Northern Virginia pedestrians, cyclists to see better paths after funds approved

One of the approved projects is Old Bridge Road in Prince William County, Virginia, which involves building a sidewalk along the north side of Old Bridge Road from Oakwood Drive to Forest Hill Road. (Courtesy Transportation Planning Board)

Improvements to transportation stretches that have been tricky for pedestrians and cyclists to navigate in Northern Virginia are one step closer to construction, now that funding has been approved to pay for the projects.

Safety improvements for seven areas in Northern Virginia got the OK during the February meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board.

The more than $5.5 million worth of projects include nearly $800,000 to make a stretch in Fairfax County, Virginia, more hospitable for pedestrians on Columbia Pike.

“That area out by Annandale is notoriously unsafe. It has some of the highest bus ridership numbers in the region,” John Swanson, with the council’s transportation planning department, said after Wednesday’s approval vote. “A lot of these projects are just doing something so basic as just to build a sidewalk.”

Money recommended for another project in Fairfax County will use $160,000 to beef up an existing crosswalk along Huntsman Boulevard at Spelman Drive in Springfield, with a refuge island to increase safety for children walking to and from Orange Hunt Elementary School.

“We’re often looking at issues going out 25, 30 [or] more years,” Swanson said. “Sometimes, it feels very abstract, but today, we actually approved seven projects that are going to make real improvements in people’s lives in Northern Virginia.”

Swanson said those projects target putting sidewalks in place where there are currently just paths on the sides of roads, improving dangerous trail crossings where there have been safety concerns and making it easier for people to walk or bike to and from public transit stations.

Another project on the goal list includes more than $1 million to improve crossings along the Washington & Old Dominion trail in Loudoun County — crossings with a history of crashes or those that bisect roads with speed limits higher than 35 mph.

In Herndon, a stretch of Central Elden Street is slated for improvements because sidewalks there are “lined with utility poles,” Swanson said.

“If you’re in a wheelchair, if you’re sort of a person in need who’s trying to walk there, it’s really hard. The sidewalk is super narrow, and every 100 feet, there’s another telephone pole, so the Town of Herndon has actually got a plan to narrow the road, widen the sidewalk and relocate those utility poles,” Swanson said.

That project will also curb ramps so they are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The cost in total is expected to be over $2 million; though it’s not for a particularly long area, Swanson said it is densely populated and a place where people want to walk.

This program helps meet the Transportation Planning Board’s big picture goals for the D.C. region, Swanson said, including making sure residents have better access to public transportation by foot or bike. He also highlighted the board’s commitment to equity in the region.

“We make sure we focus a lot of attention on projects that will be serving disadvantaged communities,” Swanson said. “Five of the seven projects that were approved are going to be projects that are connecting equity-emphasis areas. Those are the geographies with low-income and minority communities.”

Take a look at the other projects approved for funding on the Transportation Planning Board’s website — under “Presentations” on the left-hand side, the projects can be seen in “Item 8.”

Though $5.5 million may not seem like a lot of money when compared to the budgets of the board’s other members, Swanson said, “These are projects that sort of fall by the wayside. These are projects that sometimes … can’t be funded through other programs.”

“This is a federal funding program, so this is federal funds that’s allocated to us, where we get the chance to make decisions about places where we think the priorities lie,” he said.

D.C. and areas represented by the COG in Maryland will also get a turn to apply for funds for similar projects. That application window opens in the spring.

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