The people who live in Anacostia are T being held hostage by some Prince George's County businessmen. On the surface, the dispute centers on a lawsuit brought by the businessmen charging Metro officials did not follow the correct process when they decided the subway route through Anacostia into the county. In reality, the battle involves the location of the Metro station in Prince George's and the millions of dollars in revenue it will generate.
In the battle, the businessmen have plunged into jeopardy the entire Green Line that is supposed to link Anacostia with the rest of the city. As a result, a subway desperately needed by the people of Southeast Washington has become the ransom, and the needs of the people are being mightily overlooked. This is one ransom note that ought not be paid.
The tens of thousands of people who live in Anacostia are the most "transit-dependent" in Washington. In plain talk, that means they own the fewest cars. Right now, their only link with the rest of Washington and its suburbs are buses. Morning and night thousands of people scramble, packed like sardines on these buses, to travel back and forth across the Anacostia River. It takes them far longer to get to work than residents of Northwest. They need that subway lifeline to get to their jobs.
As Washington's highly touted subway system has spoked out over Washington and its suburbs, the people of Southeast have waited patiently--as people who don't know how to fight the system are wont to do--to end their isolation. They waited while the city Department of Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority struggled over different "alignments" and possible routes the subway could take. They openly voiced fears that the subway was only for suburban commuters, not inner-city residents.
After years of hearings, debates and struggles, the city and WMATA finally agreed upon an alignment, and the money was allocated. Enter the PG businessmen and their suit, which has resulted in temporary cancellation of all Green Line construction. What is their leverage, their pressure point? You guessed it--Anacostia, the section everybody agrees needs the subway most.
I think the city and Metro officials should not dance to this music. I think they should go back to court and push for Anacostia. They should tell the judge how important the Anacostia station is and ask him to let them at least build the subway out that far. This would get the subway across the river and link Anacostia to the rest of the city. The Anacostia community will then have to face problems of displacement and development that accompany the subway wherever it goes. But these cannot be avoided, and do not change the fact that Metro is desperately needed in Anacostia.
The dissenters in Prince George's are willing to hold out for years to get their way. The people of Anacostia should not have to wait.
I asked Lawrence P. Schumake, executive director of the D.C. Office of Business and Economic Development, about the idea of isolating the Anacostia station from the problem with Prince George's County. His response:
"The problem as I see it would be one of doing some re-engineering in order to make sure that the Anacostia station location is one that could accommodate either of the two Prince George's County alignments. It is my sense that technical matters could be dealt with, and since nothing has been constructed, why not proceed with the Anacostia station? If the judge would say, redo the planning so you can accomplish either alignment in Prince George's County once a decision is made, then the Anacostia station could be built regardless of what eventually happens in Prince George's County.
"The completion of the Green Line is one of the most important priority issues before us. We must coalesce to get the Anacostia station built to service the people who need the subway more than any other section of the metropolitan area. It would be a misfortune for the people living in Anacostia if we permit them to be held hostages in this struggle. The Prince George's people can have their death struggle over the final location in the county. But Washington and Metro officials should make a home-town cause of refusing to let the tens of thousands of people who desperately need Metro continue to suffer."