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Fairfax City sticks with plan for George Snyder Trail after debating alternatives

Fairfax City’s George Snyder Trail currently ends on the east side of Fair Woods Parkway (via Google Maps)

Fairfax City will complete the George Snyder Trail as planned after all.

In response to some community concerns, the Fairfax City Council discussed changing the pedestrian and bicycle project’s scope or even canceling it altogether during its meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 23). But council members failed to agree on any of the proposed alternatives, allowing the city to stay the course by default.

“None of the resolutions received enough support to change the current trail alignment,” City of Fairfax spokesperson Matthew Kaiser confirmed to FFXnow. “Staff will continue to acquire the needed land and come back to council in six months or so for [a construction] bid approval.”

The city has acquired rights-of-way for two of five needed parcels, Fairfax City Transportation Director Wendy Sanford told the council.

Over a decade in the making, the planned trail will run along the south side of Accotink Creek for about 1.8 miles from Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) to Fairfax Blvd (Route 50), connecting the existing George Snyder Trail to the I-66 shared-use path that’s slated to finish this spring.

However, some residents and environmental groups, including the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, have objected to the proposed route for the 10-foot-wide trail, which will wind through a wooded area and require removing 553 trees. A segment in Shiloh Street Park that would’ve eliminated another 11 trees has been dropped from the plan, according to a city staff report.

The city has said 858 trees and 815 shrubs, all native species, will be planted to offset the lost trees.

Though the design is complete, Sanford said the council could cancel the project, realign the trail east of Fair Woods Parkway to use existing roads more, or construct only the segment west of Fair Woods Parkway.

Staff recommended either sticking with the existing plan or building only the western segment. If it cancels the project, the city would have to repay at least $395,000 in federal funding out of the $3 million it has spent so far, potentially putting it at a disadvantage for receiving future awards, Sanford said.

Most of the project’s $17.6 million budget comes from a concession fee that the I-66 Outside the Beltway toll lanes operator agreed to provide for transportation improvements in the corridor. Sanford said it’s unclear if any of that will need to be returned.

Revising the trail’s eastern segments would require restarting the design and engineering process, according to Sanford.

“This would delay the project, cause additional costs in engineering and potentially higher construction costs due to inflation when we do get to construction,” she told the council. “There’s also no assurance of feasibility for the new alignment or public support for any of the alternatives.”

The planned route for the George Snyder Trail (via Fairfax City)

Councilmember Jeffrey Greenfield proposed building the western portion with two tweaks: merging it with the sidewalk on Route 50 where they run parallel and possibly rerouting it through WillowWood Plaza, an office complex on Eaton Place under review for redevelopment as housing.

The trail/sidewalk merging was considered and rejected in 2019 by an advisory committee for the project, city staff said. Constraints include the need for a barrier between the curb and road and a 10-foot difference in grade that would require the trail to ramp up to the sidewalk, according to a consultant from Stantec, the engineering firm that designed the trail.

“It does not look like merging these two actually provides any benefit, to be honest,” Sanford said. “In fact, there are negatives in the sense that you’re then combining the trail traffic with the sidewalk traffic, so this option was put aside at that time.”

Councilmember Kate Doyle Feingold questioned if that portion of the trail is redundant, since the city’s bicycle plan calls for separated bicycle lanes and other long-term improvements on Route 50.

“Why not go forward with the plan, which is to make a bike-safe, off-road infrastructure along Fairfax Blvd?” she asked.

The trail and bicycle lanes were conceived as separate facilities, Sanford said, noting that the city doesn’t have any immediate plans to implement the lanes.

Greenfield’s proposal ultimately failed on a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Catherine Read breaking the tie. A motion from Councilmember So Lim to cancel the project met the same fate, and no one seconded Councilmember Billy Bates’s motion to build only the western segment without any modifications, preventing a discussion and vote.

Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling board member Bruce Wright says he’s “encouraged by the decision of the Mayor and Town Council to support the project,” which will fill a “critical missing link in the regional bicycle network.”

To travel between the eastern and western sides of Fairfax City, bicyclists currently have to utilize Fairfax Blvd, which “is not a bicycle-friendly road,” according to Wright.

“We heard from many cyclists, some who live in the area, who strongly support the project,” Wright said. “The trail will be a much-used resource for the residents and the community at large.”

Susan Kuiler, a resident of the city’s Cambridge Station neighborhood and skeptic of the project, noted that the council technically only voted against the proposed alternatives.

“We’re disappointed because we would have preferred having a vote and [for the council] to go on the record saying to approve it, to go ahead and endorse building the whole thing out, and…in my view and based on their behavior, that’s the last thing [they want to do],” Kuiler said.

While not against the George Snyder Trail, which currently passes in front of her house, she argues the money would be better spent on improving the city’s existing roads. The trail could be extended west on Cardinal Road so users can follow it from Fair Woods Parkway to Draper Drive, she suggested.

“If you made some safety changes around Draper Drive and up to Fairfax Blvd, it would be a win-win for everybody,” she said. “That’s what we were trying to come up with, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.”

Image via Google Maps