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Design work on southern GW Parkway and Mount Vernon Trail upgrades can begin

Safety and operational improvements are planned for the GW Parkway’s southern segment and Mount Vernon Trail improvements project scope (via National Park Service)

A stretch of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in southern Fairfax County is moving toward some major changes, as is the neighboring Mount Vernon Trail.

The National Park Service, which maintains the GW Parkway and much of the Mount Vernon Trail, plans to start “initial design work and planning for key aspects of the project” this year, per a Jan. 26 press release.

The announcement came after the Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment finding no significant environmental effects from the proposed changes, which will include a road diet and intersection and trail upgrades.

Once work is done, the parkway will be reduced to one southbound travel lane between Mount Vernon and Belle View Boulevard and one northbound lane between Mount Vernon and Tulane Drive. The Mount Vernon Trail, which is typically 8 or 9 feet wide right now, will be expanded to 10 or 12 feet wide in certain areas.

“The primary goal of the project is to enhance safety and reliability for users of the parkway and trail, while preserving the area’s scenic and historic character,” the NPS said. “As vital routes for both local and visiting cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers, these improvements are crucial for the continued enjoyment and safety of everyone who uses these routes.”

The affected portion of the GW Parkway covers about 8.5 miles from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate (3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway) up to the Hunting Creek Bridge south of Alexandria City. According to the NPS, neither the south section of the Parkway nor its drainage systems has had a “comprehensive rehabilitation” since it was constructed in 1932.

Other changes will include a replacement of road surface that the NPS characterizes as “deteriorated” and improvements to drainage and stormwater management.

On the portion of the roadway with a road diet, the plan is to set up two right-hand shoulders or, at southbound intersections, right-turn lanes. Plus, the road will feature a new striped median or center turn lane.

A number of intersections will also see updates intended to make them safer, including the ones with Vernon View Drive, Waynewood Blvd and the access to Tulane Drive, Belle View Blvd and Morningside Lane. A study of crashes on GW Parkway in 2005-2015 and 2018-2019 revealed crashes were most severe at intersections with those roadways, mostly due to vehicle speeds.

Select intersections will also get crosswalks.

The NPS-administered portions of the Mount Vernon Trail will also see stormwater management improvements. Four trail bridges will be replaced, and repairs are planned for 29 more.

The planned trail widening comes nearly four years after NPS finished a study that determined the trail is “relatively narrow by modern standards.”

A full construction schedule and traffic management plan will come after initial design work and planning, but NPS documents indicate that the trail will remain usable to pedestrians and cyclists during construction. Closed sections will be serviced by alternate routes and temporary detours.

The affected section of the GW Parkway may see temporary lane closures, and access to its “recreational, natural, and cultural areas” may be restricted during construction, per the environmental assessment for the project.

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