7 transportation projects that would have changed Washington

July 30

The Silver Line was late and over budget, but it debuted Saturday to satisfied crowds and received mostly high marks from commuters. Its path to completion had obstacles, but $2.9 billion later, rail service to Reston is real.

Transportation projects don’t always end that way.

Commuters haven’t taken high-speed rail from Georgetown, battled Interstate 95 traffic in the heart of the District or embarked on a 12-minute helicopter flight from Union Station to Dulles. Believe it or not, these projects were on the drawing boards at one point.

While we bask in the success of the Silver Line, here are seven proposed transportation projects in the Washington area that never quite got off the ground.

1. High-speed overhead rail line from Georgetown to Dulles


A sketch for the high-speed rail line as proposed in 1962. (Washington Post archives)

Rail to Dulles is expected to open in 2018 with Phase 2 of the Silver Line, but 52 years ago, a local firm suggested construction of a 25.9-mile, high-speed rail line between Georgetown and Dulles. The proposal came months before the airport was scheduled to open, with a projection in 1962 for 20 million passengers in three years.

According to a Feb. 1, 1962, article in the Post, “The company also suggested that the elevated cars, with wheels to minimize noise and with a top speed of 85 miles per hour, could be introduced along existing main streets in Washington to serve as a rapid transit system.”

2. Slice of Italy on the Southwest Waterfront


This poorly reproduced graphic shows the proposed Ponte Vecchio-styled bridge. (Washington Post archives)

Local and federal officials endorsed a bill in 1966 that would have created a bridge over the Washington Channel to a planned National Aquarium in East Potomac Park. Officials were “long fascinated” with the idea of a bridge similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

“The bridge would connect by an overpass across Maine Avenue to a proposed 1,000-car garage tucked under a scenic overlook,” according to a 1966 Post article. “Tourists and aquarium visitors then could make their way on foot past the little stores on the bridge or they could ride on the little train to the peninsula.”

 3. “New Blue Line,” complete with Georgetown Metro access

The Rosslyn tunnel is clogged and Georgetown is missing a Metro station, so a 2001 proposal sought to remedy the situation.

Metro planners proposed a 22-mile Blue Line that would run from Arlington, under the Potomac and through the center of the District, ending at RFK stadium. The $6.3-billion plan also would have included 11 new Metro stations, including a station at M Street NW and Wisconsin Avenue in the heart of Georgetown.

D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, who represents Georgetown, called the plan a chance to correct Georgetown’s “tragic, major mistake” of shunning Metro access during planning in the 1960s.

4. Interstate 95, right smack in the middle of D.C.


The dotted line shows the proposed route of Interstate 95 through the District. (Washington Post archives)

When Interstate 95 was proposed as the backbone that would connect major cities along the East Coast, planners proposed routes that would slice through the middle of the District. The proposals took many shapes, including a 1961 proposal that would have meant an eight-lane freeway entering D.C. near Sargent Road Northeast, then crossing the Anacostia River and the 11th Street Bridge.

Earlier options sent the freeway through the Michigan Park and Brookland neighborhoods, just west of 12th Street Northeast.

The idea was left for dead in 1973 when the Maryland Department of Transportation dropped plans to extend I-95 from the Capital Beltway toward Washington. The action was a victory for those who had spent years battling proposals to bring the freeway inside the Beltway. (Interstate 395, inside the Beltway in Virginia, used to carry the I-95 designation, but now the eastern half of the Beltway shares the designation of I-95 and I-495).

 5. Interstate 595 in Arlington County

In 1972, Arlington proposed Interstate 595, which would have upgraded Route 1 to interstate highway standards for about a mile between Reagan National Airport and Shirley Highway, known now as Interstate 395.

“The I-595 project is intended to ease traffic congestion in the Crystal City area for drivers going from Shirley Highway to the airport,” according to a 1972 Post article. “The highway project would cost an estimated $20 million and its construction would be timed to coincide with continuing improvements to Shirley Highway and construction of the Metro rapid transit system.”

Less than four years later, however, county leaders pulled their support for the plan, saying it failed to meet transportation and air quality goals included in the original proposal. The move stunned the Virginia Department of Highway and Transportation, and the plan died.

6. Three Sisters Bridge over the Potomac


The design approved for a bridge over the Potomac River at Three Sisters Island. (Washington Post archives)

Various proposals over the years would have built a span over the Potomac River south of the current Chain Bridge. In 1967, D.C.’s highway department received approval for design of a six-lane bridge over the river at Three Sisters Island, roughly between Georgetown on the D.C. side and Spout Run Parkway in Virginia.

“We think this is what a bridge should look like,” then-Fine Arts Commission chairman William Walton said of the proposed 750-foot long, 80-foot-high concrete span, according to a Post article. “It will enhance the landscape.”

The same commission decided against a highway that would have skirted the Lincoln Memorial and tunneled under the Tidal Basin, saying it would have destroyed too many trees. The goal of the bridge at the time was to bring Interstate 66 over the Potomac, a task now accomplished by the Roosevelt Bridge.

In case you’re wondering, here’s an example of a design option for the bridge that also never saw the light of day:


One of the first proposed designs, in 1964, called for a single-pier suspension bridge with a large arch. (Washington Post archives)

7. Helicopter service from Union Station to Dulles, BWI

In the early 1980s, the Senate Appropriations Committee ordered a report looking into the feasibility of commercial helicopter service shuttling customers from the District to Dulles and Baltimore-Washington international airports. A 1984 draft report concluded that it made economic sense and recommended three sites for a D.C. heliport.

The report narrowed the list of sites to Union Station, coal yards at First and M streets NE, and a site at Maine Avenue and 12th Street SW.

“The fare from a city heliport to Dulles was estimated at $49 and to BWI at $51.50. This compares with taxi fare of $30 to Dulles and $38 to BWI, and a cost of $8.20 to drive and park at Dulles and $10.65 to drive and park at BWI,” according to a 1984 Post story.

Flight time to Dulles would have been 12 1/2 minutes. The report indicated more than 135,000 passengers per year would have used the service.

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