You would think that the Green Line, which is expected to be completed in the mid-1990s, would be some kind of railroad spur, an unnecessary side track in the 103-mile Metro subway system.
You wouldn't expect it to be the heaviest traveled of all Metro subway lines -- with 34,000 people projected to board each day -- or that the route once dubbed as the "People's Line," extending from Greenbelt through inner-city Washington and back into southern Prince George's County, would end up being the last line to get on track.
So when politicians finally broke ceremonial ground for construction of a Green Line subway station in Anacostia yesterday, they didn't want to make the people who need rapid transit the most feel like dirt being shoveled aside.
"We know there have been many delays," said an upbeat D.C. City Council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), who represents the area where the station is being built.
"But we don't live in the past, do we? We live in the present," she said.
Indeed, there were smiles and backslapping all around as speaker after speaker -- from Mayor Marion Barry to Metro General Manager Carmen Turner -- reassured the audience that, at least six years after the opening of the Red, Orange and Blue lines, and two years after opening the obscure little Yellow Line, their time had finally come.
But residents couldn't help but wonder why they had come last once again. From the beginning, it was clear that the Green Line had been designed to serve this area's lowest-income neighborhoods -- from Columbia Heights, down through U Street and Shaw to Anacostia and on into Congress Heights.
And its delay has merely reinforced the beliefs of some that they are not a welcomed part of the metropolitan Washington community.
"They think that if we can ride from Southeast to someplace like the Mazza Gallerie, it will be easier for us to steal and rob and escape," said Robert Fischer, 25, who is hoping for a construction job on the Anacostia station. "Most of the people I know just want a better way to get to UDC."
The residents of Anacostia, long isolated from the rest of the city by the Anacostia River, would indeed have easier access to jobs and education while many of the area's domestic workers would no longer have to stand in wind and rain waiting for buses to take them to the homes of upper Northwest.
But it was not to be -- and won't be -- for at least another five years, and the reasons for the delays have bordered on insanity.
It made no sense to halt construction on the Anacostia station because residents in Prince George's County couldn't decide whether their end of the Green Line would go to Branch Avenue or the Rosecroft Racetrack. And it was equally senseless to stop construction again because a contractor for an adjoining parking lot had not met his minority hiring quota.
Many of the Anacostia residents who need a subway don't even have cars to park, and the jobs lost by residents because they did not have adequate transportation far outweighed the few jobs lost on the parking lot contract.
The problems continued when Metro officials learned that a partner in the construction group submitting the lowest bid for tunneling under the Anacostia River had ties with firms doing business with South Africa. After another costly delay, the Metro board eventually awarded the $25.6 million contract, concluding that Franki-Denys Inc., the minority partner in the deal, had "very remote" ties with the apartheid regime.
Meanwhile, parts of Anacostia are being devastated by high unemployment and the largest incarceration rate of any section of the city. Countless studies have shown that residents need better ways to get in and out of their neighborhoods to look for and maintain jobs. But the very system that would have helped them was constantly being delayed in the name of helping them.
D.C. City Council Chairman David Clarke noted yesterday that in-town fighting over routes and disputes over minority contracts were seized on by "outside forces" who didn't want a Green Line linking rich and poor built in the first place. For a while, it looked as though those forces would succeed.
Now, with the turn of a few shovels, residents have been made to feel that the long battle is finally over, and it will only be a few years before property values increase and new white families move in, causing them to get improved city services. By 1990, Metro officials say, residents will be able to ride from the Anacostia station to L'Enfant Plaza.
But further up the line, at the Shaw station, evidence suggests that breaking ground doesn't mean that timely completion is assured. Even after construction begins, the same kind of shenanigans that have caused delays in the past can create them in the present and future.
Still at issue in Shaw are allegations that a black-owned company seeking to do part of the work is really a sham operation for a white-owned company, and the games go on.
Says Martha Payne, an astute maid and resident of Anacostia for 35 years, "Sure I'd like to see a subway out here, and I mean I'd have to see it to believe it."