Amid growing pressure, D.C. transportation officials said Tuesday that they are dropping a request to shut a busy stretch of Interstate 395 to expedite a major construction project.
“The mayor has made a statement,” said Matthew Brown, the city’s transportation director, citing Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s directive Tuesday that the agency pull the plan to close nearly a mile of freeway for the Capitol Crossing project.
DDOT continues to support closing one of the highway’s ramps to facilitate the safe and timely construction of the $1.5 billion project at the entrance to I-395, Brown said.
Last week’s news that DDOT asked the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for guidance on how to proceed with shutting down a major commuter thoroughfare that carries 90,000 vehicles a day drew strong criticism from commuters and elected officials, including members of the region’s congressional delegations.
The city had remained quiet on the proposal, saying that DDOT’s only role was to forward the request to federal officials, but Brown broke the silence Tuesday at a news event, where he said the agency’s communications with FHWA were only an effort to determine “what would the process be” for closing the interstate.
“It’s obviously a huge ask,” Brown said. “I didn’t see anything wrong with at least exploring options.”
In a Dec. 5 notice to DDOT, federal officials said they could not consider the request until DDOT conducted various studies on the impact of the closure — studies that could take months if not years.
But on Tuesday morning, Gray (D) declared that the shutdown would not happen.
“Closing 395 is a non-starter for Mayor Gray,” said Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for the mayor. “Upon reviewing the matter, he has made his views very clear — we will not be closing 395, and the administration will inform the feds of that.”
And, during a news conference Tuesday by Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser (D), where she introduced her new city administrator, Alexandria City Manager Rashad Young, she also spoke against the idea.
“I can’t imagine closing 395,” Bowser said. “The Young family just came on 395 to get here, and I’m pretty sure they can’t imagine closing it, either.”
New York-based Property Group Partners, the developer of Capitol Crossing, had made the case to DDOT and FHWA that if the highway is closed for up to 18 months, it could cut the construction time of a $200 million deck over the freeway’s entrance by half. That platform would create three new city blocks and support the company’s mixed-use 2.2 million-square-foot development.
The developer declined to comment Tuesday.
In a letter DDOT forwarded to FHWA last month, the developer said that closing the highway implied no substantial cost savings to the developer, as some critics have suggested.
“This is offered as an approach to lessen the headache for the city and its residents in the long term,” wrote Robert Braunohler, regional vice president of Property Group Partners.
Constructing the project over 6.8 acres of mostly airspace over the sunken I-395 corridor to reconnect F and G streets between Second and Third streets will require overnight closures between D Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW and daytime lane and ramp closures, Braunohler said.
The construction zone is expected to be twice as long as first projected, he said, which means “traffic will be crawling past construction activities for nearly half a mile, thus further increasing back-ups and travel delays on the highway.
“The overall economic benefits of the project will be expedited if it is completed three years sooner,” Braunohler said in his letter to DDOT. “The area will be safer for cyclists and pedestrians if vehicular connections can be re-established more quickly. The city and its economy will more rapidly benefit from the increased tax revenue and employment opportunities.”
Closing the portion of the freeway would have reduced the construction time to 20 months from the projected five years, the letter said.
City officials say they are still awaiting FHWA’s response to a request for permission to close the Third Street ramp.
“That’s a smaller ask,” Brown said.
The developer and the city said residents near the project have raised concerns about the project’s amount of night work and noise but that the ramp closure could help address those concerns.
Robert Thomson and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.