Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The threatened demolition of the South Capitol Street/M Street underpass

Imagine the government threatening to close and demolish the existing SCS underpass crossing beneath M Street., thereby placing all of that intersection’s traffic at an at grade traffic light intersection at M Street, while placing additional traffic lights along South Capitol Street at N and O Streets.

One will not have to image this to live it, if authorities go ahead with the recommendation of the 2003 Urban Land Institute “An Advisory Services Panel Report: South Capitol Street Corridor, Washington, D.C. Implementation Plan”

First Priority Initiatives

In order to accelerate the neighborhood development process, the first project recommended for South Capitol Street is to:

Proceed immediately with the raising of South Capitol Street to an at grade street with a 130 foot right-of-way from the foot of the Frederick Douglass Bridge through to the I Street intersection in the north

Proceed immediately with removal of the grade separation at M Street and the 100 percent corner, and with establishing at-grade crossings at all of the intersections.

In order to preserve the traffic carrying capacity of the street, provide for left turn lanes, either continuously or intermittently.

These initiatives can proceed without waiting for resolution of the bridge alignment, for the studies to determine feasibility of the under-river tunnel, or for the decision to eliminate any section of the Southwest/Southeast Freeway as an overhead facility and the restoration of Virginia Avenue. (at page 27-pdf) Any of these decisions can be made and the already completed section of South Capitol Street can be incorporated into the newer project. Meanwhile, the street can begin to function as a unifying center for the neighborhood, and can bring certainty to the landowners/developers on all the projects from Half Street SW to Half Street SE.

The schedule to close this underpass and to design its demolition may be as early as mid-summer 2006 – it is now June 28, 2006 – if included with the $47 to 118 million interim project to demolish the existing South Capitol Street Bridge land viaduct north of Potomac Avenue. The web site of the DC government offers no mention of the underpass demolition that I could find, while only mentioning the interim project to shorten the viaduct treated as a near footnote in D.C. Mayor Williams' announcement of the release of the bridge designs.

Second Priority Initiatives

The second set of initiatives which should be undertaken, while decisions are pending on projects with longer lead time, deal with reducing the length of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge at the south end of South Capitol Street. Altering the viaducts to land at Potomac Avenue instead of almost at the intersection of N Street will:

Double the at-grade length of South Capitol Street, creating more available street frontage for ground level retail or commercial developement, while stitching the neighborhood togther into a cohesive whole; and

Initiate the process of street improvement potentally as much as 12 years before it otherwise could begin (i.e. before the new bridge is in place).

While we do know that the $47-118 million interim project starts sometime in 2006, it is the second of these two projects to occurr under the prescription of this November 2003 Urban Land Institute report, which prioritizes the underpass demolition first, and the viaduct project as second.

Meanwhile, this report lists the bridge project itself as a 3rd priority.

The South Capitol Street Bridge Project itself was scheduled to release its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in Summer/Fall 2006, and has not yet appeared.

Should not the EIS be finalized before any of this demolition or construction starts?

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