Metro wants to demolish the District’s last remaining streetcar trestle, a fragile 122-year-old structure that has had no use since the trolley line from Georgetown to Glen Echo ceased in 1962.
Metro’s petition for a city raze permit has baffled preservationists and trestle enthusiasts who are pushing for restoration of the 280-foot-long bridge into a multiuse walkway that would connect neighborhoods on both sides of Georgetown University. But for Metro, demolition is a way to rid itself of a crumbling bridge that has become more of a liability than an asset.
Metro acquired the trestle in 1997 in the settlement of a lawsuit and has found no use for it. Maintaining the old bridge isn’t a priority for the embattled transit agency as it struggles to keep up with repairs of its rail infrastructure.
Over the years, the structure has continued to deteriorate to the point that the pedestrian path underneath it has been closed for two years. It was recently fenced off.
The National Park Service, which owns the land beneath it, has increased patrols to keep pedestrians off the site and has sent numerous letters to Metro urging repairs, to no avail.
Fixing the bridge would be costly. Metro’s own study sets a price tag for restoration at upward of $2 million — funds Metro doesn’t have and does not want to spend on a structure unrelated to its core mission to provide bus and rail service.
Metro’s “highest priority is repairing its own system that is facing a $15-billion backlog of construction and maintenance needs as a result of deferred maintenance,” the transit agency said in a statement. “Repairing the [Metro] system is critical to ensure safety for those who ride us every day.”
So Metro is turning to a demolition plan. In March it filed an application with the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs for a raze permit.
Metro’s application to demolish the bridge comes after a January inspection found several structural deficiencies that the agency said sounded alarms over its safety.
In the process of acquiring that clearance, Metro said it “stands ready” to transfer the trestle to any agency willing to take it.
“Over the past several years, [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority] has explored many options to transfer the bridge to other parties, without success,” Metro said in a statement.
One plan is for Metro to transfer the property to the District Department of Transportation to be turned into a bike and pedestrian trail. But DDOT won’t commit to taking it until a study is done to determine the feasibility of its being repurposed as a pedestrian connection in the Northwest neighborhood. That study will begin in late June, city officials said.
In a statement Tuesday, DDOT said it is “actively working” to get the multiple agencies involved together to develop an interim plan to maintain public safety around the bridge while exploring opportunities to preserve it.
“If it is feasible to rehabilitate the bridge for a transportation purpose, DDOT remains willing to receive the bridge and property interests,” the agency said. “If it is not feasible to preserve for a transportation purpose, DDOT does not have an interest in owning the bridge.”
The D.C. Preservation League, which has listed the bridge as an endangered site, backs repurposing the trestle as a trail to preserve a “rare historic resource.” The league’s director, Rebecca Miller, criticized Metro’s decision to seek a raze permit when DDOT is commissioning a study on keeping the trestle.
“We don’t see that as working in good faith with other agencies involved,” Miller said.
Getting the clearance to demolish the bridge could be a long process for Metro. Because the Foundry Branch Trestle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a contributing element of the Glover-Archbold Park Historic District, Metro’s permit application must go through a rigorous review and public comment period that starts with a hearing before the Historic Preservation Review Board on May 24. It could take months to grant or deny the permit.
Brett Young, a Palisades resident who has been lobbying the city to convert the former streetcar bridge into a pedestrian path, said his hope is that in the weeks to come the agencies involved can come to a resolution “where the trestle can be saved and reused as a valuable connection to the Palisades and Georgetown region.”