Last fall, I wrote about the multi-use paths that will be built as part of the Transform 66 project. I wrote about the sound barriers in most recent design and about some of the places where the design comes up lacking. But at the same public hearings in November where they presented the bike map and video in the first link above, the latest concept design was also presented, showing the detailed changes since the last concept I wrote about, the April 2016 one. Some of these changes are good, and some are trivial, but mostly they make the trail worse.
It's pretty clear that they are building the road, and only then are they figuring out how to wend a trail through it - at the absolute minimum cost.
The project, which will start work in 2022, will include 18 miles of new trails, either built with the highway expansion by Express Mobility Partners or by "others". Those trails will - eventually - be integrated with existing bike/ped facilities, including the W&OD Trail. In addition the project will improve 11 crossings of I-66 with expanded bicycle and pedestrian facilities. And they'll install 8 trail counters.
The changes are detailed below, moving east to west.
In the Dunn Loring plat, the 2016 design has the trail starting at the corner of Stenhouse and Gallows (connecting to a trail along Gallows that connects, in turn ,to the W&OD Trail). It would then follow Stenhouse Pl to I-66 and then pass under Gallows Road along I-66. The new design connects to the Gallows Road path on the west side of Gallows and connects directly to the trail along I-66. Though small, this is an improvement since it means trail users won't have to cross Gallows Road.
The next change is in Vienna where the path will move between the road and the sound barrier at the west end of South Side Park. And it will stay there until Nutley, with the exception of a small segment at Yeonus Drive. At Yeonus the sound wall and trail swap positions to avoid an "Existing TBS" (whatever that is, but it seems to be utility related).
At Nutley Street, there are several small changes. The most important one is that the trail is designed to connect to Dellwood Drive (circled in blue in the map below. North is to the right), where previously it did not. Circled in red is a new configuration that takes the trail across the entrance ramp and onto the south side of Virginia Center Boulevard instead of directly onto the Boulevard. The aqua circle in the middle shows where the bike facility was moved from the east bridge to the west one (not sure why) and the fuchsia circle shows where the a ramp between Nutley and I-66 moved, which moved the underpass. These are good or neutral changes.
At Blake Lane in Oakton, the trail originally started directly across Blake from Sutton (where a "proposed path" connecting to Nutley ends) and followed a curving path to I-66. But on the new design (below) it starts south of Sutton because the trail has to get inside the noise wall.
At Route 123, the trail undergoes quite a few changes. The trail along White Granite Drive (red circle) has been extended along the west side of the road instead of becoming an on-street route and the trail along Rosenhaven (blue circle) has been straightened at the expense of having only one connection to the trail south.
The trail along the west side of 123 is significantly changed, and not for the better. In the 2016 design (on the right), the trail going east-west bisected a north south trail, but now the north south trail ends at the east west one (red circle). This means that cyclists going north or coming from the north have to ride to the junction by Rosenhaven and then turn, instead of taking a straighter route. In addition, perhaps because 123 is shifted east, the trail now makes turns (other two cirlces) to stay away from 123, making it a longer route (but one farther from traffic and noise).
This 123 route would be a lot better if they restored that deleted connection, which would make for a much faster trip for 1 out 3 routes. The ideal connection would look something like the red line below.
But things really get mucked up at Fair Oaks/Route 50. In the old design (below), a trail-user going west would stay close to I-66; then do a narrow loop to go southeast and over 66; and then take a pretty direct path across Random Hills Park to Random Hills Road. Not direct, and certainly not ideal, but cheaper than building a special-purpose trail bridge over I-66 (Which is what they should do, from the loop to the west side of Random Hills Park).
But what fresh hell is this? In the new design (please forgive the bad drawing, the line was dark so I tried to make it more visible), trail users going west will first go significantly north of I-66; then turn south, back to I-66 around a circle; then west until they make a much larger loop and go back to the southeast; then go halfway around a circle to go back northwest(?!); then turn 90 degrees to go southwest; then another 90 degrees to go southeast again. Good God. This was not built to help people commute by trail, I can say that for sure. Part of the changes were a response to a change in how traffic will move from 50N to I-66W, but the rest I don't get. Replace the long tunnel on top, with three smaller ones along I-66 and then build the trail bridge over I-66 that goes to Random Hill Park.
In Fair Lakes it gets arguably worse than it used to be. In the 2016 design, the trail was to be in the I-66 corridor (south of the black and white line below) west of West Ox Road. In the new design it becomes a sidepath along Fair Lakes Parkway and Fair Lakes Circle.
And farther west it continues as a sidepath. On the west side of Fairfax County Parkway, it's unchanged except that the proposed connection to the Fair Lakes Shopping Center was moved way to the west.
In the Stringfellow section, the ramp between I-66 and Stringfellow was moved to the center of the highway, which allows the trail to be a straight path along I-66 and over Stringfellow, which is a big improvement. And there's a separate connection to the Stringfellow Park and Ride too.
In the Route 28 area, the "built by others" trail heading south on Sully Road from the Ellanore C. Lawrence Park parking has been removed. The trail in the Sully Road area has been straightened. The split between the section going south and the section going west has been moved (blue circle), creating two separate trails inside the cloverleaf.
In the Cub Run area, a trail connection to Stone Road has been removed, as has a trail in the power line right-of-way.
When the trail crosses Bull Run and enters Prince William County, it was - in the 2016 design - supposed to split to run on both the north and south sides of I-66. The northside path was to run along Battlefield Parkway to Lee Highway where it would meet up with the trail from the south side. The south side trail crosses to the north side at Groveton Road and the two would reconnect. Now there's only the south side trail.
In addition some comments on the trail were addressed at both the November meetings and another one in January.
At the November meeting, they received 274 comments on the shared-use paths, most of those asking that the path be outside the noise wall. There were 8 comments, and an online petition from Stenwood Elementary with 450 names, in favor of the trail inside the noise wall. There were also requests for taller trail walls, concerns about local pollution for trail users, requests for more access points to the trail and requests to extend the trail. Their response:
VDOT and EMP have been working with the cycling community and adjacent neighborhoods to balance the interests of all parties as it relates to the shared use path location inside and outside the noise wall. This dialogue has reduced the amount of trail located inside the noise wall from five miles down to approximately three miles. As the design is finalized, we continue to look for opportunities to improve trail connectivity and locations inside and outside the noise wall, to benefit future trail users and adjacent communities.
VDOT and EMP continue to assess barrier design height concerns where the shared use path runs inside the noise wall.
Several commenters, including Prince William County, have requested the shared use path run adjacent to I-66 through Prince William County. This facility is not in the County’s transportation plan and would likely impact historic and environmental resources. Instead, a parallel trail network is proposed along Balls Ford Road and other streets. A portion of this network is being built as part of this project. Additional segments are proposed to be built as part of other projects, potentially funded through the I-66 concession fee.
The eastern terminus of the shared use path at Gallows Road will allow access to the W&OD trail through sidewalks and bike lanes on Gallows Road. Users can access the Stenhouse neighborhood to the east by crossing Gallows Road at the Cottage Street traffic signal.
At the January 4th Meeting, there were only 4 speakers, but the first one recommended adding a bike connection from Balls Ford Road to Bull Run Drive over Bull Run, which is already part of the plan
That was a meeting to discuss projects that will be paid for in part by the concession fee to the Commonwealth as part of the financial agreement with Express Mobility Partners. This includes a few bike/ped projects:
- George Snyder Trail in Fairfax City
- Monument Drive bridge pedestrian improvements in Fairfax
- Lee Highway pedestrian improvements in Fairfax