New York Ave. Traffic Plans Spark Concerns

Shaw Coalition Redevelopment official Clyde Howard, left, speaks during public meeting.
Shaw Coalition Redevelopment official Clyde Howard, left, speaks during public meeting. (By Tetona Dunlap -- The Washington Post)
By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 26, 2005

Commuters through the New York Avenue corridor know about the heavy traffic. Yesterday, the D.C. Department of Transportation heard from the public on draft proposals -- including the diversion of traffic from Interstate 395 through a new tunnel and overpass -- aimed at minimizing congestion.

But some residents expressed concerns that an overpass project would detract from the look of the neighborhood and that traffic reduction would hurt businesses.

Mary Ann Wilmer, 66, who lives near New York Avenue in Northwest Washington, said something must be done to ease rush-hour traffic from I-395. She said it routinely takes her 20 minutes to travel three blocks.

Still, she said in an interview, the overpass "is not very aesthetic. . . . Those concrete barriers sitting up there -- I don't think that will do."

Transportation officials are proposing $1.2 billion worth of projects to ease traffic in a five-mile stretch of the corridor, which often is jammed by a confluence of vehicles from the interstate and neighborhoods. They said the area has nine of the city's most congested intersections, including New York Avenue at Bladensburg Road in Northeast.

"New York Avenue is a very dangerous place. We want to make it safe," Rick Rybeck, the Transportation Department's deputy administrator for transportation policy and planning, told more than 30 residents yesterday at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in Northwest.

Daily, 127,000 vehicles travel on New York Avenue as it crosses the D.C.-Maryland border, the Transportation Department said. Citing population increases and new development, transportation officials predict traffic will worsen.

Rybeck introduced a newly revised draft proposal that was altered to account for residents' feedback at previous meetings, as well as their concerns about the possibility of property being seized to create traffic circles.

The new proposal relies more heavily on what Rybeck acknowledged was an expensive and the "most politically difficult" option. Now, I-395 tunnels under the Mall from the south and dumps some traffic on the north side. The option would extend the tunnel beneath New York Avenue, and traffic would exit the tunnel east of North Capitol Street. The overpass would carry traffic over Florida Avenue in Northeast. The proposal also calls for routing through-traffic beneath Bladensburg Road NE.

"Taking interstate traffic off New York Avenue would give the thoroughfare back to the neighborhood," said Rybeck, adding that the reduction in traffic would make the area more inviting to pedestrians and bicyclists.

But some worried that reducing traffic might reduce business. George Galich, who leases his properties on New York Avenue NE to several businesses, suggested that the Transportation Department instead consider increased enforcement or more efficient traffic signals. "You're not looking at economic development," he said. "That's the problem."

Rybeck replied: "We're not eliminating access to property. We're moving away people with no interest in going to your property."

Transportation officials said the proposal also calls for small parks and new retail areas.

The District could finance the proposal by taking advantage of land made available by submerging the interstate at Fourth Street, Rybeck said in an interview. That land could be sold or leased, and the proceeds could help fund improvements, he said.

The proposal can be reviewed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, at the Sursum Corda Community Library and at the Transportation Policy and Planning Administration on the seventh floor of the Reeves Center.

Transportation officials said they expect to complete a final proposal by fall.

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