Fairfax sees the Pickett Road Connector Trail as a missing link

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The City of Fairfax plans to build the Pickett Road Link Trail – a new north-south, off-road, shared-use trail between the Wilcoxon, Cross County and City of Fairfax Link Trails. This trail will be approximately 1,260 feet long and will be constructed on the east side of Pickett Road between Route 50/Fairfax Boulevard and Thaiss Park.

The new trail will be constructed on the east side of Pickett Road between Fairfax Boulevard and Thaiss Park.

The goal is to connect other trails; and at the Fairfax City Council meeting on January 11, Director of Parks and Recreation Cathy Salgado described the new path as “a missing link.” She also noted that the project is fully funded by federal SmartScale money received in October 2019.

The total price is $5,965,444. Construction is expected to cost $4,933,115; preliminary engineering, $797,237; and right of way, $235,092. Once completed, the trail will be owned and maintained by the City.

Dat Ngo, project manager at Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson Inc., the consultant for this trail, presented the details of its design, along with other elements, to the Council. And he pointed out that a conservation easement means that “a stormwater management pond will not remove the trees in the middle of the site.”

He said the goals are the expansion and continuity of the city’s network of parks and trails. “This path will provide a new connection between the Wilcoxon and Cross County Trails to the south, and the City of Fairfax Connector Trail to the north,” Ngo said. “And it will provide better access to surrounding shopping malls, office complexes, I-66 trail facilities, Thaiss and Gateway parks, and the Vienna/Fairfax subway station.”

He said it will provide accessibility for residents living adjacent to Old Pickett Road, while providing bumps in the trails and a 14-foot-wide boardwalk, with scenic views on both. The path will be designed to VDOT and ADA standards wherever possible and will be 10 feet wide with 2 foot wide shoulders.

There will be a connecting stairway and ADA-compliant ramp at the Old Pickett Road/Foxcroft intersection, as well as an additional stairway at the south end of the Cross County Trail. Two footbridges are also planned.

The shared-use trail bridge will have a truss design and concrete deck and will cross Accotink Creek and its tributary. The concrete plank boardwalk will be 375 feet long, and Ngo said this structure will mitigate steep grades, as well as impacts to trees and utilities.

Stormwater management and drainage improvements include side ditches, as well as a proposed entrance at the south end of the project to alleviate standing water on the Cross County Trail near Thaiss Park. A permeable causeway is planned for the north end, and Ngo said a proposed conservation easement would eliminate the need for a stormwater management pond.

As for the trees, he said 170 have been identified in the project area and 28 within one meter of the trail will be removed. The fate of 49 others has not yet been determined.

The project includes safety signs, as well as advance shared use path warning signs and pavement markings on that path. There will also be orientation/education signs, as well as pedestrian and bicycle counters.

Salgado said plans are nearly 60% complete and she expects to submit final plans in June and advertise a contractor this fall. If all goes well, she expects construction on this project to begin in winter 2023, with substantial completion achieved by spring 2024.

“We designed this trail to minimize the impact on trees and the environment, with the elevated boardwalk,” Salgado said. “Part of it will cantilever over a huge ravine, so there will be great views from there in all seasons.”

However, not everyone is so excited about this trail. In a Jan. 9 letter to Fairfax Mayor and City Council, the Friends of Accotink Creek called on the City to drop its proposed route through the floodplain. Instead, he advocated making the trail a “neighborhood” offering “safe and convenient, non-motorized transportation, without further sacrificing our fragmented inventory of remaining natural habitats.”

“The direct connection to Foxcroft via Pickett Road is ironic. Why not then route the entire trail along Pickett Road, where there is ample room for a shared-use trail at a much lower cost in terms of money and natural habitat? The City of Fairfax bike map already shows an on-street route in the future of Pickett Road, just a few feet away from the proposed connecting route. Pickett offers a high, dry route out of the floodplains along Accotink Creek and the Hatmark Branch.
Decrying the loss of “our dwindling and irreplaceable natural heritage areas”, the letter stressed that, where possible, “the City must adopt an approach to preventing deforestation, large and small”.

Moreover, the Friends of Accotink Creek shared his letter and project details in a Facebook post on January 21, including maps showing the desired connections between the three other trails already available in Thaiss Park. In the comments, Marianne Floyd wrote: “I agree, too much concrete proposed for our city. Leave paths as paths.

April Garland added: ‘That would be a most useless cycle path. It’s about following the money. Just because it’s funded doesn’t mean we have to build it.

There is also a larger article titled “Pickett Road Connector Trail – On the Wrong Path?” He calls it redundant and “a sad choice to put a trail in the worst possible place, through floodplains, just because we can.”

The post says that unlike the city’s rationale for the trail — providing better access to shops, offices, and Thaiss and Gateway parks — in reality, it would “take users away from retail and work areas and would bypass the Fairfax Circle activity center and Gateway Parking. How ironic that the Pickett Road Connector Trail takes the name of the very road it proposes to bypass – [and] which already provides the connections this trail claims to provide.

He further notes that “other city plans also need to be done, such as the Global Plan Environment and Sustainability Chapterthe Chesapeake Bay Preservation Planand the Northfax Small Area Plan. All of these plans cold-bloodedly ensure the preservation of trees and waterways while other municipal, Commonwealth and private interests continue to remove them.

“Why shouldn’t the environmental conservation mandates of these other plans be given priority?” Better opportunities for cycling and walking are welcome, but the layout of this trail would be at the expense of forests and waterways.

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