CHRS Says DDOT Has Not Made Case for Proposed Southeast Boulevard
Board Urges Use of Tax Funds for Other Capitol Hill Transportation Projects
by Larry Janezich
In a strongly worded letter to DDOT, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) Board of Directors told DDOT it has neither made the case for the $20 million Southeast Boulevard nor the case this is the best use of DC taxpayers’ money. The proposed Southeast Boulevard (possibly four lanes) would replace the closed sunken portion of the end of the SE/SW Freeway access to Barney Circle. Barney Circle would become an actual circle.
CHRS says that there are two other Capitol Hill transportation projects which are more important than the Southeast Boulevard, both of which, they say, need attention and funding. The first: improvements connected with the Pennsylvania-Potomac Avenue, SE, Intersection Pedestrian Safety Study; the second: improvements connected to the intersections of 7th, 8th, and 9th Streets and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. One proposal for the latter was the $30 million-plus so-called “Town Square Project,” This project, a favorite of former CHRS President and urban activist Dick Wolf who died last year, has been stalled since 2009 for lack of funds, despite a strong support group organized by the Barracks Row and Eastern Market area businesses.
In a related development, ANC6B and its Transportation Committee have begun the initial consideration the Southeast Boulevard issue. More than 20 people showed up for the ANC6B Transportation Committee meeting on March 13, mostly to express concern that their voices were not being heard by the city.
ANC6B Chair Brian Flahaven recapped what happened at DDOT’s February 23, Scoping Meeting which he said was the first step in engaging the public on this project. He said, “DDOT wants to hear the community priorities which they will then develop into concepts before coming back to the public for further discussion.” He stressed that DDOT is not advocating anything but is “throwing everything on paper for prioritization.” The recommendations resulting from the meeting could range from doing nothing to specific plans. Flahaven said he was disappointed that there was no talk at the Scoping Meeting about redoing Barney Circle, citing its importance to neighbors on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, and those residents south of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The proposed boulevard would be raised to grade level and provide vehicular integration with the adjacent neighborhoods between the 11th Street Bridge and Barney Circle. DDOT has set aside $20 million for the project and is looking for matching federal funds to complete it. The use of federal funds requires an environmental assessment, now underway, which may in turn require an environmental impact study. Also likely is a study on the impact on the Capitol Hill Historic District.
DDOT has floated the idea – subsequently endorsed by Councilmember Vincent Orange – to use the space under the elevated boulevard for a bus terminal for tour buses. This proposal in particular has alarmed nearby residents.
Orange is looking for a solution to the problem of what to do with tour buses bringing people to DC for tourism or other events. Crummell School in Ivy City once put forward by DC as a site for bus staging, is no longer an option, after opponents sued the city for reneging on a promise to make the site a community facility. Ivy City in central Northeast DC east of Gallaudet University is between West Virginia Avenue and New York Avenue. It lies in Ward 5 which Orange represented from 1999 to 2007.
Commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg’s ANC Transportation Committee will next meet on April 8. Oldenburg has stated that she doesn’t know whether the committee will weigh in with a letter on the issue. However, one item on the agenda is likely to be consideration of a response to what is seen as Councilmember Orange’s unwelcome intrusion into the dynamics of the concept development process on behalf of the bus terminal. Oldenburg urged residents to address Orange directly on the issue, saying, “the more people who get to him and say back off, the better.” Flahaven added, “Ten people going down to his office is a very effective way to get his attention.”
The environmental study draft could be done by the end of summer and could lead to the necessity of an environmental impact statement. A public meeting is currently scheduled for some time late summer, which may be optimistic given the delays which inevitably arise.
Any recommendation from the Transportation Committee meeting on April 8 (at 6:30pm in Hill Center) will be considered by the full ANC6B at its April meeting on April 9, at 7:00pm in Hill Center.