Speak out for the Arboretum Bridge & Trail
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After 20 years, the Arboretum Bridge and Trail Project is finally nearing construction, but there are a few final steps where your voice can help show how valued this connection will be. DDOT and the National Park Service (NPS) worked together on the project and seek community stakeholders’s feedback on the final design. Show your support for this important project by January 12th.
The Arboretum Bridge and Trail is a project that will connect Wards 5 and 7 in DC for people who walk, roll, and bike. It will provide access to the Anacostia River, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, and the National Arboretum – also providing an opportunity for community members to celebrate the river itself. It will improve access to some of the District’s most unique outdoor places, and it’s an important step to creating better connections across the Anacostia River for everyone.
Want to learn more about the project? Keep reading:
This project is one of the final pushes in a much larger vision called the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. Launched 20 years ago with the input of more than 5,000 residents and supported by the DC Government and 19 federal agencies, this initiative to revitalize the Anacostia Waterfront included efforts to clean the river, build new parks and facilities, create more commercial centers, improve residential neighborhoods, and build multi-modal transportation options including the Anacostia River Trail. The Arboretum Bridge and Trail project is one of the final remaining segments to be completed from the larger plan.
The Arboretum Bridge and Trail Project has been underway for more than a decade. The initial environmental assessment occurred in 2011. DDOT and the National Park Service began the design process in 2017 and there have been public meetings on the project in 2019 and 2023 including October 2023 (meeting record). During a comment period in 2019, 347 individuals commend with support for the project, 112 opposed, and 2 were neutral.
Weighing in now, by January 12th, will help the project team demonstrate broad community support when they present the final project plans to the National Capital Planning Commission, which reviews projects on federal land.
Connection is the main focus of this project. Currently, to cross the river without this bridge, people have to travel from Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens either 1.5 miles south, to Benning Road, or 2.5 miles north, to the pedestrian bridge at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. These distances make it impractical and difficult for residents of Eastland Gardens, Kenilworth, or Deanwood to walk or bike across the Anacostia River. If you’re traveling by personal vehicle, those distances might add just a few minutes, but if you’re on foot or bike, the time and distance add up.
With an additional, safer, more convenient connection, even more people will have the option to use the trails to get to jobs, schools, run errands, and other destinations in Ward 5 or Ward 7, or beyond, in addition to using the trail to enjoy the natural resources at the Anacostia River, National Arboretum, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, and more. DDOT trail user data show that hundreds of people already use the Anacostia River Trail every day:
- At the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, about 350 (349) people are recorded on the trail on an average weekday and nearly 700 (698) on each weekend day, with a peak of 1,730 people on the trail on a Saturday in November 2022.
- At Deane Avenue, nearly 300 (283) people are recorded on the trail on an average weekday, with an average of 535 people each weekend day, with a peak of more than 1,500 people on the trial on a Saturday in November 2022.
During years of public engagement during the project planning process, NPS and DDOT have heard from hundreds of community members and have worked to address concerns. Notably, NPS and DDOT have revisited and modified the plans for the bridge to account for and to accommodate community concerns. Excepts included below are from the Arboretum Bridge and Trail FAQs 2023-11-09.
- Location of the bridge: The Anacostia Waterfront Framework Plan from 2003 first identified the need for a pedestrian bridge at this location to connect trails on both sides of the river, and the proposed alignment is in accordance with moveDC, DC’s 2014 transportation master plan, which is the result of multiple planning studies that carefully vet needs and feasibility.
- Why a clear span bridge is not being pursued: A clear span, meaning a bridge supported only on abutments and having no intermediate piers, is not feasible at this site for several reasons.
- First, the Environmental Assessment states that a high profile clear span bridge would be highly visible and would be inappropriate in a park setting. The US Commission of Fine Arts has also made strong objections to large structures that would visually compete against the park setting. They are in support of the currently proposed option as it best compliments the natural setting.
- Second, the bridge is constrained by the close proximity to the US Arboretum on the west and trail alignment on the east. A clear span would require much larger abutments to be placed on the river banks and would require much larger construction equipment on the river banks and within the river.
- Finally, the currently proposed bridge is designed to minimize excavation (especially in the landfill) to protect the natural environment from potential pollution reaching the river. A larger clear span bridge would have significantly more area of impact to the environment and landfill.
- Debris build-up and siltation: The design team’s hydrological and hydraulic analysis determined that the bridge piers would have minimal impact on river velocity, and therefore any change in sediment would be insignificant…
In addition, DOEE’s Anacostia River Sediment Project is currently investigating remedial and restoration efforts to treat sediment in the river. This effort includes gathering information from all river users to help establish a recreational depth for the river. It should also be noted that the United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) Baltimore District’s Potomac and Anacostia Rivers Drift Collection and Removal Unit operates out of dock facilities adjacent to the Washington, DC, Navy Yard and conducts year-round drift removal operations.
- Impact on the environment and wildlife: The bridge is designed in conformance with the approved Environmental Assessment (EA) (December 2011) and FONSI (June 2012). The EA states that the project would result in short-term minor adverse impacts on wildlife during the construction period and long-term minor adverse impacts during the operation of the trail due to increased visitor accessibility. The EA states that following construction activities, it is expected that any displaced species would likely return to the area.
Construction of the proposed trail through areas that are currently undisturbed natural wildlife habitat would result in the loss of those habitats; however, impacts would be minor because of the relatively small area being affected when compared to Anacostia Park as a whole. Additionally, the EA states that there would be short-term minor adverse impacts on those species inhabiting wetland areas that lie within the footprint of the trail… The EA requires that avoidance and minimization measures shall be applied throughout the project design and construction to reduce impacts on sensitive resources. As a result, the trail will be routed to minimize disrupting existing trees and will be landscaped with native plants. Final site restoration shall include seeding all pervious areas that were disturbed by construction.
Another concern we’ve heard is that the current project doesn’t go far enough because it ends at the Arboretum Gate. However, trails in DC are often built sequentially. That has been the case for the Anacostia River Trail. Though the Arboretum Bridge and Trail project does end at the Arboretum Gate, DDOT is already working on the early stages of a trail project to connect the Arboretum Bridge to Maryland Avenue NE.
Another DDOT project currently being examined, the New York Avenue NE Streetscape and Trail Concept, will improve pedestrian facilities, bicycle accommodations, and safety along New York Avenue NE between Florida Avenue NE and Bladensburg Road NE, connecting with the Metropolitan Branch Trail at NoMa-Gallaudet Metro Station and the Arboretum. Additionally, a trail will be provided connecting the Fort Lincoln neighborhood with the ART in the vicinity of the New York Avenue NE/US-50 bridge. This project is currently in design as part of the New York Avenue Bridge improvements project. These separate, but connecting projects will continue to add important safe routes for people walking, rolling, and biking to get around and shouldn’t be cause for further delay this project.