The two pieces of the WB&A rail trail
are separated by one river and one land owner. In Prince George’s County the
trail extends 6 miles from MD-450 in Lanham to the Patuxtent River in Bowie,
where one can see remnants of the old railroad bridge. On the other side of the river there is a 1.5
mile gravel road along the old railroad bed, owned by Anne Arundel (AA) County. The trail resumes at MD-424 and runs another
4 miles to the center of Odenton.
When will the old bridge be rebuilt
and a trail paved along the gravel road?
Maybe never, if AA officials have their way.
Building the trail along the old right-of-way, would lead to conflict with an adjacent land owner, so AA wants to build this section of trail (including the bridge) about a half a mile to the north of the railroad bed. Adding insult to injury, the County decided last year not to fund its share of the feasibility study for that section.
The WB&A Trail is a fantastic rail trail that, when completed, will connect Lanham to Annapolis via Odenton and the South Shore trail . It will also serve as a key part of an off-road route between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. Trail founder Morris Warren envisioned a trail along all of the WB&A railroad ROW - except for the Seat Pleasant to Lanham section, which was already converted to MD-704/Martin Luther King Highway. Construction started on the Prince George's County side in the late 90's and the trail opened in 2001. Near the Patuxent River, on the AA side, Buzz Meyers Buz Meyer of the Meyers Meyer family (for whom the old rail station in the area was named) owns the property along the ROW and he strongly opposes the trail. When the trail opened in PG, he posted a sign along the banks of the Pax river at the ROW which said something to the effect of "you'll never cross the river."
The ROW in AA County had been gifted to the county by Constellation Realty and former AA County Executive Janet Owens signed off on an agreement to pay ¼ of the WB&A Patuxent bridge costs at the ROW location. But, Meyers wanted a detour to the north so that the trail would not disrupt his hunting preserve. Owens, who has family ties to Meyers, derailed the bridge, ordered a feasibility study for an alternate route and, according to Morris Warren, tried to hand the ROW over to Meyers. As a result, AA officials decided to start the trail from the Odenton end and work their way toward the river, postponing a showdown with Meyers. Around 2006, a developer offered to build a trail detour about 1/2 mile north of the ROW, with plans that the trail would cross the river near Bowie State University. This is basically the route Myers always preferred and which Morris Warren opposed until his death in the spring of 2008. Ever since the PG County trail opened in 2000, officials and cyclists in PG County have generally had the opinion that connecting the WB&A into Anne Arundel County was so important that supporters should be willing to accept a long detour to ensure the connection. So PG officials rethought the route and made plans for the detour that AA favored.
But when the economy turned south, AA decided not to fund its share of the design study. WABA attempted to get an earmark to pay for the design study, and found some interest from Steny Hoyer's staff. MDOT and MNCPPC-PG staff helped to facilitate information exchange. But due in part to a lack of local support from AA county, Congressional officials dropped the effort.
With the project on hold, this is a good time to ask: Is a connection into Anne Arundel County so important that supporters should sacrifice the hope of a better bridge crossing to ensure that they at least get some route across, and soon? A detour from a rail trail right-of-way is unreasonable unless the right-of-way has been consumed by buildings and/or it no longer exists. In this case however, there is a gravel road and power lines along the right-of-way, which is owned by AA County. While connecting two segments is desirable, instituting a detour - just because a single property owner does not want a trail along his property - seems imprudent. In addition, the bridge at the detour location looks likely to cost a lot more; will have to be built partially through wetlands and may not get approval from the Corps of Engineers. As ICC trail proponents learned, environmental officials often object to new trails in environmentally sensitive areas while generally accepting the reuse of existing roadbeds. Due to funding constraints there probably won’t be money for two bridges, so it's an either/or decision.
The Prince Georges County Council has authorized a study of a connection from the WB&A to the Anacostia Tributary Trail network. Maybe that is a more useful way to improve this trail. Once the western end of the WB&A goes somewhere that a lot of people want to go, residents of Anne Arundel may begin to agitate for a connection into Prince Georges County.
Perhaps Prince George's County should take the position that they will only support a bridge that connects where it makes the most sense - and that is at the railroad ROW. A detour entirely within Anne Arundel but crossing near the old bridge would not be much better than the AA plan, but it would leave open the possibility of an eventual trail along the ROW. Or maybe the detour is just something supporters need to accept to get that critical connection sooner. Thoughts?
This may all come to a head when the WB&A to Anacostia study is completed, because county resources previously designated for the Patuxent crossing could be needed to connect the trail to the Anacostia. If you would like to know more and get involved in advocacy for the best WB&A Trail possible, you can send an email to <WBA_Trailemail@example.com> to join the WB&A Trail list-serve.