Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Washington, D.C. Big Dig

Construct a downtown underground Inner Loop with southern, eastern and northern spurs


Provide for a more comprehensive transportation network within existing urban area

Serve security with additional evacuation routes.

Provide full downtown Inner Loop “hub” feed by radial spokes serving the southwest to northeast, southern, eastern, northern, and western compass coordinates.

Design Principles

Use existing corridors and rights of ways with minimal displacement

Use underground design.

Maximize the benefit- flexibility in design allowing future additions

Staged Construction phases to finish one component for use before addressing another corridor (IOW avoid simultaneously construction on two parallel corridors).

Be integrated with classical Washington, D.C. planning, extending the legacy of the L’Enfant and McMillan plans, with roadways beneath new landscaped promenades improving local pedestrian accessibility, such as along the Anacostia River and replacing the existing divisive surface and elevated railways now trisecting NE with the Grand Arc Mall Tunnel.

Project would:

- replace the 14th Street Bridges.

- reconstruct the SW/SE Freeway underground from portal in vicinity of 14th Street SW, with c/d lanes for I-395 beneath G Street SW and 2nd and 3rd Streets SW/NW, extended to the northeast via tunnel with segment under O Street NW/NE to vicinity of railroad junction interchange

- construct the East Leg to RFK-East Capitol Street and then to the northwest as covered tunnel

- construct the I-66 K Street Tunnel with western and eastern approaches respectively beneath Pennsylvania and New York Avenues, with a Whitehurst Bypass Tunnel connecting to a Canal Road Parkway and a Three Sisters Tunnel to Virginia I-66.

- construct the proposed Kennedy Center lid with underground revisions that do not negatively impact operation ability

- construct a South Capitol Street tunnel connecting I-295 and I-395

- construct a New York Avenue NE tunnel along the railroad corridor, beneath a new landscaped lid alongside new development towards Maryland Route 50 via continuous freeway either via existing New York Avenue right of way as shown in recent DCDOT planning, or along the railroad.

- construct a WMATA Red Line/B&O Metropolitan Branch multi-model transportation tunnel lowering the existing railroads with additional capacity, with a new underground highway from New York Avenue northwards with a split at New Hampshire Avenue for a PEPCO continuation in Maryland to I-95, with the railway/highway tunnel continuing north, northwesterly to the Capital Beltway, with downtown Silver Spring and Takoma heavy rail in a new bored tunnel, and with the Red Line partially in cut and cover tunnel and partially along existing surface segments, notably the historic art deco George Avenue overpass. This serves as the foundation of a new landscaped lid that would extend southwards towards and architecturally integrated with the back side of Union Station, and extending northerly through the Brookland/Catholic University of America and Takoma areas: the Grand Arc Mall Tunnel.

Differences from earlier designs:

SW/SE Freeway fully depressed and buried, with c/d lanes for I-395 SW Freeway- Center Leg Tunnel and extension.

North Leg Re-Routed to minimize displacement of the vanguard of historic DC neighborhoods, while improving operationability, with routing shifting the eastern approach to the I-66 K Street directly under New York Avenue, as well as keeping I-66 and I-95/I-395 in separate tunnels until a point further east near the railroad junction. This latter tunnel (illustration below) would arc northeasterly beneath the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and N Street NW and the recreation field of Dunbar H.S., transitioning to a two level configuration beneath O Street before turning to follow New York Avenue. This reduces displacement from the 1971 design by some 95%, from 148 and 600+ respectively for the I-66 and I-95/I-395 North Leg segments, to only 34, while providing the gentlest turning radii of any plan over the 1971 plan and the 1996 plan which displaces 0 but has the sharpest turning radii wrapping around the back side of the Bibleway Church complex. This would be far less disruptive to maintaining traffic flow during construction then the 1996 plan.

East Leg primarily covered as tunnelway with waterfront segment beneath new pedestrian terrace, and “orb” interchange at East Capitol Street, with design including c/d lanes.

North Leg West interchange placed underground beneath new landscaped terrace-staircase to Rock Creek Park.

I-66 West Leg Deck with highway grade lowered and new parallel western carriageway.

I-395 Red Line/B&O Metropolitan Branch multi-model transportation tunnel “B&O Route”, Grand Arc Mall Tunnel, would place the railroad and the new highway beneath a new linear park that extends southward to Union Station, reducing the dwelling displacement in Brookland, D.C. from 34 (1970 revised plan) to about 14, with the southbound lanes in cut and cover along western side of railroad corridor, such as along the eastern side of 8th Street, with portal just south of Franklin Street. This would afford perhaps the most spectacular view through the windshield anywhere along I-95 if not the entire U.S. interstate system.

I-395 New Hampshire Avenue via full tunnel beneath field of the Masonic Order of the Eastern Star Home to new traffic circle at D.C./Maryland line.

Preliminary Staging:

1 Establish I-395 bypass tunnel along SW Freeway and Center Leg easterly to Maryland 50:

Downtown Route: underground C/D carriageways for SW Freeway – Center Leg respectively beneath G Street SW and 2nd and 3rd Streets SW/NW, with extension to northeast to interchange NE, plus the New York Avenue East connection to Route 50, the South Capitol Street Tunnel, and the extension from the SE Freeway at the Barney Circle Underpasses/waterfront terrace to East Capital Street.

2 Establish an east west cross town bypass tunnel connecting the Whitehurst Freeway and I-66 with Maryland Route 50 and East Capitol Street:

Northern East-West Route (North Leg): Pennsylvania Avenue/K Street Tunnel/New York Avenue Tunnel and Mt Olivett Road Tunnel to East Capitol Street, with improvements of added westerly carriageway, with grade lowering beneath a version of the urban deck design promoted as part of the Kennedy Center Access Project, connecting to a widened Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge.

Complete the Canal Road Parkway to vicinity of Foxhall Road.

Construct a Whitehurst Bypass Tunnel with a split to a Three Sisters Tunnel to I-66 in Virginia, and to the Canal Road Parkway. The area of the connections at the foot of Glover-Archibold Park and Georgetown University should be the object of a design competition.

3 Establish the SW/NE Gateways:

Reconstruct I-395 from Virginia upon new monumentally styled twin spans centered on the Louisiana Avenue axis going underground at a new traffic circle at 14th Street SW, with construction made easier with traffic diverted onto the already constructed new c/d carriageways

Construct the Grand Arc Mall Tunnel with the New Hampshire Avenue Tunnel spur connecting to the Maryland PEPCO extension to I-95

4 Fix that suburban east-west link:

Reconstruct the I-495 Capital Beltway with additional capacity for the I-270 connections largely buried beneath land that becomes part of Rock Creek Park, starting with its new carriageway just south of the existing Beltway

An option would be to supplement this with a largely deep moled tunnel for a Wisconsin Avenue corridor link

Cost Guess: $25 billion over 15 years
Stage able design would allow some defer ability flexibility.

Cut and cover tunnel construction disruptions to traffic would be minimized via top down construction, that is, construct a new surface roadway first and then excavate and finish the tunnel beneath. This could bring the time of the surface disruption to about that established planning groups would tolerate for such streetscape projects as the K Street transitway.

Volvo's Subliminal Message for Takoma Park
Grand Arc Mall Tunnel

Answering A Critic

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dig the Big Dig

By Michael Grunwald

Sunday, August 6, 2006; Page B02

Let's stipulate that graft is bad.

Spectacular cost overruns: Very bad.

Shameless pork, lousy oversight, shoddy construction: Bad, bad, bad.

Fatally shoddy construction, needless to say, is just awful.

And yet: Boston's Big Dig, on the whole, may turn out just fine.

The most expensive public-works project in U.S. history -- initially priced at $2.5 billion, now speeding past $15 billion -- has long been a national joke, an endless saga of tunnel leaks, corruption probes, scathing audits, patronage hires and politically wired builders with all the effectiveness of the first two little pigs. The joke ceased to be funny last month after 12 tons of ceiling panels collapsed in a Big Dig tunnel, crushing a car and killing a mom. There is no way to defend the negligence, profligacy and perennial mismanagement that have soiled the project's reputation.

But the low-rent scandals surrounding the megaproject have obscured its high-minded achievements: knitting together a city torn apart by bad planning, using highway funds to reduce rather than promote sprawl and harnessing the power of government to fix government mistakes of the past. The Big Dig is a throwback to a time when Americans cared about cities, and their government tried to achieve big things that didn't require the invasion of other countries.

The Big Dig, in essence, is a bipartisan effort to undo some of the damage of urban renewal. In the 1950s, well-intentioned planners bulldozed 1,000 homes and businesses to clear a path for the Central Artery elevated highway, an ugly gash through the heart of Boston that cut off the city from its waterfront. It was supposed to eliminate blight and traffic, but it had precisely the opposite effect, creating a rusty eyesore that quickly became one of America's most congested strips of asphalt.

The Big Dig demolished the Central Artery and diverted its traffic beneath the city, an engineering feat that has been chronicled in PBS and Discovery Channel documentaries. (It was done without shutting down the city, which was like performing open-heart surgery on a patient running a marathon. And all affected homes and businesses were compensated -- sometimes excessively so.) The expressway eventually will be replaced by a ribbon of urban parkland, but its absence has already reconnected the city to its long-abandoned waterfront, which is experiencing a renaissance. The project also includes a tunnel to Logan International Airport, a gorgeous bridge over the Charles River and a slew of transit projects, including new commuter rail lines to the suburbs and better subway connections within the city. And the project has transported 3.5 million cubic yards of fill to a Boston Harbor garbage dump called Spectacle Island, which has been transformed into a 121-acre recreational jewel, featuring a marina, two beaches, five miles of hiking trails and 28,000 trees.

Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor whose administration conceived the Big Dig in the 1970s, recently spent his 43rd wedding anniversary on Spectacle Island with his wife, Kitty. When he ran for president in 1988, Dukakis was often caricatured as a passionless automaton, but he didn't sound like that when he talked about the old dump. "Oh, it's a magnificent place," he said. "They've built up a real hill on the island, so you've got this incredible 360-degree view of the harbor. And it just sparkles."

It is instructive to compare the Big Dig with the recent $286 billion federal highway bill, a porkfest that focused mostly on new roads that promote sprawl in rural areas and end up increasing traffic congestion. The Big Dig is a porkfest, too -- it never would have started if the late Massachusetts Democrat Tip O'Neill hadn't been House speaker. But it will improve a highway that people already use, while reducing traffic bottlenecks through improved design and the accompanying mass-transit expansion. And it will promote smart growth instead of sprawl, generating jobs, housing and cultural amenities that won't depend on cars in the underutilized Boston waterfront.

The Big Dig, in other words, represents an embrace of the city at a time when skyrocketing gas prices and global warming are making the march of exurbia unsustainable. The project has also removed the city's worst eyesore, and reconnected its core to neighborhoods that were isolated by the Artery.

Fifteen billion dollars is still a huge amount to pay. (Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, once suggested that it would be cheaper to raise the city than to depress the Artery.) It's worth asking whether the Big Dig's remarkable streak of overruns, indictments and construction fiascos -- the most symbolic was probably the mysterious odor that forced toll collectors to wear gas masks for a while -- was inevitable for such a gigantic government undertaking. It is not a coincidence that "big government" has such a sketchy reputation. Last week, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) apologized for making a racially insensitive comparison after he called the Big Dig a "tar baby," though no one disputed his point about the political danger of big-government projects.

But the moon mission was a big-government project, too, and that worked out all right. Those sparkling waters off Spectacle Island are the direct result of another big-government project, the $4 billion Boston Harbor cleanup, which was finished on time and under budget -- though not quite fast enough to inoculate Dukakis from George H.W. Bush's filthy-harbor ads in 1988. And there are still plenty of big-government projects with worthy goals in the works, such as the restoration of the Everglades and the reconstruction of New Orleans.

Those multibillion-dollar megaprojects are off to difficult starts as well, and in this era of small-government rhetoric and big-government spending, it's important to try to figure out why. Dukakis blames the Big Dig's problems on lax oversight of private contractors by Republican governors who didn't really believe in government. Others suggest that the project's problems flowed naturally from its grandiose design.

The larger point is that those problems will eventually be overshadowed by Boston's remarkable face-lift. Nobody remembers how much the moon mission cost, or whether it overshot its budget.

We remember that it achieved something big.

Michael Grunwald is a Washington Post staff writer.