptoms.
‘I tell people it feels like all my nerves have had like five cups of coffee,’ Kaine said Wednesday of his ’24/7′ tingling sensation, just after introducing legislation intended to expand understanding of long covid.” [Washington Post]

Volunteers Clean Up Muddy Trail –From the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail: “Before and after of the Gravelly Point mud puddle which was removed by volunteers on Saturday while edging the trail. Make a difference on the trail when you register for one of our upcoming volunteer events.” [Twitter]

It’s Thursday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 53 and low of 35. Sunrise at 6:39 am and sunset at 6:05 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Volunteers apply non-skid treatment to Trollheim Bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail (Photo via Friends of Mount Vernon Trail/Twitter)

The National Landing Business Improvement District and the group Friends of Mount Vernon Trail are teaming up to help maintain the heavily-used trail.

This includes financial support from the BID for supplies and equipment, and a series of Saturday clean-up events through Jan. 22.

“We are really excited to partner with the National Landing BID to achieve our common goal of making the Mount Vernon Trail a safe and pleasant doorway to National Landing,” Judd Isbell, president of the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail, wrote in a press release. “The BID’s sponsorship of our 2022 trail improvement events is providing vital support to purchase equipment and supplies for our volunteers.”

“We’ve had over 800 volunteers so far in 2021 and there have been times where we’ve had more volunteers than tools at our events,” Isabell added.

The sponsorship will provide resources to “better connect trail users to facilities, events and businesses in National Landing,” the nonprofit organization wrote in a blog post on Friday.

The BID declined to comment on exacts in terms of resources and funding. The sponsorship deal does appear to come with some swag, however.

The BID said the partnership will further its mission of making the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods a better place.

“Our wealth of green spaces and access to regional trails like the Mount Vernon Trail which boasts uninterrupted views of the D.C. skyline and stunning nature preserves, is part of what makes National Landing such an active, vibrant community,” National Landing BID president Tracy Sayegh Gabriel said.

The clean-up events began this past Saturday and will continue every week until Jan. 22. Each event will focus on a different section of the trail. For example, on New Year’s Day, volunteers will meet on the trail near the Crystal City Connector to help prune vegetation, cut tree branches, and pick up trash. Volunteers don’t need any special training and all tools will be provided.

There will also be a day of service on Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Day, in Alexandria.

“National Landing’s green spaces and direct access to trails like Mount Vernon are an integral part of our community,” wrote a National Landing BID spokesperson to ARLnow. “The National Landing BID’s mission is to support and complement our community’s exciting transformation, and that involves working with local groups, like the Friends of Mount Vernon Trail, to preserve our natural surroundings for years to come.”

The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail runs from Mount Vernon in Fairfax County to Roosevelt Island near Rosslyn, passing by Crystal City as it parallels the GW Parkway. The trail is controlled by the National Park Service but volunteers have stepped up to keep it clean and safe for users amid sparse maintenance from the park service.

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Morning Notes

Blue and Orange Line Changes Today — “There will be no rail service between Rosslyn and Pentagon stations due to the ongoing investigation into Tuesday’s derailment between Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery stations. Free shuttle buses will replace trains between Rosslyn, Arlington Cemetery, and Pentagon stations. Blue Line service will operate between Franconia-Springfield and Mt. Vernon Square stations only… Orange Line service will operate between Vienna and New Carrollton stations and Silver Line service will operate between Wiehle-Reston East and Largo Town Center stations, with single tracking between Clarendon and Foggy Bottom.” [WMATA]

Suspicious Object in Pentagon Parking Lot — From the Pentagon Force Protection Agency yesterday afternoon: “At approximately 6:30 a.m., a Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA) Police unit on routine patrol in South parking when they observed a suspicious object. The area was immediately cordoned off, and vehicle and pedestrian traffic was blocked from the area. PFPA Hazardous Device Unit responded and the object was rendered safely at about 6:50 a.m. The all clear was given at 7:35 a.m… There is no threat to the Pentagon and surrounding area. The incident is under further investigation.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Arlingtonian Swims Around Manhattan — “What’s that popular phrase often given as the reason climbers attempt to scale Mount Everest: ‘Because it is there.’ That’s pretty much the same explanation Andie Nelson gave, in addition to being a new challenge, for successfully completing the 28.5-mile 20 Bridges Manhattan Swim around the famous New York City island-borough on Aug. 24. It was the first time the Arlington resident attempted the swim.” [Sun Gazette]

Pair Face Drug, Robbery Charges — “800 block of S. Frederick Street. At approximately 5:43 p.m. on October 10, police were dispatched to the report of a burglary just occurred. Based upon information provided by dispatch and witnesses in the area, a lookout was broadcast and two of the three suspects were located and taken into custody without incident. The investigation determined that the three known suspects allegedly forced entry into the victim’s apartment and physically assaulted her before stealing two cell phones and fleeing the scene on foot. During a search of the two suspects incident to arrest, items consistent with drug paraphernalia were recovered.” [ACPD]

Clarendon Road Closure Today — From the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services: “Wednesday 9am – 1pm: Temporary closure of EB Washington Blvd between N Kirkwood and Wilson Blvd for roadway infrastructure. Expect detour at Kirkwood to 10th St North, then to Wilson. WB Washington Blvd open but expect delays.” [Twitter]

Volunteer to Remove Trail Bumps — From Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail: “Tired of those bumps on the trail? Volunteer to help us fix them. Volunteer to fix the bumps near Memorial Bridge on 10/16.” [Twitter, Eventbrite]

Video Tour of Local Fire Station — From the Arlington County Fire Department: “Since COVID prevented us from opening up our fire stations to tours during fire prevention week, we hope our community enjoys this video tour of Fire Station 5 given by the members assigned there on C Shift.” [Twitter, YouTube]

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Grime-covered wall on the Mount Vernon Trail, (Photo via Friends of Mount Vernon Trail/Twitter)

Like a lot of us, the Mount Vernon Trail has gotten a shabby and unkempt over the last year, and the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail group is looking for some local help to get it back into shape.

The group is planning to meet this Saturday, Aug. 14, from 8-10 a.m. at Crystal City Water Park (1601 Crystal Drive).

According to the event sign up, volunteers will help remove vegetation blocking visibility along the trail, remove fallen limbs — presumably tree limbs — and remove mud from the trail.

“No special skills are needed,” the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail said on the post. “We’ll teach you how to help in just a few minutes.”

Those interested in helping out should bring:

  • Work gloves, though some will be available to borrow
  • Pruners or limb loppers, if you have them
  • Sunscreen
  • Water

Long sleeves and pants are recommended.

Other vegetation clearing events are also planned over the next month. Another one is planned for the intersection of the Mount Vernon Trail and Four Mile Run Trail on Saturday, Aug. 21. If arriving by car, the group noted the closest place to park is in the lot at 3920 Potomac Avenue.

The sign up page noted that dense vegetation near the intersection has been a frequent problem for trail users.

“Volunteers will remove vegetation near the trail that is blocking the sight line for people at the junction of the Mount Vernon Trail and Four Mile Run Trail,” the group said. “This area has been identified as a high crash area due to poor sightlines combined with multiple turning movements.”

The group is also planning to power-wash a moldy bridge near the Washington Sailing Marina later this month. Along with the usual vegetation removal, the group is planning to meet on Saturday, Aug. 18, to remove vegetation and debris from a wooden bridge that often becomes slick during inclement weather.

Photo via Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail/Twitter

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A 1,300-mile network of trails that connects Arlington to the two other sites of the Sept. 11 terror attacks could be granted federal designation next month.

Initially founded in the weeks after the attacks, the expansive September 11th National Memorial Trail, which runs through six states and D.C., has yet to be fully completed.

Federal designation would give the network of trails name-recognition and help the nonprofit alliance administering the trail fund its completion in the coming decades, proponents say.

A bill advocating for federal designation, put forward and sponsored by Northern Virginia Reps. Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer, respectively, is with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. It passed unanimously in the House of Representatives last week.

If approved by the Senate, locals riding on the Mount Vernon Trail — which is part of the 9/11 Memorial Trail — or near Arlington National Cemetery may see new, standardized signage within the next year heralding the “September 11th National Memorial Trail Route,” according to Thomas Baxter, President of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, which administers the trail.

“The designation will help in our visibility of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail and will enhance our partnership with the National Parks Service,” the trail’s founder, David Brickley, tells ARLnow. “It’ll enhance the experience of the visitor and assure that that story of what happened on 9/11 are not forgotten.”

Brickley, a Virginian, says the move will be at little to no cost for local municipalities or the taxpayer. Outside of consistent signage across the six states and D.C., other practical implications — such as new construction — have yet to be teased out, according to Beyer’s team.

The trail route from the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania will be administered by the National Park Service. Brickley said maintenance will remain the responsibility of the trail’s alliance.

Still, the connection to NPS will help, as much of the trail runs through national park land, he said.

To make sure the trail isn’t too much of a burden to municipalities, Baxter said the trail alliance works with local community foundations to maintain individual sections.

In Arlington, “we are in discussions with several community foundations, but one has yet to be selected,” he said.

As for whether designation will bring long-term projects down the road, Beyer’s spokesman Aaron Fritschner said “we don’t know yet.”

“The first step is to get the federal designation, which is what Rep. Connolly’s bill does, and which would create a federal status so the 9/11 Memorial Trail remains protected by federal law along its full length, some of which runs through jurisdictions where you might have less certainty about it remaining protected without a federal designation than you would expect in a place like Arlington.”

About 51% of the 1,300-mile trail is designated for off road multi-use trails, meaning another 49% is not built up or runs through land that could one day be developed, Baxter said. Finishing the trail involves securing property, writing grants and working with local partners.

“It’s going to take a long time, probably decades, to get it all the way complete,” he said.

Designation will make the trail more competitive when applying for state, federal and private grants for building the trails and maintaining them, he said.

With federal designation possibly coming soon, Brickley thanked Beyer and Connolly for their support.

“Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer have been tremendous friends to the trail and the alliance,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for better congressmen helping with this project.”

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The good news for users of the Mount Vernon Trail is that a proposed widening project was selected for state funding. The bad news? It will be 2026 before work even starts on the project.

As anyone who has bicycled or walked along the popular trail could likely attest, there are parts that can feel dangerously narrow. Last year, the National Park Service released a report recommending widening. The report noted that there were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, many of them at crash hotspots near National Airport and the 14th Street Bridge.

Some spots along the trail are in notoriously poor condition, like the infamous Trollheim Bridge section south of Roosevelt Island, where the trail’s wooden planks often become slick in icy or rainy conditions.

The goal of the approved project is to improve and reconstruct approximately 6.5 miles of the trail, from the access point to Roosevelt Island down to Jones Point Park in Alexandria. One of the most narrow stretches of the trail, a single-lane tunnel under Memorial Bridge, is on Columbia Island, which is technically part of D.C.

According to the application, the project would “widen the trail’s paved surface from between seven and eight feet to 11 where feasible.”

The total project cost is estimated at $33 million, with $29 million funded by the Virginia SMART SCALE grant — which doesn’t fund the needed improvements on Columbia Island. The grant was on the list of projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board at a meeting on June 23.

The widening is likely a few years down the road. The National Park Service previously said work could begin on the trail starting in 2026, Greater Greater Washington reported.

https://twitter.com/TrailsCoalition/status/1417887666671128578

 

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The County Board has unanimously approved plans to improve walking and cycling connections and add amenities to the Crystal City Water Park.

Water features and a food stand currently activate the privately-owned Crystal City Water Park at 1601 Crystal Drive. It also provides connections to the Mount Vernon Trail and Reagan National Airport, as well as the proposed Virginia Railway Express north entrance.

Park owner JBG Smith initially came to the board in January with plans to modify the Crystal City Connector path — which cuts through the site — and renovate the park. Members deferred the proposal over predictions that the developer’s plans for the pathway would lead to unsafe pedestrian and cyclist interactions.

On Saturday, County Board members signed off on revision to the project. The Crystal City Connector path will be turned into two paths accessing the Mount Vernon Trail and the new VRE entrance: one for pedestrians and the other focused on bicyclists.

JBG Smith will be “adding retail shops, cafes, and restaurants along the edges of the park, upgrading the existing water wall… adding a new water feature, [and] adding public art and an outdoor bar,” the county announced on Monday.

The additions include “nine (9) 300 square-foot retail structures positioned along Crystal Drive, a 1,415 square-foot retail structure along the northern edge, a 760 square-foot bar with a 2,069 square-foot terrace atop the water wall, a 409 square-foot performance platform to be used for the event lawn, and a 747 square-foot trailhead restroom facility,” per a county staff report.

“We’re proud to say that this project has evolved in response to the comments and we think gotten to a place that is better than we were a couple of months ago,” said Kedrick Whitmore, an attorney representing JBG Smith.

The staff report said the plan has been redesigned to minimize conflicts and support increasing number of pedestrians and bicyclists accessing the trail and the VRE station. Potential users testified in January that the initial proposed design, below, would lead to conflicts at the exit from the Mount Vernon Trail access tunnel, where visibility is low.

JBG Smith’s new plan removes the stairway that linked the pathways to the water park, located near a series of tunnels. It does not, however, remove an adjacent path between the Crystal City Connector path and the connection to the proposed VRE station, although some community members predicted it too would be unsafe.

“We think this is a really important area to maintain a connection,” Whitmore said. “Despite keeping the connection in place, we did hear loud and clear that there were safety concerns, and the use of paint, mirrors, signage and paving will help.”

The developer will also widen the sidewalk along Crystal Drive from eight to 10 feet and use landscaping, signage, striping and paving treatments near the tunnels and the connection to Crystal Drive to increase visibility and heighten awareness for all users, the report said.

Board members told County Manager Mark Schwartz that the county needs to increase the level of public engagement for similar projects going forward. Board members agreed with some speakers that more scrutiny from county commissions could have uncovered the safety concerns sooner and prevented the project’s deferral from earlier this year.

“Let’s not do this again,” said Pedestrian Advisory Committee secretary Pamela Van Hine, suggesting a smaller-scale version of the site plan review process for large projects. “We can help you but you have to ask us to help you.”

While the county classifies this project as a minor site plan amendment, Board member Katie Cristol said such amendments “may have a major impact on how people experience the site.”

Photos via Arlington County

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