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Despite expected tree loss, Vienna Council OKs new sidewalk project

Latest stretch will run on west side of Hillcrest Drive, S.W.
Walk or Wheel kids walking
/TBS Newswatch

A proposed sidewalk on the west side of Hillcrest Drive, S.W., has received push-back from residents in the past, but the Vienna Town Council voted 6-1 April 10 to proceed with final engineering-design work for the project.

The Council awarded a $72,950 contract to Urban Ltd. to perform the work. The sidewalk would run along the even-numbered side of Hillcrest Drive, S.W., between Meadow Lane and Kingsley Road.

The Hillcrest Drive project is among many being financed by the Maud Ferris Robinson Charitable Trust. Robinson, a former Town Council member who died in March 2019 at age 96, gave the town $7 million for sidewalk initiatives.

According to town officials, the projects are intended to link sidewalk sections into a network that provides safe, accessible routes and makes Vienna more walkable.  The projects will include new crosswalks and Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible ramps to help mobility-challenged people and those pushing strollers.

While the engineering-design report for the Hillcrest Drive sidewalk analyzed concepts for both sides of the street, town officials preferred the west side because this will save more trees and increase accessibility, said acting Vienna Public Works Director Christine Horner.

The town may need to remove up to 26 trees to accommodate the sidewalk, but public-works staff will work with an arborist to try to preserve as many as possible, she said.

“The town makes every effort to save trees,” Horner said.

The sidewalk will be approximately a half-mile long, which is lengthier than most of the Robinson projects, she said.

Council member Nisha Patel, who cast the only vote against the design contract, said she favored sidewalks but questioned putting one on that section of Hillcrest Drive. Instead, she indicated her preference for additional walkways in the more heavily traveled center of town.

The Council has yet to award a construction contract for the project, and town staff will continue engaging with the public regarding the sidewalk.

“I think there’s nobody up here who wants to kill trees,” said Council member Steve Potter. “We’re talking about resources in tonight’s discussion that promote the general welfare of the inhabitants . . . The door isn’t closed. We understand that this is a really hard thing to do. We don’t have a choice.”

Council member Charles Anderson said he does not believe in a zero-sum game between trees and sidewalks, and added that over time, the Robinson sidewalks will lead to an increase in the town’s tree canopy.

Mayor Linda Colbert said safety is the Council’s top priority.

“Sidewalks aren’t just for people living on the street,” she said. “They’re for the entire town. All streets really deserve to have a sidewalk.”