The 45-mile Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park Trail may be popular among area hikers, cyclists and joggers, attracting at least 1.5 million users each year. But the trail also needs a select group of rich or well-connected friends.

At least that's what Bill Silverman, president of the Washington Area Bicycle Association, will be saying to a select group of about 35 public officials, business owners and community leaders, including Virginia Secretary of Transportation John Milliken, at the organizational meeting of the Friends of the W&OD Trail later this month.

Silverman wants to form the public-private nonprofit group as a last-ditch effort to help the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which owns and operates the trail, raise $250,000 in additional funds needed to build twin bicycle bridges along the trail over busy Broad Street (Route 7) in Falls Church. Securing funds for the planned bridges has been time-consuming and frustrating, leaving the park authority short of the $900,000 needed to begin construction.

The parallel wood and steel bridges would span 16 feet in width and carry bicycle and pedestrian traffic in opposite directions across the busy east-west thoroughfare. As it stands, many cyclists ignore signs directing them to dismount and cross the street at a nearby intersection, opting instead to step out into the traffic.

Yet, as implied by the name of the proposed organization, Silverman also hopes eventually to extend the group's influence to projects along the rest of the trail. As he envisions it, the friends group could help the park authority by raising funds for specific trail improvements.

The park authority "is like any other bureaucracy. It has all these things it has to take care of," including 17 regional parks in six Northern Virginia jurisdictions, said Silverman. With a large-scale project such as the twin bridges that the park authority clearly considers a priority, the friends group could help the park authority do its job faster. Through the friends group, "the connection between funding and the trail would be much more direct" for private donors, he said.

The group also could help secure funding for minor projects that are not as high on the park authority's list of priorities and are less likely to be financed.

The two-year search for funding for the twin bridges project exemplifies the slow and sometimes arduous process that trail advocates and the park authority, which depends mostly on its six-member jurisdictions for financial support, must pursue.

Although the state, the city of Falls Church and the park authority each have officially sanctioned the project and committed funds to it, the effort remains underfunded. Silverman and other project supporters have spent many hours at hearings seeking more money from public bodies.

"We're at a standstill until the remaining money is found," said David C. Hobson, capital programs director at the park authority.

Private fund-raising is one of the few remaining options to meet the project's financial goal, Hobson said, and the park authority board, composed of representatives from each of six member jurisdicitions, has approved in concept Silverman's bid to help the bridges project. "The more time passes and funds are not available, the more difficult it becomes, because the cost {of the project} keeps going up," he said.

With state financial allocations to local jurisdictions seemingly on the wane, Hobson said, finding money for nonessential park authority projects is not going to get any easier. "When the jurisdictions are having financial problems, it has an effect, if not a greater effect, on us," he said.