Several hundred residents of Burke will soon be offered formal pedestrian alternatives to get to the Virginia Railway Express, as Fairfax County officials near completion of the first phase of paved trail connections to the Burke Centre Station.
The two-phase construction project aims to connect existing networks of forest trails in the Burke neighborhoods of Burkeshire Commons and Walnut Lane to the VRE station’s parking lot, allowing for easier pedestrian access to commuter trains.
The first phase features portions of paved connections from the station out to neighborhoods, according to Fairfax County Project manager Ken Lim. Running behind its original finish date of Dec. 1 due to cold weather conditions, it will be completed in the coming weeks, he added. The final phase is set for completion in April 2008.
The finished paved trail connections will measure out at approximately 1,700 feet, with two pedestrian bridges, according to Lim. The cost of the project, built with county funds, will total about $750,000.
"There had been no formal trail before, some of these trails had been used as informal foot paths over the years by residents," to get to the station, Lim said. "This is a project to connect a formal trail with all of the existing informal foot paths that Burke Centre had before this project."
THE PROJECT originally took shape in 2003 when Burke community members began to address a multi-level parking garage that was to be placed at the VRE Burke Centre Station, according to Fairfax County supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock). The garage, which is under construction, is set for an April 2008 completion.
"The feeling was that the more people we could get to bike or walk or jog to transportation, the less pressure there would be to make that facility bigger in the future," Bulova said. "The neighbors wanted to do whatever they could to avoid eventually getting a large monolithic [parking] structure at the station."
When a task force composed of area residents began to look for alternative options toward getting their neighbors to the station, their attention turned to the informal paths from the surrounding residential communities that led through the woods to the station.
"Originally, I had pushed for more bus access to the station as a way of getting some of the neighborhoods there without driving," said Kevin Morse, a Burke financial analyst who worked on various task forces to address the Burke Centre VRE station. "But when I started to look at [the trail], my perspective changed."
BY ADDING approximately one-half mile of paved trails and two bridges over small streams, the informal footpaths suddenly became a viable alternative to the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, Lim said.
"These people could see the station from their house, but a lot of them didn’t walk because of there was a stream and they couldn’t cross it," he said. "Without that trail they would have to drive outside their neighborhood, get on a major highway … and then pull into the garage, and a lot of people didn’t want to do that."
Allowing for area residents to reach the station by walking or biking was attractive not only because of its quick and convenient nature, but because it offered relief from rush hour traffic in the neighborhood for residents who didn’t use that station, according to Morse.
"Every car that is on the road is increased traffic for our community," he said, "and that’s why we want to keep as many cars as possible off the roads."
THE TRAIL connections were a relatively simple remedy and innovative approach to the countywide struggle to improve transportation options, Lim said.
"By investing very small, relatively speaking, we can address a large crowd," he said. "In this particular instance, we’re offering people alternatives to driving and increasing the capacity of the garage."
"We’re trying to minimize [traffic] impacts in terms of environmental issues and traffic, so we’re looking into every little thing that might affect the environment, and this was one way that we did that."
The expansion of the trails will serve area residents in more ways than offering easier VRE access, according to Bulova.
"Fairfax County already had a priority to add trails for its residents, so this was a way of getting at two tasks at the same time," she said. "Not only do they offer practical transportation alternatives, but they can also be used for recreation — jogging, cycling, activities like that."
The effort to address suburban transportation issues by providing pedestrian alternatives to residents should be duplicated in more Fairfax County communities centered around mass transit options, Morse said.
"I think this project will set a good positive example for the growing Metro community," he said. "Any time that we can provide people with alternatives to getting to work aside from driving is going to be appreciated."