It may be for just a fraction of the 45-mile-long Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Regional Trail, but within the next year, pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to use separate, parallel sections along the trail in the city of Falls Church.
“It’s kind of exciting,” said Paul Gilbert, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks), which operates the trail. “We hope eventually to use [dual-use paths] in all urban areas. We’re very hopeful it will do great things.”
The project will build an 11-foot-wide path for cyclists and an 8-foot-wide one for walkers and joggers. The paths will be separated by a 2-foot-wide median. The dual-use-path section will be constructed between Broad Street (Route 7) and just east of Little Falls Street, Gilbert said.
The $3.7 million project still must undergo further engineering and likely will be completed in about a year, Gilbert said.
The project is being funded primarily with $3.2 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) and a $500,000 Virginia Department of Transportation grant. Those are not typical trail-funding sources, but the project will help improve traffic flow on local roads as well as adjacent trails, he said.
“The W&OD has transitioned over time from a purely recreational resource to a primary transportation artery in close-in suburbs,” Gilbert said. “People are commuting to work on it. It’s essentially the backbone of trail systems throughout Northern Virginia. If you reduce congestion there, it improves the performance of other trail networks that feed into the W&OD.”
Under its newly adopted six-year plan, NVTA will disburse about $1.3 billion worth of tax revenues for regional congestion-relief projects, said the body’s chairman, Martin Nohe.
While the organization finances many road projects, it also will support ones, such as Vienna’s future parking-garage floor in a commercial condominium building, if they reduce traffic gridlock by encouraging people to get out of their vehicles, he said.
The W&OD dual-use-path project “is a really good example of a non-motorized facility that still has a meaningful impact on congestion in Northern Virginia,” said Nohe, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “The trail is something people use as a thoroughfare.”
The W&OD’s dual-use path in Falls Church will feed over a new bridge crossing Route 29, which will be built as part of the project to expand Interstate 66 inside the Beltway, Gilbert said.
The W&OD stretches between Arlington’s Shirlington community and Purcellville and has an annual operating budget of $558,000, plus roughly $500,000 for the repaving of some sections, Gilbert said.
The W&OD crosses 70 intersections, most of which are at-grade. Bridges, separate trail users from motorists, are expensive and require a good deal of land to achieve the gentle approach and descent grades for pedestrians and cyclists, he said.
“Every time we get a grade separation, it’s a wonderful improvement,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert marveled at how the trail, which began as a 6-foot-wide section of asphalt in Falls Church, has been widened to 11 or 12 feet in most sections. Part of the trail near the Vienna Community Center has been widened to 18 feet, but that area does not physically separate bicyclists from pedestrians, he said.
“If the dual trail works, it will become the model for the future,” he said.