The Other GAP trail 2022: An updated status of the Metropolitan Branch Trail

It's been almost 35 years since WABA began working to preserve the rail ROW that would become the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Despite numerous delays, large sections of the trail have been built and are opened. A key section from the Fort Totten Metro fo John McCormack Avenue just opened. So below is a look at where the complete project stands today.

Montgomery County

Starting at the northern end, two sections have been built. One, from Colesville Road to Ripley Street, opened in 2013 as part of the Silver Spring Transit Center and another 100 foot long stub was built south from Ripley as part of the Solaire Building.


MBT1

MC GAP 1 - From Ripley, a one-block gap exists to Silver Spring Avenue. This section is currently under construction as the "Ripley II" project, which should be completed this year. The development will also include a special bicycle entry for those using the trail

Between Silver Spring Ave and the B&O railroad station, a one block section was built as part of the Progress Place project, but that section has been imprisoned for crimes it did not commit.

MBT1

What did you do trail? What did you do?

MC GAP 2 - From the B&O Station to the intersection of Fenton and New York Avenue is one gap that will be closed in two phases. Phase 1, from New York Avenue to King and then west along King to a dead-end was completed in 2018 (since the last report 5 years ago). The County had planned to complete  Phase II by 2021, but there have clearly been significant setbacks as completion now isn't planned until 2025 - and that is based on the premise that they started work in February, which I have heard nothing about. Last year, WABA reported that work could start in Fall of 2021. I'm not sure what the delays are caused by.

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Between New York Avenue and the DC line the trail is complete and has been for over 15 years.

Prince George's County

Another part of the trail is the Prince George's County Connector that will connect the trail at Fort Totten to the Northwest Branch Trail at Hyattsville in Prince George's County. One piece of that, from Eastern Avenue in DC to Russell Avenue was completed in 2010.

Deadend

PG GAP 1 - 5 years later, I still can not find any information on closing the Russell Avenue to Chillum Road gap. I'm not sure it is even a desire for PG County anymore.

DC

From April to June of 2021, DC built a 450-foot section of the trail along Eastern Avenue from the Maryland boundary, where it connected to an existing section built by Montgomery County, to Piney Branch Road.

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DC GAP 1 - The largest gap in the system is now, shoreter, from the Piney Branch to Fort Totten Metro. This has also been broken up into multiple projects. 

Farthest north is the Piney Branch Road to Blair Road section. This project is still in design and according to the public meeting in December, won't be done with property acquisition until spring of 2023 with work to begin sometime that year. They plan to have a 30% design meeting on June 7th

MBTPineyBlair

The Fort Totten to Takoma section of the MBT has completed final design and will go out for construction solicitation soon, with a groundbreaking this Fall (again about 3 years later than expected in 2018). Construction is expected to be completed in 2023. There is also a small 100-200 foot section of the Prince George's County Connector in DC, but DDOT currently doesn't have any plans to work on that.

The Brookland to Fort Totten Metro section was completed this month, after a couple of years of delay.

FTMyGHeWQAImBZe

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% years ago, I said that "from Bates to M St, NE, the trail is completed, having been built as part of several other projects including the New York Avenue Metro to 8th Street section" but now I think people see the 8th Street section as a new gap. o let's say the trail is complete from Fort Totten to Monroe St, NE. 

DC GAP 2

The 8th St, on-road section of the trail is built as originally designed, but we've come to expect a lot more from bike facilities over the last 20 years and so the section from Monroe to Franklin is now a new gap. The whole history of how a Protected Bike Lane facility along that section was designed and worked out and then in September it fell apart is pretty thoroughly covered here. But since then DDOT has started shopping around a new PBL project, so we'll see.

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****

From Franklin to M St NE, the trail is finished and has been for more than a decade.

DC GAP 3 - the last gap is a half block gap from just south of M Street to street level at L. Currently a trail and stairs exist, but the long-term plan has always involved a ramp here. This will be constructed along with the NoMa Station projects Phases II-IV. This lot has remained stubbornly undeveloped even as every other lot in NoMa blows up. All I can say is that it is still planned.

MBTLR Longitudinal

But there have been other improvements in the last 5 years, . The Z-Curve that used to be at R Street has been straightened out the whole trail there widened and improved thanks to development of One501 and Alethia Tanner park. The intersection at Monroe has also been improved - a little.

Five years ago I hoped that the project could be finished by 2028, and for the DDOT and Montgomery County parts that still seems possible. The NoMa station place - who knows? But if the PG County Connector Trail - from the Fort Totten Metro to the Hyattsville Metro/Northwest Branch Trail - isn't dead then it's at least in a coma and 2028 might be too ambitious a target for it. 

Arlington's natural surface trails study; pump tracks, bike parks and mountain bike trails on the agenda

Arlington County is performing a Natural Surface Trails study this year. It kicked off in December with an RFP and a literature review and will lead to public engagement over the summer with a final set of recommendations to follow.  The study will investigate a range of options for trail management, resource protection and maintenance issues; including new trail segments and segments to close. It will include a major inventory and assessment of existing trails, and a lengthy public engagement process starting this summer. This will include community input on bike-related options including pump tracks, bike parks, and mountain-biking trails. 

The study comes out of the Public Spaces Master Plan process for which one goal is to "Explore opportunities to provide space for pump tracks and cyclocross on a temporary or permanent basis, while balancing potential impacts on natural resources and trees". Mountain biking is on more tenuous ground

prior to exploring potential locations for mountain biking, the community would need to have a more robust and broad conversation to understand the needs of the users and impacts on the natural environment.

This is being done now in part because of the pandemic.

The PSMP’s Action Plan assigned these actions medium- and long-term priority. However, due to an increase in trail usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns from natural resources advocates about increased recreational use and its impacts to natural areas, and ongoing community requests to provide mountain biking opportunities, these recommendations have become a higher priority.

Right now this is just a study that may come with recommendations that may lead to some action in the future (far off future?) but this is how projects often get started - with an acorn not a tree.

Rose Park Trail rebuilt and bridge in place as DDOT's Rock Creek Park trail project chugs along

It's been a few years since we last checked in on the Rock Creek Park Trail rehabilitation and since then there has been a lot of exciting progress. At that time, the federal government had wrapped up their project and DDOT was making plans to start theirs. Work on the DDOT project began at the end of last March

The DDOT project is doing the following

  • Rebuilding, widening and realigning 3.7 miles of the trail from P Street NW in Georgetown to Broad Branch Road NW (including Rose Park Trail)
  • Building a new 0.8-mile trail along Piney Branch Parkway
  • Building a new 110-foot pedestrian bridge south of the ZooTunnel
  • Reconstructing and reopening the Zoo Loop trail
  • Building a new 0.2-mile trail from Peirce Mill to Broad Branch

It's is broken into 7 stages (with one stage into two parts). Stage 1, which is the Rose Park Trail and Stage 4, the Western Ridge Trail were both completed in 2021 - though Rose Park lighting wasn't completely resolved until early 2022. 

Screenshot 2022-03-11 10.19.06 AM

Since the September meeting the Pierce Mill (6)  and Broad Branch (7) sections have been completed as expected. But it's not clear if they'll finish the Zoo Loop (3) this winter.  Work on Piney Branch (5) began in November and is scheduled to complete at the end of the year. Work is also underway on Stage 2, which is to be completed by summer. 

The Rose Park Trail is much improved. It had a worse surface than most mountain bike trails, but is now smoother. It's still narrow, but not as much so and in order to keep cyclists from going fast - which is not appropriate here - it has rumble strips.

Rose

It also includes a beautiful trail connection to the Rock Creek Park Trail.

Screenshot 2022-03-11 10.39.16 AM

The Western Ridge Trail also looks nice.

Screenshot 2022-03-11 10.41.02 AM

The Pierce Mill section was completed in December, but I don't have a photo of it or the new pedestrian bridge there. Here's a photo of construction though.

Screenshot 2022-03-11 10.50.36 AM

They've already poured some, if not all, of the Zoo Loop pavement and at last report they were working on stream bed stabilization, but the big news is that the span for the new bridge is in place

The other thing they're still working on is the Piney Branch Trail which is partially completed on the north end.

Screenshot 2022-03-11 10.58.11 AM

The whole DDOT Rock Creek Trail project should wrap up in 2023. 

Tangentially related is this story about how trail work inadvertently pushed onto land that was once part of the Mount Zion and Female Union Band Society cemeteries. These are historic black cemeteries - among the oldest in the city. Part of the trail, near the Devil's Chair bridge, has been closed and will remain closed until an archeological exploration of the cemeteries is completed. That will begin on March 21. 

The cemeteries’ land was acquired by the US government via eminent domain in 1931 for the development of Rock Creek Parkway, but there is little evidence that the grounds were checked or that any bodies were reinterred elsewhere. 

The excavation was set in motion in the fall of 2021, when Mount Zion-Female Union Band Society Memorial Park’s executive director, Lisa Fager, found a construction crew working on expanding a bike path within the cemeteries’ limits. No one had contacted her or her organization, which has been focused on the cemeteries since 2005. In fact, the burial grounds had been left off the maps used by city and federal agencies. 

That section of the trail has been closed since the fall, in order to prevent any damage to the area before it’s closely examined.  The project had to wait until temperatures rose, because the sonar technology requires the ground to be warm.

There’s no detour or alternative route, so don’t plan on using this part of the trail until March 28, when the area is scheduled to reopen.

2021 Christmas Shopping Guide

Happy Holidays. The Christmas and Holiday season is upon us and I recently got the chance to try out some items for free that might make good gifts for those on your shopping list.

MittensFirst off, my wife and I loved these convertible mittens. Technically they're for women, but I was able to convince her that I should get them. They're 3 season mittens, but I might need something with more heft for the coldest DC commutes. Still these have become my primary biking/running gloves, at least until I inevitably lose one. I generally prefer convertible gloves anyway, but  I like the reflective strip which is in a good place for cycling, both riding and signaling and the magnetic hold on the thumb cover that keeps it out of your way - same for the pocket for the mitten. They clip together so that people who are better at not losing things than I am can keep them together and they're just generally solid mittens. I also got a handwritten note with them, which is nice. The whole website looks like a good place to shop for winter sports enthusiasts. 

Interior-focus-smThe most interesting thing I got was Wind Blox. This is product specifically designed for cyclists with the purpose of reducing wind noise when you bike. Now I'd never really put wind noise as something I was bothered by, and now I always wear a helmet that covers my ears, but I tried them with an older helmet and they really do work. We even put the focus - the ear muff ones - on my wife's helmet. They put your ears into a pocket with a little space around them for better hearing. The problem with riding in DC is that even if you can get rid of 80% of the wind noise, you just get more of the traffic noise. One thing about these is that we had some trouble getting them in place and realized that the straps to my wife's helmet are a little farther from her face so they don't work quite as well. But it's a novel idea that is probably not something your gift recipient already has.  There's an array of products for different helmets and different users - even those with hearing aids. 


We lose water bottles in our house like it's our job, so when we got the bubi bottle my son quickly claimed it as his own. This is a water bottle that's made from silicone instead of plastic or metal. What we like about is that it doesn't get dinged when dropped, can go through the dishwasher and stores easily. But we still get a slight chemical taste from the water that we hope will stop over time. I'm not sure it's a bike gift (it's not rigid enough for a water bottle cage) but it might be a good stocking stuffer for a kid. 

Bubi-bottle-35-oz-display-blue

These goose down socks haven't been as big of a hit with Mrs. Washcycle as I expected, but I like them. If she puts them on before her feet get cold they stay warm, but once her feet get cold even these can't save her. I've had a different experience. Putting them on warms up my cold feet and they might be a good for post winter biking triage. I haven't tried them winter camping yet, but it's almost like the activity they were made for. They're incredibly light for backpackers too. They're a little awkward to walk around in though.

Goosedownsocks

Insect-repellent-shirt-haeleum-faran_classic-mens-short_sleeve-tan-1_8bbe26eb-59b3-445f-9beb-c2e14793a6fbThe one thing I can't really say much about is the Faran Sport Mosquito repellent shirt. It came just as the mosquito season ended in DC. It's a well-made, comfortable technical shirt. Does it repel mosquitos? I have no idea because we had none to repel, but Outside magazine thinks so. I'd never heard of a "Bug repelling" shirt so my whole world is open to the idea of clothes that can repel mosquitos, which get intolerable around here in the summer. We're willing to give this a shot when the critters come back, and I really hope I can give a positive report then. Fingers crossed. 

Regional Travel Survey shows a dramatic increase in cycling

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board’s (TPB) once-in-a-decade Regional Travel Survey was completed last year, but analyses of the data has been coming out ever since. Last March the TPB wrote an article on four trends from the study of which one was a dramatic increase in bicycling since 2007.

Like many other metro regions, the greater Washington region has invested heavily in bicycle infrastructure by retrofitting streets with bike lanes and connecting multi-use trails, in addition to launching Capital Bikeshare in 2010. These investments appear to have paid off in terms of promoting more bicycling in the region. The share of all trips by bicycle doubled regionwide since 2007/2008, and increased three-fold in the region’s core including the District of Columbia, Arlington, and Alexandria. Share of daily walk trips, regionally, remained steady at about 9 percent.

While much of that comes at the expense of rail transit, driving is also down.

Weekday_travel_mode_changes

The other trends were decreased rail transit, decreased driving and fewer overall trips. 

Bicycle Mode share sits between walking and taxis for commuting, but makes up a smaller share of non-commute trips. 

Mode_Share

Meanwhile, this chart pushes against the "only rich people bike" claim.

Modebydollar

Anyway, no surprise that biking and walking make up a smaller mode share at night and off-peak - all the more reason we need good transit at those times.

Capital Crescent Surface Trail and Tunnel will be reviewed by the Planning Board on October 14

Tunnel1

The Montgomery County Planning Board will review and provide advisory comments to MCDOT on the Capital Crescent Surface Trail Phase 2 and Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) Under MD 355 projects on Thursday, October 14.

The interim CCT (or the Georgetown Branch Trail) used to go under Wisconsin Avenue in the old rail tunnel, but that has been closed since work on the Purple Line began and when it all reopens the light rail will use the tunnel. So the plan is build a new tunnel just south of the rail tunnel and an improved surface route.

47th

The tunnel story is much longer than that, if you must know, and if you started digging the trail tunnel's grave every time it was in trouble you'd be in China by now but last year MoCo voted to build their part of the tunnel despite a higher than expected price tag. The tunnel west of Wisconsin was built as part of the Carr section and the part under Wisconsin Ave and to the east built by the County. 

The Capital Crescent Surface Trail Phase 2 project would construct a 10-foot-wide shared-use path along the east side of 47th Street from Willow Lane to Elm Street.

Phase 1 of the trail tunnel would construct the part of the trail west of the Wilson and Elm, a bicycle storage facility inside of it, an interim trail connection between the Capital Crescent Surface Trail Phase 2 and the Capital Crescent Trail Mainline project under construction as part of the Purple Line project and reconstruct the northern portion of Elm Street Park and the east/west promenade through the park.

Phase 2 will finish the tunnel, reconfigure the surface route and redevelop parts of Elm Park

The Staff report includes some comments including  making sure utility poles are far enough away from the trail and...

Bicycle Parking Station
3. Provide stacked bicycle racks with lift assist.
4. Provide changing rooms and showers.
5. Provide secure access to the long-term bicycle parking area with CCTV security cameras, blue light phones in the bicycle parking area and access by key fob or other means.

Capital Crescent Surface Trail
10. Design the Capital Crescent Surface Trail north of the Promenade with a maximum running slope of 4.5% and a maximum cross slope of 1.5% to allow for construction tolerance in asphalt construction.
11. Reconcile the differences in the design of the Capital Crescent Surface Trail Phase 2 with the Capital Crescent Trail Under MD 355 Phase 1 where they merge at the intersection of 47th Street and Elm Street: 1) extend the curb along 47th Street at the Promenade to the corner of the Air Rights Building loading dock area, 2) coordinate the alignment and grading of the trail. Relocate the manhole for the sewer out of the pedestrian plaza area.

Capital Crescent Trail Civic Green Connector
12. Match the Capital Crescent Trail paving pattern of the Capital Crescent Civic Green Connector to the pattern in front of 4735 Bethesda Avenue.

Routes

A possible future for the Elm Street Park

Elm

Indoor bicycle parking near the west end of the tunnel.
Elm

The east end of the tunnel.
Elm

Mount Vernon Highway Trail Project is underway, to be completed this winter

MVH

In May, Fairfax County started working on the Mount Vernon Highway Trail Project. The project will build a 10-foot wide sidepath along parts of Mount Vernon Highway between Grist Mill and Washington Mill Park. 

This $6.5 million, two-mile stretch is part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail between Richmond Highway (Route 1) and Southwood Drive and in accordance to the Countywide Trails Plan.

It will also build a 14' trail bridge over Dogue Creek. There are some existing, and shoddy, trail segments and these will not be rebuilt as part of this project. 

Relocations of utilities began in June 2021 and are expected to be completed by September 2021. Utility relocations including gas, electric, and communication lines are necessary to accommodate the proposed trail. The Washington Gas line relocation is in process. The construction of the trail project is expected to start Fall 2021.

The project is to be completed in Winter 2022.

DC allocates $2.2 million to study Connecticut Avenue PBL

CTArender

After being left out of Mayor Bowser's budget, the DC Council recently allocated $2.2 million to continue the work to redesign Connecticut Ave that might include a PBL. This project, the Connecticut Avenue NW Reversible Lane Safety and Operations Study, is one of the possible permanent traffic changes to come out of temporary changes made during the Covid Pandemic. 

The District is considering adding bike lanes and making other changes to a 2.7-mile segment of Connecticut Avenue NW, where city leaders envision a corridor with less vehicle traffic and better access for pedestrians, transit users and bicycles. The $4.6-million makeover would add a northbound and southbound bike lane and remove reversible rush-hour lanes — a source of confusion among drivers— resulting in fewer car lanes.

The concept, which has broad support among bicycle users and road-safety advocates, is worrisome to drivers and some businesses over fears that a bike lane would reduce already-scarce parking. 

Parking you say? I guess there's a first time for everything.

Cyclists have been advocating for bike lanes on CTA for as long as I can remember, and protected bike lanes on CTA, albeit farther north, were in the original "Bikeways Plan" that the DC proposed to meet EPA mandates back in 1974 - so this has been a long time coming. More recently Connecticut Avenue was identified as a Bike Priority Corridor in moveDC 2014 and the 2021 Update.

CTA

At the center of the plan is a push to remove rush-hour lanes from Woodley Park to the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, a stretch of six-lane road that carried an average of 32,000 vehicles daily before the coronavirus pandemic. The two reversible lanes allow four of the road’s lanes to carry southbound traffic during the morning rush, then reverse in the evening to carry northbound traffic out of the city.

As the road is reduced to four lanes, a protected bike lane would be added in each direction, with parking and loading zones removed on one side of Connecticut Avenue. More than 300 parking spaces would be eliminated, according to a DDOT analysis. The new configuration would cut parking availability outside of rush-hour and car-lane capacity in half for peak direction travel during rush hour.

The proposal would remove rush-hour parking restrictions, enabling all-day parking on one side of the road. 

But they're also considering a non-bike option even though they admit that it's out of sync with their current plans and Vision Zero.

The city is also considering removing the reversible lanes without building bike lanes. In that plan, which would lower the project’s cost to $1.9 million, there would be three lanes in each direction during peak hours and two in each direction during nonpeak hours. Parking would be preserved on both sides of the road with rush-hour restrictions remaining.

DDOT says of the project

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is studying the feasibility of removing the reversible lane system as part of the city’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. Per the findings of the previous 2003 DDOT study, there is renewed community interest in reviewing the reversible lane system and exploring concepts for other mobility options such as bike lanes. 

Regardless of what happens with the bike lanes, removing the reversible lanes is popular and seems to have more momentum

Removing the lanes would bring a 36 percent reduction in crashes during peak hours, according to DDOT.

While about 300 bicyclists use the corridor daily, more than 3,000 bike trips would be made on the route after a bike lane opens, according to city estimates.

I don't know if it's the pandemic or years of education/advocacy, but this time things feel different.

“The commuters who are going down there at 50 miles per hour, they don’t even see my business because they are moving too fast to get through it,” said Krigman, who also is a member of Woodley Park Main Street. “So I’m very pleased with the prospect of slowing down Connecticut Avenue.”

In fact, when DDOT tried to restore the reversible lanes in June, neighborhood opposition caused them to reverse direction. 

There are a couple of designs with PBLs on each side, and then a few designs with a two-way protected cycle track on the west side, but both WABA and all four impacted ANCs support the one pictured above (Concept C) if you can't decide. 

DDOT was to make their management recommendation by the end of last month and then there's another public meeting tentatively scheduled for the fall.  But don't get too excited construction may not occur until 2025.

Capital Trails Coalition impact report highlights benefits of a full trail network

MWCOGNCT2

Back in April, the Capital Trails Coalition released the National Capital Trail Network (seen above) impact report which showed that a billion dollar investment in trails would pay off with over $2.4 Billion in savings PER YEAR.

Impact

This report was completed AFTER the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments officially endorsed the Capital Trails Coalition's (CTC) National Capital Trail (NCT) Network (seen above* or in an interactive version here), but the benefits highlighted absolutely informed that decision. Interested parties should read the whole report because I'm not going to repeat it all here, but even if you think they're way overstating the benefits (and I don't), it's still got to be a net gain

The NCT represents the product of a multi-year effort led by WABA and Rails-to-Trails; and including dozen's of other organizations and advocates. The CTC has been slowing building to wide acceptance of the NCT as the key response to their goal to connect the region by trails. It doesn't lack for ambition. It envisions trails stretching across the greater Washington region, from Frederick, Md., to Prince William County, Va., that would expand the amount of off-road bicycle and pedestrian pathways to 1,400 miles.

The extensive trail system would more than double the size of the existing network by adding 755 miles to the current 645 miles of trails

And they're not stopping with the plan. Since completing it, the CTC has been working to identify the trails that could most benefit from an advocacy push and then working to get them across the finish line. One of those was the long-stalled South Capitol Street Trail which recently got funding in Mayor Bowser's new budget

The NCT network, if built out, would finally get bike facilities to the place advocates have been trying to get them to for over 100 years and the CTC should be proud of the way that they've moved a plan that would have been laughed at 20 years ago into something serious policy makers can support. 

*An alternative version of this map, excluding Frederick and Charles Counties in Maryland; and Loudoun and Prince William Counties in Virginia shows up in the impact report. 

Scaling back of Beltway expansion spares Rock Creek, Bethesda Trolley, Sligo Creek trails

In mid-May Maryland scaled back their proposed expansion of DC-area highways, a decision that will prevent changes (and likely upgrades) to the many bike trails that cross it. Instead of adding lanes to the whole of the MD Beltway and I-270, the reduced proposal is to add lanes from the Virginia side of the American Legion Bridge (ALB) to north of Rockville. The major impacts for cyclists will be limited to any impact to the C&O Canal Towpath, a possible crossing on the new bridge and any improvements to or new connections crossing along the expanded highway (as is happening along I-66).

image from dcist.com

[For the record, I think any expansion is a bad idea, but if they do they should take the opportunity to make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to cross the barrier. And advocates should push to make them do so.]

Last year, Montgomery County Planning weighed in on the project, to advise the state of the walking and bicycling recommendations in the Bicycle Master Plan and other area master plans to reconnect the neighborhoods that were severed with the original construction of I-495 and I-270. They brought their attention to individual bikeway recommendations that cross the interstates are shown at mcatlas.org/bikeplan. They also brought their attention to new guidance related to freeway ramps and grade-separated crossings. All of that is still valid, even with the reduced scope.

The 2020 DEIS discusses how the state is working with local planners to preserve current bike/ped facilities and add the facilities required by the county.

DEIS

A shared-use facility on the bridge is something the state says it's committed to. Regardless of feelings about the HOT lanes, that would be a great addition to the local bike network as it would be the only crossing between Chain Bridge and White's Ferry (which may or may not come back). The bridge runs almost exactly north-south, so it's odd that they described the share-use path as being on the "south side", but I'll assume they mean the downstream side which matches up with where they put it in the 2002 Mount Vernon Trail Extension Study. (The MVT is the light blue line).

MVTALB

It'd be a mistake to build it as shown, but not include a connection under the bridge to Live Oak Drive. 

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