D.C. transportation officials dropped a developer’s request to shut down a portion of Interstate 395 — one of the busiest stretches of highway in the city — to expedite a major construction project. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Like a meteor in the night sky, a private developer’s proposal to close much of the District’s Third Street Tunnel came out of the dark, glowed brightly, then quickly flamed out.

Wide-eyed commuters were left wondering, “What was that thing?”

Well, the shortcut idea that came to light this month isn’t the way transportation planning normally works anywhere in the Washington region.

It’s highly unusual for anyone to propose shutting a major commuter route for more than a year to speed up a private development, and it’s just plain weird for the local transportation agency, the District Department of Transportation, to act as a mere transmission vessel in forwarding such a proposal to the federal government.

“It’s obviously a huge ask,” DDOT Director Matthew Brown said of the proposal in an interview last week.

But among other things, he said, people in the neighborhood around the Capitol Crossing development were concerned about noise during the lengthy construction, which involves building a huge deck above Interstate 395 to serve as a platform for buildings and streets.

The impact of lane closings and temporary shutdowns on the 90,000 vehicles using the segment of I-395 below the deck construction is bound to be significant, even without a lengthy closing of the interstate.

“I didn’t see anything wrong with at least exploring options” that might speed up the work, Brown said.

By the time Brown and I talked, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) had declared the closing proposal “a non-starter,” and Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser (D) also had dismissed it.

But the documents exchanged by the developer, the District and the Federal Highway Administration show you need not take any politician’s word that this idea has truly fallen to earth as a burnt-out cinder.

The documents were provided by the Federal Highway Administration in response to a request by The Washington Post’s reporter Luz Lazo.

They start this fall with Brown forwarding a request from the Capitol Crossing developer to Christopher Lawson at the Federal Highway Administration. Brown’s cover letter on the proposed shutdown of the interstate says: “I am requesting specific guidance from you about the process to review the request, including the data that your office will need.”

The letter that Brown forwarded was addressed to Brown from Robert Braunohler of Property Group Partners, developer of Capitol Crossing.

In that letter, dated Oct. 30, Braunohler wrote, “we expect to complete the tunnel within our currently mandated deadline of 60 months. Traffic will frequently be shut down overnight and during weekends on I-395 between D Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW. The project also requires daytime temporary street and ramp closures in the area . . .

“We would like to study with DDOT the option of temporarily closing this portion of I-395, which would constitute an expansion of the previously agreed upon highway and ramp closures . . .

“The removal of traffic from this portion of I-395 would lessen our construction time by up to two-thirds — ending the safety concerns and traffic headaches in approximately 20 months instead of 60 months . . .

“Traffic using this portion of I-395 to cut through D.C. from Maryland and Virginia can use the Beltway to enter the city at different points. In addition to a driver’s natural behavior adjustments, we can work to give the public a clear and consistent traffic message of closure, rather than more sporadic, unanticipated closures . . .

“Only 20 percent of drivers using this portion of I-395 are D.C. residents, and there are various alternative travel paths for their use. We also can provide support for a D.C.-Metro partnership to alleviate the disruption for D.C. residents.

“A full closure is a larger short-term disruption of traffic, but the time savings overall will ultimately ease the aggregate pain of D.C. drivers.

“For Maryland and Virginia commuters, this strategy will provide clear incentives for them to find other routes, and there are many options to do so . . .

“As construction is scheduled to begin in December on the highway, and will be dramatically expanded over the coming months, we have a short time frame in which to address these concerns and potentially expand closures.”

In his Dec. 5 response to Brown, Lawson at the Federal Highway Administration didn’t take the hook.

“As you know,” Lawson wrote, “on March 26, 2012, I signed a Finding of No Significant Impact, which concluded the process to evaluate and document this project’s impacts to the human and natural environment . . .

“The document also states on page 116 that ‘there would be no significant impacts on freeway operations’ . . .

“FWHA has determined that DDOT’s request to close I-395 would require a re-evaluation of the approved FONSI [Finding of No Significant Impact] . . .

“Closing I-395, a facility that carries 90,000 vehicles per day, was not considered during the environmental review process . . .

“Based on our experience, a FONSI re-evaluation would likely take approximately 12 months. Furthermore, this proposal may result in the FONSI being invalid, and would necessitate the development of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) depending upon the significance of the impacts. Completing an EA or EIS may take 18 to 36 months.”

Lawson also noted that federal rules would require DDOT to consult with the governors of any adjacent states that might be affected by the closing of the interstate, and considering how much of the Beltway is in Maryland and Virginia, there’s no doubt the states would be affected by a traffic diversion.

In other words, shutting down a vital commuter artery on purpose is something most transportation planners would approach with fear and loathing, just as commuters would.