Fourteen years of waiting and still they gather in steamy auditoriums to argue which way the subway line will go.
Metro officials say every additional day of dispute increases the cost of the project and the chances the long-promised Green Line will never cross the Anacostia River and drill its way into far Southeast Washington and southern Prince George's County.
While Anacostia residents and District officials seem to agree on one line, a group of Prince George's County residents have been fighting hard for a route that has little support in the District. Metro officials held public hearings last week in both jurisdictions and the differences surfaced again. Some Maryland residents said they are ready to sue Metro--which would tie up construction of the subway line again--if they don't get their way.
Metro's original route map, drawn in 1968, shows a Green Line with stops on Good Hope Road, Naylor Road and Suitland, and a terminal on Auth Road near Branch Avenue by the Beltway in Prince George's County. But Metro's board of directors changed its mind in 1980 and opted for a route with stops at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Congress Heights and Southern Avenue, and a terminal at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's.
Southeast residents heartily endorsed the Rosecroft route at a public hearing last week in the Birney Elementary School. But Prince George's County residents who gathered in Hillcrest Heights the next day overwhelmingly supported the Branch Avenue route.
"Despite hours of hearings, months of study and years of debate, the Metro in Anacostia is no more a reality now" than it ever was, City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon complained at the Southeast Washington hearing. "I am deeply worried and angered over the clear and present danger that the Anacostia community will never enjoy the benefits of the rapid rail system."
Metro was forced to hold the hearings after losing a suit brought by Prince George's County supporters of the Branch Avenue route. A U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore ruled that 1980 hearings on the route change had been advertised improperly, and that until new hearings were held, the Branch Avenue route was the only one Metro could legally construct.
The Rosecroft route has received clear support from city officials, but it remains unclear which route, if any, can satisfy residents of Prince George's County. The county council voted for the Branch Avenue route in 1978 but a few weeks later decided to support both the Branch Avenue and Rosecroft routes. A few weeks after that, it voted again and decided it wanted the subway to run to Rosecroft.
Since then, supporters of the Branch Avenue route, led by Maryland State Delegate Lorraine M. Sheehan, county council member Sue V. Mills and an organization called Citizens for Branch Avenue Metro, have been fighting that decision.
Many of the county residents at last week's hearing complained they voted for an $88 million bond issue for Metro in 1968 on the assumption that the subway would come into their neighborhoods, and they spoke of suing Metro again.
"There are additional lawsuits waiting to be filed," said Paul J. Melucas of the Auth Road Citizens' Council. "Voters are upset that the votes of the people are being ignored. To me, that's unlawful and unconstitutional. If they want to change the route they should put it on a referendum and let the people vote."
City politicians and many Southeast Washington residents have watched with frustration as Metro's rail system has stretched up Connecticut Avenue towards Montgomery County while one of the city's most heavily populated and least wealthy areas remains unserved. They put much of the blame for delays on Prince George's County.
"It's been expressed by our board members and by the mayor that litigation that has emanated from Prince George's has caused this delay in the District of Columbia," said John A. Drayson, assistant director of mass transit for the city's Department of Transportation. "We're doing everything we can to resolve this problem, but the threat of litigation is hanging over us, and how we resolve this problem remains to be seen."
Metro staff members expect to hand a report, with recommendations, to the Metro board of directors this fall. Once the final decision is made, Metro is ready to start digging a tunnel under the Anacostia River.
If the Rosecroft route is chosen, the subway line would tunnel under the river at the Washington Navy Yard to a station at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, and head south past St. Elizabeths Hospital with stations at Congress Heights and Southern Avenue, and then into Prince George's County.
Metro officials say the Rosecroft line would displace about 265 people and 10 businesses, and would carry about 15,500 people during peak morning hours and 65,370 people on the average day. It would cost about $694 million to build, and about $28.3 million to operate each year.
If the Branch Avenue route is chosen, the subway line would cross the river near the 11th Street bridge to a station at Minnesota Avenue and Good Hope Road. The line would chisel its way under Good Hope and Naylor roads to a station at Alabama Avenue, and then join the Suitland Parkway at the District line. It would leave the Parkway at Silver Hill Road and head southeast to a terminal at Auth Road, near Branch Avenue just inside the Beltway.
Metro officials say this route would displace about 718 residents and 27 businesses, and carry about 14,110 people during peak morning hours and 62,740 people a day. Construction would cost $734 million, roadway improvements would cost at least $12 million, and the line would cost $29.5 million to operate each year.
A less expensive version of the line would follow the Rosecroft route into Anacostia, but would then veer east, following Suitland Parkway to the District line, after which it would follow the original Branch Avenue route. This would displace 76 residents, fewer than any other proposed route, would cost slightly less than the Rosecroft line, and would require fewer road repairs, but would carry about 1,000 fewer passengers a day.
Another route offered by Metro follows the Rosecroft line through Congress Heights to the District line but then veers east and follows Southern Avenue to Suitland Parkway. It would satisfy supporters of the Rosecroft Line in Anacostia and the Branch Avenue supporters in Prince George's, but at an estimated $808 million it would be the most expensive line to build.
District officials object to the Branch Avenue route because it leaves out the Congress Heights station. Drayson, of the D.C. Department of Transportation, said Congress Heights has one of the District's highest populations of people dependent on public transportion. "What we're saying in the District is that we don't care where the terminal might be in Prince George's," he said, "but we want the line to go to Congress Heights. It's vital."
William Washburn III, director of community development for the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit housing and business support organization, said the corporation opposes the Branch Avenue route through Anacostia because of the "extreme amount of disruption we felt it was going to cause within the community, and the fact that the original alignment seemed to totally bypass the section of transit dependent people."
According to Metro calculations, the original Branch Avenue route would displace about 634 residents, 25 businesses and four institutions in Anacostia, while the Rosecroft route would displace 192 people, 10 businesses and one institution.
Washburn said there is strong feeling in Anacostia that Prince George's is to blame for Metro delays. He said Anacostia residents worked hard to reverse the original route decision "but seemingly our work has been undone by people elsewhere."
Not all Anacostia residents are in favor of the Rosecroft route, however. Attorney David H. Cox represents a group of residents in the Good Hope Road and Naylor Road area, where the Branch Avenue route would run. He wants Metro to choose a compromise route that would use the same station on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue the Rosecroft route would use, but would then follow Suitland Parkway to a station at Naylor Road, after which the line would follow the original Branch Avenue route.
"My clients appreciate the Congress Heights problem," Cox said. "But in these circumstances it would seem to me more fair to the people who were told for 10 years they would get a Metro station to give them at least one station near to where they live and work." He said this route, which Metro calls the Suitland Parkway Alignment, would be "a reasonable accomodation of everbody's interests . . . no one walks away with nothing.