Changes are coming to the part of the Mount Vernon Trail that runs alongside Washington National airport. While trail users will have to use a temporary path for during construction, the MVT will be safer and straighter in the future.

The Mount Vernon Trail detour under the Route 233 bridge. All photos by the author.

There are three major things happening to the trail: it’s moving away from the George Washington Parkway where it passes under the Route 233 bridge, it’s getting a new barrier wall under the Metro bridge that carries the Yellow and Blue lines into the airport, and it’s moving around a large tree that forces a quick S curve.

“The goal of the project is to improve visitor safety while ensuring we protect the natural resources along the trail,” says Aaron LaRocca, chief of staff for the GW Parkway at the NPS, on the planned work that is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2016.

The trail work is part of a larger effort to rebuild some of the entrances to National airport.

Trail users should expect detours

People on foot and bike will have to detour onto temporary mulch pathways during construction. The detour under the Route 233 bridge opened this week and will be used for two to three weeks, says LaRocca.

Overview of work planned to the Mount Vernon Trail. Image from the FHA.

Cycling over the mulch is challenging, with many riders dismounting and walking their bike through the detour during the morning commute on Wednesday. The temporary path is also narrower than the MVT, which could create a chokepoint for cyclists and pedestrians during busy times.

“When considering construction projects, the park strives to minimize impacts to the visitors,” says LaRocca. “Unfortunately, there is little space for wider detours because the area is congested with car and trail traffic. [GW Parkway] doesn’t use grass or paved detours because they create long term impacts for a short-term closure. In the past, mulch detours were used successfully along the MVT.”

Trail users are warned of the detour well ahead of the split.

The detour around the Metro bridge will likely be the most onerous of the three for cyclists. Trail users will have to climb a mulch path up to the exit road from National airport to the GW Parkway.

Looking down the hill from the National airport exit road towards the MVT.

Trail users will then have to cross the road where cyclists will have to hop the curb on both sides of the street.

MVT Metro bridge detour crossing the National airport exit road.

They will then have to descend a narrow sidewalk back to the MVT.

The sidewalk MVT users will have to use to return to the trail.

The detour around the Metro bridge will be used for three months, says LaRocca. The agency has not determined when the detour will begin, he adds.

The detour to straighten the Mount Vernon Trail past the large tree at the southern end of the project area will only be used for two days, says LaRocca.

The southern detour to straighten the Mount Vernon Trail past the large tree in the center of the image.

This is going to make the trail better

The Mount Vernon Trail is a popular and critical piece of the region’s trail network. Despite its popularity, the facility dates to the 1970s and includes a number of blind or difficult turns — including the one around the large tree near the southern end of National airport — that can prove difficult for cyclists.

In addition, the trail does not include the separation between cyclists and pedestrians and joggers that is common on newer trails around the world.

The bike trail and pedestrian walkway are separated in the new Gantry Plaza State Park in New York City.

There are lots of other ways to make the Mount Vernon Trail better. Ideas include straightening the sections just north of Daingerfield Island where the trail swings around a clump of trees and separating cyclists from pedestrians through Gravelly Point where there is a lot of congestion.

However, all of these ideas cost money that has yet to materialize in regional or federal trail funding plans.

It might be small, but the work the NPS is doing at the south end of National airport is great for the MVT.

Edward Russell is an air transport reporter by day with a passion for all things transportation. He is a resident of Eckington and tweets frequently about planes, trains and bikes.