Direct Access Planned For National Harbor

About $500 million worth of road improvements are planned to help address the influx of visitors to National Harbor, which is to open next year.
About $500 million worth of road improvements are planned to help address the influx of visitors to National Harbor, which is to open next year. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007

Rising along the banks of the Potomac River in Prince George's County are swanky condominiums and restaurants, a tree-lined promenade, marinas, piers, offices, specialty stores and one of the largest hotel-and-convention centers to be built on the East Coast.

Transportation planners predict that nearly 10,000 cars will go in and out of National Harbor daily during morning and evening rush hours. And more than $500 million worth of road improvements -- including new ramps off the Capital Beltway, Interstate 295 and Indian Head Highway -- are planned to carry those visitors.

But despite the half-billion dollars' worth of improvements, which are becoming apparent to commuters snaking around the Beltway, neighbors in the nearby Oxon Hill community continue to protest that their suburban streets, already clogged with traffic, will become shortcuts for what county leaders predict will become a major tourist destination when the first phase opens in April 2008.

"Traffic is already horrendous," said Susan McDonald, a longtime Oxon Hill resident. "It's the people and the community that are held hostage. . . . I don't know what will happen when National Harbor opens."

Developers and county planners say the fears are unwarranted, and they note the efforts made to send traffic directly to National Harbor, away from the surrounding neighborhoods.

When completed, National Harbor will include 7.3 million square feet of mixed-use community space, with 4,000 hotel rooms, 2,500 homes, 500,000 square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space, and 10,000 parking spaces.

David C. Kersey, vice president and director of design and construction for National Harbor, said the rebuilding of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is key to easing the congestion. The reconstruction of the bridge includes $467 million for the expansion of I-295 and Indian Head Highway, according to bridge officials.

Interstate ramps will steer traffic directly into the development.

"It doesn't make sense" to think that local roads will see more traffic, said John Undeland, a spokesman for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. "People tend to logically follow the signs if they are in an unfamiliar area. . . . They won't hop off to try to find their way around."

Donna Edwards, who lives in Fort Washington and founded the Campaign to Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill, disagrees.

"To get out of the gridlock, people cut through on the local roads," she said. "Imagine what will happen when National Harbor comes. It will create more difficulty and stress on our community."

In addition to the work at the bridge, Kersey said, $100 million is being spent for roads leading into and throughout the 300-acre project.

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