South GW Memorial Parkway, Mount Vernon Trail to undergo improvements, pending funding
Following the completion last fall of an Environmental Assessment with a preferred course of action for the southern George Washington Memorial Parkway and Mount Vernon Trail, the National Park Service (NPS) has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for moving forward with planned improvements.
According to a Jan. 26 news release, the Park Service carefully considered public comments on several proposed alternatives for improvements to the roadway and adjacent multiuse trail, ultimately selecting an alternative that would provide vital enhancements to users’ safety and enjoyment, while avoiding significant impacts to the environment.
The prospect of taking no action wasn’t acceptable, said NPS, because the Parkway and trail “would continue to deteriorate, requiring frequent maintenance" and because "current safety issues would not be addressed.” Other alternatives proposed by community members like implementing roundabouts and traffic signals along the Parkway or widening the multiuse trail to 14 feet were dismissed from consideration due to their potential impacts.
Based on the FONSI, the NPS plans to replace the Parkway’s deteriorated concrete road surfaces, gutters and mountable curbs; resolve drainage issues; and incorporate stormwater management best management practices. Additionally, the Park Service will rehabilitate Little Hunting Creek Bridge, Fort Hunt Overpass Bridge, Alexandria Avenue Overpass Bridge and Hunting Creek Bridge based on Federal Highway Administration recommendations.
A road diet is also part of the plan. To help improve safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, the Park Service plans to reduce the Parkway to one lane southbound from Belle View Boulevard to the Mount Vernon Estate, and one lane northbound from the estate to Tulane Drive. The excess pavement area will be used to create shoulders or dedicated right-turn lanes at southbound intersections, and a striped median or center turn lane.
Safety improvements are also planned for nine major intersections along the Parkway, including intersection redesigns and the establishment of crosswalks.
Along the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail — specifically, the section within Fairfax County (Zone 1) — the Park Service plans to rehabilitate and realign the asphalt pavement surface; incorporate storm management best management practices; widen the trail to a maximum width of 10 feet between Mount Vernon Estate and Hunting Creek Bridge; replace Bridge 1 and repair Bridges 2-11 and 13-22; and incorporate other safety measures. The Park Service will also support several proposed Capital Bikeshare stations, clear dense vegetation and remove the existing toilet facility from Riverside Park. Improvements are also planned along the trail in the City of Alexandria, Arlington County and the District of Columbia.
The NPS plans to conduct the improvements to the Parkway and Mount Vernon Trail in phases, subject to funding availability, with initial design work and planning slated to begin this year. Mitigation measures are in place for traffic management, minimizing tree removal and wildlife disturbance, and avoiding archaeologically sensitive areas.
The umbrella organization for citizens’ associations in the Mount Vernon District, the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Associations (MVCCA), is largely supportive of the Park Service’s plan. MVCCA’s Transportation Committee Chair Jason Zaragoza said the organization supports safety improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians on the Mount Vernon Trail, as well as improved signage and ways to maintain the historic nature of the Parkway.
“As for the road diet,” said Zaragoza, “we have some concerns about speeding on both the approach to and exit from the road diet area as drivers try to get ahead of other cars; however, we don't have any comments on the specifics until we see the actual design plans.”
Many public comments on the Environmental Assessment, which were submitted in fall 2023, were compiled into “concern statements” by NPS and addressed with responses starting on page 13 of the FONSI.