The Board of Supervisors’ finance committee has endorsed a priority list of safety improvements at W&OD Trail road crossings and recommended that the county start looking for partners to help pay for them.
NOVA Parks, which owns the trail and the linear park around it, has an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation to share the responsibility for maintaining and improving most crossings. Those inside town limits are maintained by the town governments.
But in 2016, supervisors asked the county staff and consultants to examine the existing conditions of all 41 W&OD Trail road crossings in Loudoun. From there, they asked for a safety study based on traffic on both the roads and the trail. And now, they are recommending near-term improvements at 12 trail crossings across the county.
Some of that work has already been done. The highest-priority project, the intersection at Sterling Boulevard, has already seen some improvements by NOVA Parks, and the county’s Capital Improvement Program includes $7.7 million to build an overpass. The third-highest-ranked priority, the South King Street crossing in Leesburg, has recently seen work by the Town of Leesburg.
The remaining cost of near-term improvements on the other 10 crossings—including as flashing warning signs, tree trimming, and median refuges—is estimated at $2.2 million.
NOVA Parks has already expressed interest in making some of those improvements, potentially cutting the cost down to $1.7 million. If the full Board of Supervisors moves ahead with that work, county staff would also be reaching out to VDOT and the Town of Purcellville to propose sharing the cost of that work.
“Everything in here is really a short-term measure at this point in time, so somewhere we’re going to have to look at the long term,” said Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn).
A consultant study found the highest-trafficked crossing at Smith Switch Road over the weekend, counting 2,491 trail users on a Saturday in August. Ashburn Road was close behind with 2,309. Bicyclists were the majority of trail users, making up 84 percent of the people on the trail on that Saturday, and three-quarters of people on the trail the following Tuesday.
Those riders would be encountering a VDOT-reported average daily traffic of 2,700 vehicles on Smith Switch, and 8,700 on Ashburn Road.
Although the crossing at South Sterling Boulevard saw slightly fewer trail users in the study, it sees more than twice as much road traffic as the next-busiest road in the study, with an average 27,000 vehicles a day. It also saw by far the highest number of crashes during the yearlong study, with 18 reported incidents. No other crossing reported more than two.
The study also ranked highly the crossings at Hirst Road, Berlin Turnpike, North Hatcher Avenue in Purcellville, Dry Mill Road near Rt. 9, Hamilton Station Road, the Rt. 7 eastbound ramp at Rt. 287, Cochran Mill Road, and Ivandale Road. The Rt. 7 and Rt. 287 intersection is planned to become an interchange, with work starting in 2021.
To make that highest-priority list, crossings had to have a speed limit above 30 miles per hour or at least one reported crash during the study.
The 45-mile W&OD trail stretches from Purcellville to Arlington, 23 miles of which are in Loudoun. The W&OD has 41 road crossings in the county, including 16 grade-separated interchanges such as bridges and tunnels across the road.
Of the remaining 25 at-grade crossings, 10 are maintained by towns.