A new trail bridge over the Patuxent River will finally connect the Anne Arundel and Prince George’s County sections of the WB&A Trail. Construction is scheduled to start soon and will finish around 2021.
The WB&A Trail is a long-planned and mostly completed multi-use trail built along 10 miles of the old Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis (WB&A) inter-urban railroad. When completed, it will connect Lanham to Odenton in Maryland, and at Odenton, connect to another trail built on the WB&A’s South Shore line which will run to Annapolis. The WB&A will serve as part of the East Coast Greenway, the American Discovery Trail, and the 9/11 Memorial Trail.
The WB&A railroad ended service in 1935. Then in the 1980s, inspired by success of the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail Park, people became interested in building trails on other segments of the railway. Planning began in the 1990s, and the first segment opened in 2000.
The new 530-foot-long bridge across the Patuxent is the final portion of the project. It was held up due to cost and an extended land fight that resulted in the counties moving the trail crossing about a mile upstream from the old bridge, but now it’s moving forward.
Onward to Washington
Even as the original trail is being completed, advocates and planners are already working on extending it to the District. Prince George’s County’s approved land use plans and the 2009 Countywide Master Plan of Transportation both recommend extending the WB&A Trail along the right-of-way of MD-704 to the DC line, where it would connect to the Marvin Gaye Trail.
Last year, the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission (M-NPPC) funded a WB&A Trail Extension Feasibility Study to examine the potential of such a trail. It found that there were more than a dozen places where a trail would be difficult due to land constraints, but ultimately felt a north side shared use path with a small green buffer would not only be possible but also preferred, with a few road diets and some land acquisition.
At Seat Pleasant, the trail could connect to the Marvin Gaye Trail, the future Centrail Avenue Connector Trail, and the future Chesapeake Beach Rail Trail. Along the way, it would create an improved Beltway crossing and pass within a mile of the FedEx Field/Prince George’s County Sports and Learning Center complex. (As a tip to the route’s history, perhaps the old streetcar nearby could be bought, restored, and placed next to the trail in one of the nearby parks.)
More recently, M-NCPPC funded a study of streetscape improvements along MD-704 in Seat Pleasant, including the trail. The study found one short segment where a sidepath wasn’t possible and a sidewalk and bike lane would have to do, but most of the road could include the path. Though not funded yet, the county’s Transportation Priority Letter lists the construction of the trail along MD-704 as the top Bicycle Corridor Priority for Prince George’s.
On the north side, Anne Arundel County recently cut the ribbon on a section of the South Shore Trail, long stalled by land and budget issues. This section, between Crownsville and Millersville, opened in 2019, 29 years after its original 1990 groundbreaking. Phase II construction is scheduled for 2022. There are currently no plans to extend the trail north to the BWI Trail where the right-of-way was turned into WB&A road.
The new bridge will technically complete the WB&A Trail, but adding an extension along MLK Boulevard would tie it into the Capital Trails Coalition network and allow people to ride between the District and Linthicum Heights in Anne Arundel County. Now is the perfect time to plan this connection!