Saturday, March 10, 2007

I-66 North Leg West K Street Tunnel

I-66 North Leg West K Street Tunnel,
DeLeuw, Cather, with Harry Weese "District of Columbia Interstate System" November 1971

The K Street Tunnel was to be built beneath the existing 147 foot wide right of way K-Street with 6 lanes plus shoulders from Washington Circle eastward to connect with the Center Leg.

Overview: The I-66 K Street Tunnel was the end product of a search for a tunneled I-66 North Leg option with the best benefit to cost ratio, to provide this express east-west urban highway without massive building demolition or a localized separation of an open trench or elevated bermway that made the previous I-66 North leg proposal along Florida Avenue and U Street extremely unpopular. To see this earlier plan, see plates 1 and 3 at 1955-62 Plans.

Building this freeway as a cut and cover tunnel beneath the right of way that happened to be both D.C.'s widest east-west right of way, as well as being on a straight line with the Georgetown waterfront and New York Avenue, would be more cost effective then separate one way tunnels beneath any of the parallel and narrower streets, while eliminating the need for building removal for almost its entire length. Although more expensive per lane mile to construct then the preceding Florida Avenue U Street option, the K Street tunnel route was shorter and did not reduce taxable real estate square footage.

It was initially promoted by Elizabeth Rowe, then Chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission in 1965, who 8 years later would promote its cancellation "for all time" with the other un built D.C. highways to increase WMATA funding from 2/3rds to 80% in the wake of arguments that the world was running out of petroleum, hence, making private automobiles obsolete by the 1990s.

History: The K Street Tunnel first appears during the mid-1960s in the wake of the October,1963 establishment of a Policy Advisory Committee on the North Leg, which concluded that highway be constructed in tunnel to the maximum extent feasible, either as a 4 or 6 lane tunnel. 

Other tunnel options considered involved drilled (moled) technologies under parallel streets to the north, and were studied with access ramps that would have required some adjacent properties and building demolition. The route considered included parallel one way tunnels beneath Q and R Streets, in order to avoid potential conflict with the traffic circles to the south.

The first engineering study for the I-66 K Street Tunnel itself occurred in 1965 or 1966; it was conducted by Edwards and Kelcey, and included detailed functional plans at a scale of 1" = 200', but which never reached the report stage; as then considered it would run beneath K Street all the way to the Center Leg Tunnel (3rd Street Tunnel). The concept received favor in such Washington, D.C. newspaper editorials as the following of December 24,1965:
The new proposal to build a six-lane freeway in a tunnel under K Street Northwest, from the Potomac River to a connection with the Center Leg freeway near Third Street Northwest has several advantages which are immediately apparent.

It would preserve intact the essential concept of a continuous inner loop freeway system around the downtown shopping area. Indeed, its connection wit the maze of freeways in the Georgetown-Foggy Bottom area would provide a shorter, more direct route to the east than the alternative road location, swinging northward to Florida Avenue, which city highway planners have previously supported.

It would avoid completely the displacement of hundreds of families and of dozens of business establishments, which would be required along the original route. The width of K Street is147 feet. Since the right of way is publicly owned little or no private property would be taken. Since it runs largely though a commercial area, disruption to residential neighborhoods would be adverted. In terms of cash, the cost in all likelihood would be no greater than the controversial Florida Avenue route.

Most interesting of all, from the viewpoint of the politics involved in the inner-loop controversy, the new route was advocated by Elizabeth Rowe, the National Capital Planning Commission chairman, who previously had blocked any east-west freeway north of the shopping districts. By her adamant position, Mrs. Rowe had also halted progress on every other crucial element of the freeway system in the western part of the city, including Maryland’s George Washington Memorial Parkway and a new Potomac Rive bridge in the Rosslyn area.

At a series of secret, informal meetings during the last several months however, the half-dozen federal and District officials with the authority to make decisions on all aspects of he freeway network have been trying to reach agreement on a single package of proposals which would permit the entire program to proceed. That is the context in which Mrs. Rowe’s K Street Tunnel proposal was advanced- and it is the context in which highway officials have agreed to consider it.

To be sure, there are a number of questions as to the feasibility and cost of the K Street project which still require answers. The inconvenience and disruption along K Street, during construction would be enormous. The work would have to be carefully staged, so as to hold the impact to a minimum. The highway department contends the new proposal would be less efficient then the original route in terms of the city’s total traffic-distribution plan. It is keeping its fingers crossed on this point until consultant studies now under way are finished next February.

The new proposal, however, fully deserves the intensive study it is receiving- provided Mrs. Rowe and everyone else understands that it is only one part of a package of agreements which will break the whole freeway stalemate. That condition should be made perfectly clear. Piecemeal decisions on a single project are not good enough. The time has come now for agreement on this entire program.
The concept received favor in a Sunday, July 31, 1966 article in The Washington Post by Wolf Von Eckard, Freeways Enter the City.
Unfortunately, neighborhoods are easily disrupted and destroyed by plowing through them, particularly if they are occupied by groups with no great ability to bring pressure on City Hall.
It will be well to remember this for instance, when our highway planners approach Takoma Park, the ten-lane North Central Freeway would split this proud old tightly-knit and unusually diverse community right in half.

Frequently then freeways must be tunneled, an approach the high builders usually oppose not only because it is expensive, but also because driving through a tunnel is an unpleasant experience. Not necessarily so says Halprin. Properly designed, they could have all the qualities of a handsome environment. The walls might be lined with bas-reliefs and other works of art to be seen in motion, as the vaults of the Stockholm subway. Widths of tunnels can vary; light may be brought in from the top; and there might be vast underground plazas with shops and arcades, theaters and restaurants and, of course, parking places.

The proposed K Street tunnel, which will replace the [open depressed] North Leg of the Inner Loop, offers an excellent opportunity to do just that. It could become a model for others to follow- an example to the world on how America, which produced automobiles, learned to cop with them.
The I-66 North Leg K Street Tunnel concept was generally favored by groups involved with modifying Washington, D.C.’s road plans. Through the efforts of Elizabeth Rowe and others, the U.S. National Capital Planning Commission favored the K Street Tunnel to replace the preceding Florida Avenue- U Street. This was similarly true with the D.C. City Council.

Involving the most direct and widest existing right of way, the K Street Freeway Tunnel concept had much arguing in its favor as the shortest and cheapest route for a tunnel, but the existing geometric problems of its western and eastern connections. This was a stated reason for the D.C. Department of Public Works opposition to the K Street Tunnel, along with its lack of downtown access ramps.

Early I-66 North Leg West K Street Tunnel proposal
From the 1966 North Central Freeway Supplementary Study

(I have not seen information regarding how the tunnel beneath the K Street axis at Mt Vernon Square was to be achieved,
 either via removing the Carnegie Library, or by somehow going directly beneath that structure.)

Early Design Interchange Problems: The earlier designs carrying this tunnel strictly beneath K-Street from the Whitehurst Freeway to 3rd Street NW, presented geometric problems at both of its ends. At its west in Foggy Bottom, the I-66 West Leg/North Leg connections involved tight, even descending radii with some building demolition. At its east it would have required a large interchange at K Street and 2nd Streets that would likely trisect the area.

Planers got around these problems by more employing the L’Enfant Plan, particularly the easier angles provided by K Street’s respective intersections to the west with Pennsylvania Avenue and to the east of the New York Avenue. These basic ideas were in place by the 1971 study.

The idea for the connections from the K Street Tunnel to the I-95 Center Leg, east of Mt Vernon Square along New York Avenue, appears in a 1967 proposal from the Urban League neighborhood Advisory Council, which issued a proposal NEW YORK AVENUE TUNNEL-- A CITIZENS" ALTERNATIVE TO FREEWAYS
Residents in the near northwest, northeast, and Center Leg areas have developed a proposal to turn the Center Leg traffic into New York Avenue. This proposal has many advantages:

1. A K Street-New York Avenue tunnel route would handle east-west traffic.

2. This route could become the North Leg of the Inner Loop system, connecting with the East Leg.

3. The Center Leg would be halted at New York Avenue, thus
    -- Saving countless homes
    -- Keeping the Inner Loop out of the Shaw area
    -- Keeping the Freeway away from the new housing and community developments in Northwest I
    -- Preserving the site for air rights housing-- Protecting the unity of the northwest community
    -- Allowing proposed plans for the expansion of Dunbar High School to be adopted without threat of disruption.

      An eastern tunnel approach beneath and or along New York Avenue would provide a gentler east to north-east transition at Mt Vernon's eastern side at 9th Street NW, thus providing an ultimately more workable solution for connecting with, and for routing the Center Leg's extension via re-enforcing the utility of New York Avenue

      In order to tunnel beneath Mt. Vernon Square without disturbing the foundations of the historic Carnegie Library, it appears that the 1971 design routed both directions of the I-66 tunnel to this library’s north, including a portion now occupied by the Convention Center.

      Downtown Ramp Access: Working more with the L’Enfant plan with the superior geometry of its K Street transitions with Pennsylvania and New York Avenues, placing the western and eastern approaches allowed access ramps at both of these ends. Under the 1971 plan, the Pennsylvania Avenue segment had ramps to I-66 to and from the east for improving Maryland access to Georgetown, and to Massachusetts Avenue to I-66 to and from the west just to the southeast of Mt. Vernon Square for improving Virginia traffic to Chinatown. It may have had an additional ramp from I-66 just east of Washington Circle, which would have been feasible of planning had taken the opportunity provided by real estate building demolition and replacement that occurred anyway. It does not appear that any other locations for such ramps were even considered.

      Working with a Washington, D.C. highway system to feature an Whitehurst Freeway upgraded to 8 lanes to a 4 lane George Washington Memorial with an all new bridge crossing 1/8 mile west of the Key Bridge at 3 Sisters Island.

      Connection Considerations with other system segments:

      The I-66 K Street Tunnel, was the main part of a link with I-66 to I-95 and Route 50, and was designed as part of a system that was to include an improved westerly continuation, designated as I-266, via a Whitehurst Freeway corridor upgraded to 8 lanes leading to a 4 lane Canal Road Parkway, with I-266 continuing into Virginia via a new Three Sisters Bridge. Under the 1971 plan, the 6 lane – 3 per direction – K Street Tunnel would split to a 4 lane – 2 lane per direction – connection with I-266, with only a 2 lane – 1 lane per direction with the I-66 West Leg.

      As a replacement for the original I-66 North Leg via an open depressed route along Florida Avenue and U Street, the I-66 K Street Tunnel plan was criticized for its relative lack of down town access. Hence in addition to the above mentioned ramps, the 1971 plan included a "penetrater” road at its western end that would continue north to underpass Pennsylvania Avenue to met a traffic light intersection with M Street, and then to meet the surface street network at N Street and 24th Streets NW.

      Because of the need to avoid the Carnegie Library at Mt Vernon Square, the 1971 design had the tunnel swing to the north, overlapping with the Convention Center and to the east along the north side of New York Avenue. This connection to the east along the north side of New York Avenue, was where the 1971 design for the cross-town D.C. I-66 Tunnel had a residential displacement of 145. This was in sharp contrast to the destruction of 2393 family housing units with 8376 persons of the Florida Avenue/ U-Street plan.

      The project was designed in concert with the WMATA train subway system.

      As described in the 1971 DeLuew, Cather and Wesse report:
      From McPherson Square to Mount Vernon Square, an enclosed tunnel is envisioned.  The surface street would be restored to its present cross section.  Between Washington Circle and Mount Vernon Square, the tunnel would be built within the existing right of way.  Additional right of way takings into Pennsylvania Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue would be minimal.  Landmarks such as the Carton Hotel, Franklin School and Southern Methodist Church would remain intact.  Special studies indicate that the Mount Vernon Library could be maintained during tunnel construction, but only at a cost of several million dollars.

      The present surface configuration of K Street consists of a four lane main roadway flanked by two lane service drives with a row of trees in each separator.  K Street's layout is unique in the District and should be retained or restored.

      The 148 foot width of the thoroughfare from property line to property line is found on only a few other major streets in the district.  It was considered appropriate, therefore, to extend the three roadway treatment eastward from 2th Street to 9th Street at the western edge of Mount Vernon Square.  This area, as has been noted previously, is a high priority area under present public programs and warrants such a design.

      Parks which now project into the right of way of K Street would be retained

      Nonetheless, the I-66 North Leg K Street Tunnel became one of the first D.C. highway links canceled following the July 1973 cancellation of the I-95 Northeast Freeway.  This would be via a political deal to cancel it along with the far better known and highly controversial I-266 Three Sisters Bridge Project. In an article appearing in The Washington Post on May 13, 1977, Douglas B. Feaver, Washington Post Staff Writer wrote (at Page B1):
      The Three Sisters Bridge, a once locally famous proposed interstate highway project that was to span the Potomac River above Georgetown, officially was killed for the third or fourth time yesterday. This time it looks unusually permanent.

      Announcement of the death of a project that had long-since been regarded as abandoned by highway officials came from Mayor Walter E. Washington. The city of Washington, he said, has received approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to transfer U.S. Money from the bridge and another less-famous highway project to the Metro construction fund. The less-famous project was the K Street tunnel, which was going to carry lanes of automobiles across town. The total amount of federal money made available by killing the two projects is $392 million. About $344 million will go to Metro, the rest to other D.C. street and bridge improvements the mayor said.

      The Three Sisters Bridge - so named because it would cross the Potomac at the point where three rocks known as the Three Sisters are located - was to connect a branch of Interstate 66 with an un built District of Columbia freeway. The branch of I-66 also is now dead, as is the D.C. Freeway.

      Construction on the Three Sisters actually began in 1970, and about $1.2 million in work was completed before a court order stopped it. Before that court order, there were several days of media events - people standing in front of bulldozers, chanting, and making speeches about the ecological disaster of highway projects.

      Another popular rallying cry in the anti highway movement was that the Three Sisters and other now defunct D.C. roads would be "white men's roads through black men's bedrooms."
      According to the 1971 DeLeuw-Cather-Weese study, the I-66 K Street Tunnel North Leg would serve an estimated 88,000 vehicles per average weekday.

      Of this traffic, 32% would have an origin or destination within Downtown Washington, plus 14% cross-town traffic both originating and destined within this urban area, and 24% estimated to have either an origin or destination within D.C. further from the Central Business District, with 30% making trips between Virginia and Maryland.

      The K-Street Tunnel was seen as a central component in any conceivable D.C. Highway program, being included in every variant of a D.C. highway network considered during the later 1960s and early 1970s, and included in COG documents as late as 1977, rated as presenting the highest degree of traffic relief for any individual highway project, with significant extra capacity for at least the next 20 years.

      Of all the highway projects of the 1960s and 1970s that were canceled, the K Street Tunnel was by almost any indication the least controversial, having the greatest compatibility with the L' Enfant plan-derived street grid and hence its greater use and reconciliation of the existing environmental footprint. It enjoyed the early support of the D.C. City Council and the National Capital Planning Commission, but would not be the choice of the D.C. Department of Public Works until 1969-70, and the adaptation of the later designs for its interchanges at its western and eastern ends.

      However, the proposed I-66 K Street succumbed to a scheme to increase the Federal share of WMATA rail funding from 67% to 80%.. According to a 1976 Memo by Peter S. Craig, canceling the I-66 K Street Tunnel would yield $399.4 million in Federal funds and $44.3 million in local D.C. funds for a total of $443.7 million in funding WMATA.

      There would be no apparent consideration of the increased costs of not building these highways, nor of the failure to plan for them for a future date, as these highway cancellations would be then described as being "for all time."[!] Nor was there any apparent consideration of the I-66 K Street Tunnel's high degree of employing and serving the existing developed footprint, plus new real estate development east of North Capital Street along the brown fields along New York Avenue.

      "De-mapping" "for all time" -- the words of then DC Mayor Washington -- the I-66 K Street Tunnel would thus remove any requirements that adjacent projects accommodated it, such as preserving its easement.

      A 1976 Council of Government report simply concluded that:
      "The North Leg Freeway, or K-Street Tunnel, does not appear warranted on the basis of predicted traffic."

      "As can be seen in assignments for Alternatives 1, 2, and 3, the volume predicted for K-Street will slightly exceed service volume at level D. This prediction is without constraints. It is believed that with traffic management strategies, coupled with some change in planned development, K-Street can operate adequately. In view of the enormous cost of the proposed tunnel, the marginal improvement it would provide would appear unjustified. (Without the road tunnel, the Farragut North and Farragut West METRO stations can be linked by a pedestrian tunnel)." traffic management strategies [unspecified] coupled with some change in planned development.
      No mention was given to its many previously acknowledged benefits, such as its favorable cost benefit ratio over the original 1955 plan for not requiring massive displacement and for being a shorter route.

      No mention is given to the utility of the east-west utility of such a cross town tunnel connecting I-66 with Route 50 in time-savings and in directing new real estate development along Washington, D.C.’s New York Avenue corridor, nor even the logic of continuing the I-66 designation east of the Center Leg.

      Nor is mention given to its highly efficient use and encouragement of re-use of the existing developed footprint.