Why Funding W&OD Trail Widening in Arlington County Is Not a Good Idea

Comments at Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) Meeting, December 15, 2021.

Local officials trumpeted doubling the width of the W&OD Trail in Falls Church at a ribbon cutting ceremony on October 7. NOVA Parks is ready to do the same thing to the Arlington side of the trail. But Falls Church neighbors who live along the trail aren’t happy about the massive uprooting of vegetation that accompanied the trail widening, describing it as “more akin to an interstate highway design than a residential park.”

Also local officials might have second thoughts when the runoff inducing asphalt aggravates flooding and stream bank erosion on the one mile stretch of trail along I-66 in Arlington that is scheduled for the next round of trail widening.

Pavement induces runoff, and runoff induces flooding, which is not good for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The closer 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.

Even though Falls Church neighbors protested massive tree removal along the trail west of Lee Highway, the impact on the Four Mile Run itself is probably limited, since the stream is underground until it reaches Lee Highway.

Not so the trail east of Lee Highway, which 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.

Bike advocates argue 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.

Furthermore when NOVA Parks gets the $5.6 million it wants to widen the W&OD Trail, alternatives like using the parallel Four Mile Run Trail to mitigate congestion will be off the table because money for the project will already have been earmarked. For these reasons I urge NVTA not to fund W&OD trail widening in Arlington County.