At long last, the Washington & Old Dominion Trail will finally wrap up it’s dual trails project in the City of Falls Church right around when the calendar flips between September and October.
The project — which widens the trail to provide separate lanes for both pedestrians and bikers, who will be separated by a two-foot median — will come with stormwater improvements and a host of native plants, such as Brilliant Red Chokeberry, Blue Wild Hyacinth and Virginia Wildrye.
It will also include lighting along the trail to make it safer at night as well as new curb ramps to make transitioning from the trail to the street and then back on the trail at crossings all the more easy.
“This is the first of its kind trail,” said Paul Gilbert, the executive director for NOVA Parks, which is one of three partners in the project along with Falls Church City and Arlington County. “It’s the way that we want to approach the urban areas all along the 45 mile W&OD is really cutting edge design based on the best practices worldwide.”
As of now, most of the asphalt for the actual trail has been laid. Work crews are looking to finish the final 50 percent (in Gilbert’s estimation) of completing the median before the ribbon is cut in the next few weeks.
The finalized trail comes just over six months after the new bridge over the busy N. Washington St. intersection opened.
Now, the off ramp of the bridge that empties into Little Falls Street will immediately feed into where the new dual trails will begin.
Accommodating more users on the trail has been the focus of the project from the start. Cyclists and pedestrians have occasionally gotten into tiffs when they have close calls on the path, prompting safety concerns.
With more people turning to outdoor activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the goal of revamping Falls Church’s section of the W&OD became all the more important.
“The trail has exploded in use during the pandemic since people are getting on their bikes or trying to get new ones, to get around,” Gilbert said. “I know last summer the wait to purchase a bike was long — I know some people had to wait three or four months to get there. So people are rediscovering how much they want to get outdoors.”
The W&OD has been overdue for a major facelift. Gilbert said this dual trail redesign is the biggest change it’s undergone since it opened 50 years ago, when it was previously a rail bed for a now defunct train line into Wasington, D.C.
The stormwater improvements that come with the new trail is also an effort to help the City of Falls Church with its own effort on that front. Gilbert said they studied how all the stormwater falls onto the trail property, which is sheeted over to a swale where a French drain is located underneath. In sum, the dual trails should capture, slow down and move all the stormwater that comes onto the path in an effective way.
The construction crews also added stormwater pipes underground adjacent to the trail property, and worked with the City to make sure it seamlessly aligns with their own vision for stormwater projects. Gilbert said it’s one way to address a “big issue,” since he’s seen so significant flooding around the trail before.
One of the main selling points of using the trail is it’s an alternative mode of transportation that produces zero carbon emissions (and as a side benefit, is good for your physical health, too). Gilbert sees it as a national — and potentially even global — leader in trail design because of that.
“The big story is what this new approach to the trail design is going to do in how it really helps improve the environment on a micro level in terms of the immediate area, but on a macro level, in terms of this is part of the solution to global climate change,” Gilbert said. “This is part of the solution to getting people around the region in new ways, so it’s very exciting when you think about the larger implications of what’s happening here.”