More than four years ago, Sharon Lewis watched workmen fell more than a dozen stately sycamores outside her home on D Street SE in preparation for Metro construction.
At the time she told a reporter she was "very much for Metro," and that, after all, it had to go down somebody's street, "although everyone prefers someone else's."
Now advice to anybody living on a residential street that Metro has to come down is get out fast," Lewis said last week. "We stayed, and we have regretted it."
The mammoth pit that divided the two sides of the 100 block of D Street SE for more than three years is gone. So are the cranes, air hammers, sophisticated tunneling equipment, bulldozers and drills that residents say combined forces for 7 a.m. reveilles.
Front stoops are being positioned against doorways, brand new sidewalks and front walks of brick and cement are being laid, shrubs and fragile saplings are being planted to replace the sycamores and manicured hedges.
The street looks barren, with the kind of barrenness that marks a new subdivision.
That gaping hole, which cut about 70 feet deep under timber decks, is now the Capitol South metro station. D Street residents are pleased to discover that when they are inside their houses they can neither hear nor feel the subway trains that rush underneath into the station.
Despite the slow, steady return to normalcy, few D Street residents seem to be breathing sights of relief. Like Lewis, who has live at 134D St. since 1968, they worry about whether they will receive the compensation they requested for cracks and other damage done to their houses during construction, or whether more damage will show up in the future.
"I don't know what prompted residents to express worry about compensation," said J. P. Layden of Metro's insurance company, National Loss Control, a division of Kemper Insurance based in Long Grove, III. "They will be compensated for any damage caused by contractors during construction."
There are roughly 35 houses on the 100 block of D Street SE. Out of 12 D Street residents interviewed last week, one is bringing suit against Metro and subcontractors who did the construction, one reported that her home was not damaged, three are satisfied with settlements for repair of their houses and the rest are in the middle of negotiating damage settlements.
Many D Street homeowners are new to the Capitol Hill neighborhood. They bought their houses at relatively depressed price while Metro construction was under way, they said. One resident who lived on D Street 38 years estimates that more than half of the for the homeowners sold their homes or rented them to others during Metro construction.
Donald Sarles, an assistant electrical engineer to the architect of the Capitol, moved into 141 D Street SE after construction began in 1973. Now his house has steel girders in front and back and is wired together by steel corcing.
"Now nobody can tell what will happen when they take awy the braces," he said. "Unrelieved stress builds up. I think the plan is to back the braces away very, very slowly. Actually, I'm pretty optimistic about getting just compensation to have the house repaired."
Unlike most D street residents, Sarles claimed he enjoyed the past few years of Metro construction in his front yard, even though for much of the time he has had to enter his house by crawling through a front window or entering through an alleyway in the back. His door clamped shut when his house shifted during construction. The house steel braces were set against the house to stop the front from bowing out toward the street.
"The street was cut off so we had the added advantage of no through traffic," Sarles recalled. "Personally, I enjoy being on a construction site.The Metro people had some of the most sophisticated construction equipment I ever saw."
Next door to Sarles, house No. 139 is also braced by steel. Metro bought it from its former owners, who moved out after they saw the damage that was being done, Sarles said.
"They offered to buy me out too," he added, "But I want to keep my house and have it renovated. In the long run, I think it will be worth it."
The D Street homeowner who is suing Metro and wants to remain anonymous says Metro has offered to pay only 40 per cent of the damage estimates he submitted.
"I've had a structural engineer tell me to get my 2-year-old daughter out of the front bedroom because there's no telling when the ceiling might go," he said. "We've been without water for three and four days at a time in the winter, and we've had nothing but trouble trying to get through Metro heirarchy for simple information.It's been a real horrow show."
Leydon, of the Metro insurance company, said he could not discuss the suit, but he added that "sometimes estimates are submitted that include items not resulting from actual construction. Such items we remove from the estimate, or get a completely new and different estimate. Our purpose and goal is to compensate any owner damaged by contractors' construction."
Lewis calls living with Metro a "nightmare." She recalls days "when sitting on the commode was like taking a Disneyland ride," while construction workers backfilled and packed the earth in the chasm that is now Capitol South. Initial digging caused many of the cracks that appear in homes along the street, but backfilling caused those cracks to worsen, neighbors say.
John Ansley, assistant director of construction for Metro, says he has not heard of any incidents where backfilling worsened cracks, but that "it's conceivable such a thing could happen."
"I held my breath every time my kids approached that hole," Lewis added. "It took months to get a simple request like chicken wire put up. Nobody ever saw each other, because everyone was living out of the backs of their houses to avoid the construction site in the front."
"No compensation will be able to repay me for living the way we did for four and a half years," she said. "What is especially maddening is that we were constanaly told it would only be two years."
"At the beginning of any big job we tell residents the schedule for construction," said Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl. "But we also make clear that the real time may be very different from the schedule."
Lewis said her kitchen has sunk and pointed to a brick holding up the kitchen sink. Her next door neighbor, Jill Johnstone of 136 D Street said the back of her house has sunk, causing floorboards to pull apart and walls to crack.
"I know people on this side of the street," she said. "But our neighbors on the other side might as well have been four miles away all this time."
Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Jolly of 125 D Street said they have no problems with Metro, "so long as we get compensated for the amount we requested."
"Certainly it was no picnic all that time, but we thought that the construction workers at least tried to be as helpful as they could," said Sharon Jolly. "They were just doing their job, but they went out of their way to make things as easy as possible for all of us."
Evelyn Dubrow, a legislative director for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union who lives at 149 D Street, said her only complaint with Metro was that "their construction in front of my house caused my shoes to get muddy. But for two weeks, every day, one of the workers would go have them polished and bring them back to me."
Thomas L. Boone, a retired machinist's helper who has lived 40 years at his 138 D Street address, says his street is "beginning to look better than it did before Metro ever thought of coming here."
"When you set out to do a subway - no matter who said it was going to take two years - you have to expect it's going to take some time," Boone said. "I don't think four years was so bad after all."
He says his house sustained some cracks, but that "workers are doing a wonderful job repairing them. Metro has settled all right with me."
"When you see the changes that can happen to a block in 40 years, something even as big as Metro doesn't seem so bad."