Guest Post by ANC 6B Commissioner Brian Flahaven
The District Department of Transportation is moving ahead with an ill-advised plan to reopen the closed segment of the Southeast Freeway between Barney Circle and 11th Street SE, re-introducing a major barrier between Southeast Capitol Hill and the Anacostia River waterfront.
In January 2013, DDOT closed the Southeast Freeway connection between Barney Circle and 11th Street SE and re-started the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard transportation study. DDOT’s goal was to replace the freeway with an “urban boulevard” connecting I-695 to a new, fully constructed traffic circle at Barney Circle.
DDOT’s initial five design concepts for the boulevard essentially replaced the freeway with…a freeway completely separated from the neighborhood grid. ANC 6B, on which I serve, and Hill East residents voiced strong opposition to the DDOT design concepts, concepts more focused on moving vehicles than extending and adding value to the neighborhood.
At the request of Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, the Office of Planning has been conducting a “rapid planning study” to take a holistic look at the project area and to suggest ways that the project could enhance the neighborhood. In August, OP presented a number of concept alternatives to the community, each designed to make the proposed Southeast Boulevard a neighborhood road that facilitates resident access to the Anacostia waterfront.
Despite significant progress on the planning study, DDOT is moving ahead with plans to reopen the old freeway by the end of the year. Why? They have been hearing from Ward 7 drivers who feel that the reopened freeway connection will reduce traffic congestion on Pennsylvania Ave and I-295.
Thanks to a productive conversation I had last weekend, I certainly have a better understanding of the traffic issues and concerns raised by Ward 7 residents. A major issue is the poor design and layout of freeway ramps at I-295 and Pennsylvania Ave, where merging traffic leads to numerous accidents. But reopening the freeway connection will only encourage more vehicles to exit I-295 off of these ramps and will likely lead to more congestion on the Sousa Bridge, making it more difficult for Ward 7 drivers to even access the new connection.
In addition to increasing traffic congestion and volume in the neighborhood, reopening the freeway:
- Re-introduces a major barrier to the waterfront – The goal of the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard project and the broader Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is to connect neighborhoods to the waterfront. Removing the freeway and replacing it with a connected boulevard will help facilitate access to the river. Reintroducing the freeway does the opposite.
- Wastes taxpayer dollars – Construction crews are already working to rebuild the freeway using funding from the 11th Street Bridges project. These dollars (roughly $6 million) could and should be used to fund the final product of the planning and transportation study.
- Undermines better options being considered in the transportation and planning study – Once the freeway reopens, DDOT could be less motivated to complete the planning study or decide to postpone or cancel the study altogether.
Despite objections raised by many in the community, including ANC 6B, DDOT is moving full speed ahead with the reopening. That leaves only one person – Mayor Gray – who can direct DDOT to stop this bad idea. Please take a minute to contact Mayor Gray and urge him to halt the reopening of the Southeast Freeway.
The city has a great opportunity to connect the neighborhood to the Anacostia waterfront and correct a mistake of the past. Let’s not waste it.