NoVA Parks Wants to Double Width of W&OD Trail in Arlington Flood Zone

Comments to Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), May 23, 2020

Greater Greater Washington (GGW) has trotted out the commentary of deceased, former Arlington County Board member Erik Gutshall to defend NOVA Parks’ plans to widen a two mile stretch of the W&OD Trail between East Falls Church and Carlin Springs Road.

In November, 2019 Gutshall marveled that bike advocates and environmentalists were pitted against each other on the wisdom of widening the W&OD without the benefit of an alternatives assessment or an environmental impact statement. In his mind, biking is good for both the environment and congestion relief. So everyone should be on board.

Yet it is well known that pavement induces runoff, and runoff induces flooding, which is not good for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is also known that the closer the pavement gets to a Chesapeake Bay tributary like Four Mile Run, the more runoff it induces.

Evidence of that phenomenon occurred during the July 8, 2019 DC area flood event. Runoff from I-66 put an entire Arlington neighborhood north of the interstate under water. Yet an equal if not greater amount of damage occurred along the existing W&OD bike trail when Four Mile Run breached its banks—taking with it tons of infrastructure from two County parks—including part of the trail–and pouring thousands of gallons of polluted water into the Potomac River.

Doubling the width of the W&OD Trail can only exacerbate an already hazardous situation, where erosion of the Four Mile Run stream bank is now a common occurrence. Yet GGW says that opposition to the project is premature, as it hasn’t even been funded. This turns logic on its head, since without a study assessing impacts and alternatives, NTVA cannot know what it should fund.

When NOVA Parks gets $5.6 million to widen the W&OD Trail, alternatives like using the parallel Four Mile Run Trail to mitigate congestion will be off the table. The money for the project has already been earmarked. So reprogramming it on something better or different isn’t going to happen even if a future environmental assessment recommended it.

Pointing to trail work done on widening the trail in West Falls Church, GGW insists that the storm water mitigation will be adequate. Even though Falls Church neighbors are protesting massive tree removal along the trail west of Lee Highway, the impact on the Four Mile Run itself might be limited, since the stream surfaces only a short distance from the trail head at Lee Highway.

Not so the impact of the trail east of Lee Highway, which is located in a stream valley and a flood zone. For a full mile between East Falls Church and Bon Aire Park, the trail is sandwiched between the I-66 retaining wall a few feet to the left and Four Mile Run a few feet to the right. There is no place to divert the stream let alone plant trees or add to the under story.

Finally GGW argues that widening the trail will provide congestion relief. Yet the Toole Design report commissioned by NOVA Parks to support the project indicates much of the traffic along the trail is recreational rather than commuter.

Thus even if this stretch of trail is congested some of the time, NOVA Parks has not demonstrated that widening the trail will provide congestion relief relative to cost (CRRC) on nearby roads. Without that key metric, NVTA cannot legally fund this project.