Hazardous abandoned bridge still forcing trail closure in Glover Archbold Park

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The bridge's deteriorating condition prompted the National Park Service to close the trail passing below it. (Mark Lieberman/The Current/June 2017)
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The trail beneath the Foundry Branch Bridge in Glover Archbold Park near Foxhall has been closed for the past 10 months, as plans have stalled to resolve safety concerns by repairing the deteriorating structure. Meanwhile, the agencies involved in the site appear to differ on its future.

The National Park Service — which controls Glover Archbold as part of its Rock Creek Park portfolio — closed a quarter-mile portion of the north-south trail last August, from the intersection of Foxhall and Canal roads NW north to where a side trail connects to P Street. Since then, signs posted at the trail entrance near Foxhall Road continue to warn that the increasing instability of a long-abandoned trolley bridge that crosses above part of the trail “poses a safety hazard to park visitors.”

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the bridge, announced plans last fall to reopen the trail by spring 2017, after conducting emergency bridge repairs and building a covered walkway to protect the Park Service trail underneath.

But none of that work has taken place. Rather, Metro has now indicated to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office and other involved agencies that it hopes to demolish the bridge, according to D.C. Office of Planning spokesperson Edward Giefer.

However, other agencies hope that plans for the bridge — a contributing landmark within the Glover Archbold Park Historic District — will go in a different direction, Giefer said.

“The DC State Historic Preservation Office has been working along with the NPS and DDOT to encourage WMATA to stabilize the trestle and transfer it to DDOT so that it can be used as a bicycle/pedestrian trail,” Giefer wrote in an email. “We are not aware that WMATA has made a final decision.”

The National Park Service is still working with Metro on constructing the covered walkway under the bridge, according to Park Service spokesperson Dana Dierkes. That project is expected to be completed this summer, she said.

Transit authority spokesperson Richard Jordan declined to provide details on plans or a timeline for work on the bridge, stressing that there have been no final decisions.

“We are working on a design solution as a temporary measure,” Jordan wrote in an email. “We will also continue to work with all interested parties to develop an appropriate long term solution.”

The former trolley bridge last carried rail traffic in 1960, connecting Georgetown to the Palisades and Glen Echo, Md. (Mark Lieberman/The Current/June 2017)

Jordan also declined to account for construction delays, but added that “various stakeholders are involved in discussions on how to proceed.”

A representative from the D.C. Department of Transportation, which owns the trolley trail portion west of the bridge, did not provide comment in time for publication.

The trolley line dates back to the 1900s, when city dwellers could ride alongside the Potomac River to and from the Glen Echo Amusement Park in Maryland. Much of the former route — which stopped carrying trolleys in 1960 — has become a narrow pedestrian trail, but the Foundry Branch Bridge serves as an eastern stopping point. The Metro-owned stretch east of the bridge, leading to Georgetown University, is overgrown with tree branches and weeds several feet high.

Palisades resident Brett Young has watched with dismay in recent years as Foundry Branch Bridge has fallen further into disrepair. Back in 2014, Young pushed Metro to commission an architectural study of the structure. The transit authority obliged that June, with architecture firm Structura concluding that a host of necessary replacement and repair efforts would cost approximately $2 million, while a temporary stabilization would cost around $800,000.

“It is recommended that a restoration program be implemented within the next three years to address noted structural concerns and to maintain the stability of the framing system and limit further deterioration,” the report reads, adding that until that happens “the structure should be regularly monitored for any changes from its present condition.”

On Sunday, Young showed a reporter several sizable wooden planks that had fallen recently from the bridge — and could have injured someone walking underneath at the wrong moment. The most rapid deterioration happens during snowstorms, Young said. Other curiosities at the site include a bicycle lodged in a tree atop the bridge.

Young has long floated the possibility of converting the three-mile trolley right-of-way from Georgetown to Galena Place in the Palisades into a 30-foot-wide trail with separate lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists, rather than a narrow path that’s periodically interrupted by impassable abandoned rail bridges. But given that agencies don’t yet agree on short-term plans, his proposal will likely have to wait a while.

Pedestrians have repeatedly pulled away fencing to access the closed portion of the trail. (Mark Lieberman/The Current/June 2017)

Meanwhile, the Glover Archbold trail closure below the old bridge has not been rigorously enforced. During a visit Sunday afternoon, several joggers breezed right past the broken fence, not looking up at the bridge as they went. The signs aren’t completely ineffective, though — one pedestrian walked up to the fence, snapped a few pictures of the bridge with her smartphone and then turned on her heel.

Upon learning of the fence breach when The Current inquired about it on Monday, the Park Service sent a maintenance crew to repair the fence, Dierkes said. The fence was also repaired “a few weeks ago,” Dierkes said — meaning it has been broken several times since the trail closed.