Both Sides Sound Off on Road Reopening

By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 9, 2008

A D.C. Council committee heard arguments last night from dozens of District residents during a public roundtable on a recent vote to keep Klingle Road closed in Northwest Washington, an issue that remains as hotly contested as when the east-west connector was closed 17 years ago.

The council chambers were filled to near capacity for the roundtable, called by Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), head of the Public Works and Environment Committee and a staunch proponent of reopening the seven-tenths-mile roadway.

On April 30, the committee voted 3 to 2 to stop Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's $2 million proposal to begin restoring the route. Money for the project was included in the $5.7 billion budget plan proposed by Fenty (D). The budget is scheduled for a council vote Tuesday.

The debate over Klingle Road has continued for much of the 17 years since the road was first closed because of drainage and other problems. In 2003, the D.C. Council voted 8 to 5 to reopen a part of Klingle Road linking neighborhoods on either side of Rock Creek Park.

Graham, who was surprised by the committee's April 30 vote, said during last night's meeting that "a hastily called roundtable" was no substitute for the more deliberative process that led a previous council to vote to reopen the road.

Klingle Road is viewed as a way to relieve traffic congestion for residents of two wards east of the park, Graham's ward and Ward 4. Ward 4 is represented by Muriel Bowser (D), who was also at last night's meeting.

On April 30, the committee voted to recommend using the $2 million to repair alleys citywide and to spend an additional $2 million in federal funds to improve hiking and biking trails in the area.

Supporters of keeping the road closed, most wearing green badges that read "Save Klingle Valley," filled the chambers and made up most of the almost 80 people who signed up to speak. Proponents of reopening the road, mostly residents from east of the park, accused council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) of circumventing the previous council decision and public opinion when she revived the issue.

"It appears that one single council member decided for all of us," said Laurie Collins, a Mount Pleasant resident and member of the Coalition to Repair Klingle Road. "As we continue to go north-south to go east-west, it's a problem for our community."

Cheh has argued that she acted to preserve green space and to represent the interests of people today, not five years ago. She said last night that she had a ruling from the city's general counsel that the council was acting appropriately.

"The council is fully within its authority to take this action," Cheh said during the hearing. "Everything we do is representative of our community."

Environmentalists testified that a repaired Klingle Road would harm waterways across the park and elsewhere in the city. Others said the more than $7.2 million estimated for repairs could be used for other priorities, such as rehabilitating alleyways.

"This is a very, very high cost for seven-tenths of a mile," said Brent Blackwelder, a member of Friends of the Earth and a Ward 3 resident.

"This is a real test to see if we can really trust the city to do what it is supposed to," said Gail Black, a resident of the Crestwood area, east of the park, who added that Klingle Road is necessary to relieve traffic in that area.

Opponents said that more roads equal more traffic and that the road should not be reopened at the expense of public park access.

"This valley is the jewel of the park. . . . You can walk the dog or just get away from it all," said Jim Dougherty of the Sierra Club.

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