D.C. Council wants to buy Georgetown's trolley trestle and turn it into a trail Lawmakers proposed making the crumbling structure into a part of a new paved trail connecting Georgetown to the Palisades.
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D.C. Council wants to buy Georgetown's trolley trestle and turn it into a trail

The trestle has sat unused and in poor condition for years. DDOT/DDOT hide caption

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The D.C. Council's transportation committee wants to buy a condemned and dilapidated relic of D.C.'s street car network — Georgetown's trolley trestle bridge — and turn it into a multi-use trail. (Talk about a tongue twister!)

In their mark-up of the fiscal year 2024 budget, the committee, chaired by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, proposed using $500,000 from the D.C. Department of Transportation's trails project to purchase the rundown Foundry Branch Trolley Trestle near Glover-Archbold park, and make it a part of a new paved trail that would run from the trestle to the southernmost post of Arizona Avenue NW.

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If the project came to fruition as the Council has suggested, it would fulfill years of advocacy from residents who want a revitalized, bikeable, and walkable trail connecting Georgetown to the Palisades. It'd also probably (predictably) draw opposition from a vocal group of residents, who have pushed back against the trolley's revitalization in the past, arguing "paving paradise" would compromise the privacy of homeowners along the trail.

The Foundry Branch Trolley Trestle, as it exists currently, is hidden in an overgrowth of branches and roots in Foundry Branch Valley Park. Originally constructed in 1896 as a part of the D.C. Street Car line running from Georgetown to Glen Echo, Maryland, the bridge carried the cars over the Foundry Branch stream. It hasn't run since 1960, and its condition has deteriorated over the decades — to the point where, in 2016, the National Park Service barred pedestrians and cyclists from using the path under the bridge for fear of it collapsing. A Metro inspection in 2018 concluded it was in "imminent risk of collapse."

Metro inherited the bridge in a 1997 lawsuit settlement with the owner of the D.C. street car system. Since then, the agency has reluctantly owned the crumbling structure and tried (unsuccessfully) to sell or donate it. In 2018, the agency tried to demolish it but was denied a raze permit by the D.C. Historic Review Board. Then there was another set back last fall, when a D.C. Court of Appeals vacated a 2019 city decision that would have allowed Metro to destroy the structure. According to a Washington Post article from September 2022, DDOT also had no interest in the structure at the time, saying the bridge was in such poor shape that it was no longer "of interest to DDOT to acquire" it.

Spokespeople for Ward 3 Councilmember Matt Frumin, who sits on the council's transportation committee, said they are also unsure of DDOT's current position on the bridge — but they are convinced the bridge can be saved.

In the mark-up, the committee argued the bridge conversion was necessary to connect biking and walking trails to the forthcoming MacArthur High School — a new D.C. Public School slated to open this fall at the former Georgetown Day School.

"This project, combined with existing funding for the Arizona Avenue pedestrian bridge and trails, would fill key gaps in the pedestrian and cycle routes in Ward 3 and provide an accessible bike route to the new MacArthur High School," reads the committee's budget memo.

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