Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Open Letter To Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Feds, DDOT and Congress

Dear Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, The U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Authority and Members of the U.S. Congress;

It is good that the proposed temporary closure of the I-395 segment was averted for the construction of the Capitol Crossing I-395 Air Rights Project..

But are you aware that the Capital Crossing I-395 Air Rights Project PERMANENTLY shuts off 50% of the  I-395 right of way?

 Capitol Crossing Center Leg Right of Way PINCH
Perhaps not, as that fact has not been reported in any of the newspaper or real estate cheerleader web sites.  This includes so far the site Greater, Greater Washington.

That freeway was designed and built with a 8 lane right of way plus shoulders.

I-395 Center Leg showing extra capacity

That includes its northern tunnel segment, built from 1975 to 1978, but unopened until a 1983-1986 finishing project was completed, after the cancellation of the extensions.  Hence it includes non-load bearing walls to block off the extra space for storage space for such things as the Lions from the Taft Bridge.  Supposedly I-395 is to end simply at New York Avenue, dumping its traffic there.  That can be seen by an aerial showing the expansion joints upon K Street that mark off its 4 lane southbound, 5 lane northbound and one lane northbound on-ramp.

Note the expansion joints showing the true capacity potential

Non load-bearing wall- I-395 northbound

That is because the Center Leg was not supposed to simply end at New York Avenue making that road itself the main artery.

 Northern Center Leg Tunnel with connections to the northeast and to the west.

Rather it was to have continuations.

I-395 was to continue as planned through the 1970s alongside New York Avenue, previously being designated as I-95.

And there was to be a freeway heading due west as an extension of I-66.

Planning for these urban highways dated back at least to 1955 for plans that were largely unpopular for their potential building displacement and permanent impacts.

The original 1955 Plan

Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis (ECTC) poster 
showing the 1955 Center Leg-North Leg routing, 
plus the highly politicized and sabotaged B&O North Central Freeway

Above ECTC poster close-up of names showing Marion Barry

However the design of the built northernmost Center Leg segment was to accomodate later plans designed to largely avoid these displacement problems and to avoid the permanent disruptions via being built as cut and cover tunnels.

The crosstown I-66 link by the mid to late 1960s has been envisioned as a tunnel entirely beneath K Street for most of its length, with its western connection beneath Washington Circle and a brief stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue: a plan initially promoted by opponents of the 1955 plan such as Elizabeth Rowe.

The I-395/I-95 continuation meanwhile had been redesigned to a cut and cover tunnel starting  alongside New York Avenue, limiting a cutting of a new swath for the 3 to 4 block segment from 4th Street NW to North Capitol Street and 1st Street NE displacing about 600 dwellings (those between North Capital and 1st Street NE were torn down under the administration of Anthony Williams), plus 148 for the I-66 connection westward to Mt Vernon Square.   These were the plans featured in the November 1971 DeLeuw, Cather and Harry Weese study "District of Columbia Interstate Highway System".

Center Leg-North Leg Interchange
DeLeuw, Cather, with Harry Weese "District of Columbia Interstate System" November 1971

These extensions avoided almost all of the displacement of the 1955 planning.

Yet they were 'demapped' during the 1970s.  That was primarily for the sake of jumpstarting the funding for the WMATA rail system which had been design together with the freeway system, along with two other ideas: that private automobiles would become obsolete by the 1990s when it was envisioned that the world was going to run out of petroleum (with zero consideration of alternative fuels nor electric propulsion); and assuming that Virginia was not going to build their inside the Beltway segment of I-66 which was in fact completed and opened by 1982.

In the years since, an alternative design for the I-395 tunnel continuation was promoted through the Office of the D.C. Mayor, Marion Barry, who himself was a 1960s era activist against earlier planning efforts, known as the Ron Linton plan.  That was for a tunnel not alongside but rather beneath New York Avenue, thus avoiding the 600 or so dwelling displacement of the plans in the above mentioned 1971 plans.

That plan featured a total of 4 lanes within a street right of way sufficiently wide to accommodate 6 lanes with shoulders.  It also featured a pair of one lane connections to the west into an underground loading and perhaps parking area of the new D.C. Convention Center.  This 1996 study additionally included consideration of new WMATA rail line for the New York Avenue corridor, as a shot of life for new development opportunities along the New York Avenue corridor towards the Maryland border.  Although that would also be true for a revived crosstown I-66 K Street Tunnel, such was not included, as the 1996 study simply viewed the right of way beneath New York Avenue only for I-395.

This 1996 'Ron Linton' tunnel was favorably received, but was formally allowed to languish owing to the idea that a nation as wealthy as the United States of America was somehow too poor to afford even such a tunnel beneath New York Avenue to the vicinity of Florida Avenue and the B&O-CSX-WMATA Red Line railroad corridor.  Strangely it did not even consider the idea of swinging this tunnel alongside New York Avenue in the area to the east, despite the ample brownfields area.

Even more strangely, an alternative design concept for an I-395 was never considered: one that would avoid the traffic construction disturbances of a cut and cover tunnel beneath New York Avenue between New Jersey Avenue and Florida Avenue NE without an alternative means of routing traffic, displacing as few as 33 dwelling (a 95% reduction from the 1971 plans) while providing vastly superior geometrics, and accommodating an I-66 K Street  New York Avenue Tunnel, that I devised as a private citizen: a tunnel arcing beneath the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and N Street and outwards as a double stack beneath O Street, taking advantage of the corner of the open recreation field of Dunbar High School.

The existing 2009-2001 planning makes ZERO consideration of any of this.

It even pinches the Center Leg median further than an unjustified restriction to only 2 lanes per direction by virtually eliminating the media shoulder.

It gives away this existing design flexibility to further maximize developer profits, simply assuming that there shall never be an extension from I-395, either to the west or the northeast.

Again- this permanent right of way constriction was not reported to the public by the news media.

Though the project was planned with the idea of keeping the I-395 open through the construction, it is like the developer was recently proposing its closure in order to largely prevent people from seeing for themselves the right of way constriction until completed.

That and the fact that the project's web site fails to show the portion of the plans with the right of way constriction further suggests such a cover-up, until it is too late to change without massive expense.

What is the public going to think about the lack of attention given to stopping the proposed permanent I-395 right of way pinch, following all of the attention given to the proposed temporary closure?

However, it is not too late- yet.

Suspend this project now, until it is redesigned to fully respect the sunken I-395 8 lane plus shoulders right of way.


Richard Layman said...

the row is way too big for the amount of traffic and need. That's why it's possible to cut the width. Currently, homeless are living in some of the right of way, which is an indicator of lack of use.

Douglas Andrew Willinger said...


You are being extremely shortsighted, thinking only of cramming more residences and other development into the city with little to no regard to transportation and flexibility for such.

You are seriously risking as being seen as yet another real estate developer shill, which is what many so called urbaninsts simply are.

Douglas Andrew Willinger said...

You have also written about the need for an underground traffic artery in northern Washington, D.C., yet you somehow can not see how such things ought to be connected.

Again, many so called urbanists are disconnected from reality that we need a connected transportation network including grade separated highways- and not simply in the poorest areas.