The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Meet the new route through DC

If you ask Google Maps how to get from Baltimore to Richmond (or New York to Raleigh, or Boston to Miami), it suggests taking the Beltway around through Bethesda and Tysons to circumvent DC. But that may change.

There's no all-freeway route that goes through DC's center. According to Google Maps, the alternate route along the Anacostia Freeway to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is only a minute more; taking the eastern half of the Beltway is three minutes more. The most direct route on a map is to take the Anacostia Freeway to the Southeast Freeway. But there's no direct connection, and drivers have to get off the freeway to cross the river. That encourages people to go around instead.

Unfortunately, DDOT's split personality on traffic has come down on the traffic-speeding side with the redesign of the 11th Street bridges. Under the laudable goal of better connecting neighborhoods east and west of the river, the Fenty Administration and DDOT have thrown their weight behind spending $500 million of local money (not federally matched money) to widen the road and connect the southbound Anacostia Freeway to westbound Southeast Freeway (and vice versa).

Traffic is simple. When you increase capacity at a bottleneck (which this is), you increase overall capacity, and when you increase overall capacity, you get induced demand, people driving who wouldn't have driven before. There's little doubt that more people will be driving along this stretch who didn't before. And the Sierra Club has numerous other objections which project officials have so far ignored.

I'd love to know why DDOT is doing this. Does Deputy Chief Engineer Kathleen Penney (who I'm told has a bridge-building background) come from the more-lanes-more-cars school of traffic management? Is Mayor Fenty, unlike his predecessors, just clueless on traffic (as on Klingle)? Are our suburban Congresspeople (Hoyer, Van Hollen, Davis, et. al.) pushing for this to shove more traffic through the poor, black neighborhoods of DC and make commuting easier for their constituents (as happened when the NPS considered closing Beach Drive during some off-peak times)?

People in Wards 7 and 8 support this at the moment because it'd be convenient to cross the river without getting on and then off the freeway. There's also the potential to get some traffic off their neighborhood streets that gets off the freeway to cross the river since there's no direct connection; but traffic calming those streets, a better solution, isn't an alternative in the EIS.

I suspect that if built, five or ten or twenty years from now residents will be agitating to remove it, as environmental justice advocates are pushing for the Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx. Is increased asthma and loss of parks and a boathouse worth $500 million and the convenience of a quicker trip to Capitol Hill?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

I have to respectfully disagree. I live in Ward 6 and every morning I have to sit in traffic on my neighborhood streets chock full of Md. drives bypassing the bottleneck. Speed is not the issue - volume is, so traffic calming measures aren't going to solve the problem. The absurdity of building two interstates to within 200 yards of one another with city streets as the connector is kind of absurd on its face.

I believe people are more likely to remain on a slow freeway than weave throught the backstreets of Capitol Hill if given the option. Similar to being able to take one mode of public transit from poin to poin rather than changing modes (freeway to street). Sure more people may take 295, but I'm not as intersted in traffic volume as I am in the location of that volume.

by Grant on May 30, 2008 3:21 pm • linkreport

Fooling around with the Google maps, I find that the direct 295-495 route is actually a couple miles shorter (and presumably faster) than what you show, so to get from Baltimore to Richmond, there'd be no incentive to cut through DC.

Which has nothing really to do with what commuters will do to the streets. The only real solution is for the federal gov't to stop providing so much free parking to their employees. Otherwise, people will find their way through the city (whether on freeways or on the streets) to get to their offices.

I used to commute from Capitol Hill to Annapolis. I couldn't believe that so many people would be willing to sit in traffic on Route 50 for miles instead of using public transportation. Clearly, gas is too cheap, and parking too easy.

by mecki on May 30, 2008 3:41 pm • linkreport

Is there any road you would support? Not being (too much) of an ass, but as an Arlingtonian who does travel this route with a fair amount of regularity.... this always seem foolish to have these two highways so close to one another and not connect them.

Listen, I bike to work and am very pro-transit, but occasionally I want to get to Baltimore and other northern routes and sitting in traffic for two lanes to turn onto Pennsylvania Ave. for a quarter mile is foolish. Worse, the turn onto the Anacostia freeway from PA Ave. sucks.

I'm not sure it's the best use of funds, for D.C., but if we're gonna have highways, we might as well connect the damn things.

by AE on May 30, 2008 4:25 pm • linkreport

The good news is the city will be removing the portion of the SE freeway that's east of the I-295 bridge.

Consider it a trade-off, I guess.

by BeyondDC on May 30, 2008 4:48 pm • linkreport

Great site! Just stumbled across it. How about a little background? How long's it been up? Who runs it? What's yourbackground? Do you have a staff or is this (unbelievably) a one-person operation? (apologies if all this info is here -- i didn't see it)

Keep up the good work!

by Phil Lerman on May 30, 2008 5:06 pm • linkreport

In fairness, somewhat, to Kathleen Penney, the form of the proposed replacement took place when John Deatrick (who should have known better) was chief engineer. That said, there's no evidence that Penney was any less a supporter of the project.

What got me most was the overwhelming disingenuousness of the project. The Sierra Club comments, which I helped write, tried to get at this, but I think the definitive analysis was the one that the Capitol Hill Restoration Society comissioned from Smart Mobility.

The tragedy is that there are any freeways through DC. I don't think it would be too difficult to demonstrate that traffic models are complete garbage, because they cannot account for induced demand, nor for demand destruction. If DDOT were really progressive, they'd realize this and stop hiring engineering consultants who churn out traffic models. There's no reason why they shouldn't convert DC-295 into a grand, at-grade urban boulevard, complete with signalized intersections, so that it resembles, say, Connecticut or Wisconsin Avenue. Then make all the connections you want at the base of the 11th street bridges, but use intersections, not interchanges.

by thm on May 30, 2008 5:10 pm • linkreport

These interstate highways (Southwest/Southeast Freeway, the 14th Street Bridge, and Anacostia Freeway) that bi/tri-sect our city are artifacts of bad design from the 1960's. In DC we are lucky there were some neighborhood activists who fought against the complete destruction of their communities and the elimination of DC as we know it, had all the planned highways been built.

One of the primary reasons DC has experienced a rennaissance is because those hihgways weren't built and the metro was built instead. For that thank those neighborhood activists from 45 years ago who didn't want highways.

Look at Baltimore. Any rennaissance there is not/has not occurred next to I-83; it's been in Federal Hill and Fells Point; areas served by water taxi or train; areas that retained their historic character and architecture and weren't destroyed by a roaring interstate.

Some of the highways planned for DC did get in, i.e. Whitehurst, to the detriment of Foggy Bottom. To see the plans of all the highways envisioned for DC causes one to shudder. To see photos of NY Ave before it was "improved" is heartbreaking. It was a beautiful boulevard lined with tall majestic trees with streetcar lines out to Bladensburgh. Hundreds of mature trees were removed for more and faster cars.

I lived in Basel Switzerland for several years. It's the 2nd largest Swiss city. It's about the same distance from Zurich as DC is from Baltimore. There are trains day and night between those cities and plentiful trams/trains/busses going all over when you arrive - and you can take your dog!

We don't have to be slaves to cars. We do have a choice. But the choice is difficult on the individual level; If there is no infrastructure/choice for me other than driving, then really do I have choice?

I want freedom to take a train to Baltimore any hour of the day or night, with my dog. Investing in more highways and not in trains keeps me enslaved. Some people had some very bad ideas in the '50's and 60's, but we are not compelled to perpetuate them.

by Bianchi on May 30, 2008 6:01 pm • linkreport

I like this from thm: "convert DC-295 into a grand, at-grade urban boulevard, complete with signalized intersections, so that it resembles, say, Connecticut or Wisconsin Avenue. Then make all the connections you want at the base of the 11th street bridges, but use intersections, not interchanges."

by Bianchi on May 30, 2008 6:14 pm • linkreport

AE: is there any road I would support? Road, yes; freeway, no. I support reconnecting C Street near Eastern Market, for example. Breaking up superblocks with small streets is a good idea.

L'Enfant had the right idea: a grid of small local streets, with the occasional wider but still pedestrian-scale avenue lined with commercial activity. Superblocks, highways and skybridges are all a consequence of the misguided mid-century impulse to separate people from cars. That's anathema to a vibrant urban fabric.

by David Alpert on May 30, 2008 6:24 pm • linkreport

A good question for this project is will the District see an additional $500M of benefits from this projects. Some highways make sense as they can transport more goods to market, increase access to an area, boost tourism, etc, but this seems to be a project that has little benefit to those who are paying for it. At best you'll see slightly shorter commutes for those using the connections and a few cars coming off city streets. Not sure if you'll see much induced demand as the connecting highways are already jammed at rush hour and won't provide any additional space.

A better project would be for the district to look at doing a cut and cover of the SE freeway in conjunction with a new 11th st bridge, perhaps even tunneling if feasible. This would actually provide benefits to a large section of the city and would bring in the incremental tax money and land rights needed to pay for it.

I agree with converting DC295 to an at grade boulevard. It could definitely help revitalize the area and benefit the district as well. The new Wilson bridge should provide cover for eliminating that highway.

by Zack on May 30, 2008 6:55 pm • linkreport

I don't own a car; I commute to Tysons via rail and bus; I rent a Zipcar only infrequently... Yet I say, "BUILD IT." Having two freeways come so-close-yet-so-far is like Metro's Faragut West and North stations.

No, DC 295 isn't pretty; and hopefully some day we can do something about that. But in the meantime, let's connect what we do have and help those of us in town get through town on our way out of town.

by lyonsking on May 31, 2008 1:36 pm • linkreport

Wasn't the whole point if the mixing bowl project and the Wilson Bridge expansion (deterioration notwithstanding) to facilitate the through traffic on I95?

by William on May 31, 2008 1:53 pm • linkreport

Actually, a lot of people in Wards 7 and 8 do not support this reallignment. At present, there is extremely easy access to 395 from an onramp over the bridge from Anacostia--which then gets you into downtown and Virginia in about 5 minutes. With the new plan, residents will have to take the "local" bridge over into capitol hill, then get back onto 395 from there.

I think this plan should be largely redone, not because I am against taking a local bridge, but because essentially they are rebuilding a spaghetti-style freeway intersection on the Anacostia side of the river rather than doing something a little more classy and ped-friendly. As it is now, and is currently planned, onramps will continue to block the view of Anacostia (actually a nice view) from the bridge, as well as providing a further physical barrier from Anacostia to parts west.

They really just need to bury 295 -- desperately!

by DG-rad on May 31, 2008 2:11 pm • linkreport

You seem to blunder into local controversies you nothing about (e.g., parking in Kalorama, metro & the zoo). one of the problems with the SE/SW freeway set-up is that it's so non-intuitive and pope unaccustomed to the area windup going way out of their way because of it.

by Rich on Jun 1, 2008 12:54 am • linkreport

Scrap the current 11th Street Bridge project for recreating elevated highway approaches, simply (regarding its northern side) for crossing a heavy RR that will be removed in a few years, preserving such RR row for lighter rail that could dip below a cut and cover highway approach, as such can take a 5% grade whereas heavy rail only 1%.

Preserve full ramp accessibility, with below ground approaches on both sides, with a cover atop the SE Freeway to the east (easily done with the existing freeway mainline roadbed), with a covered extension to RFK Stadium beneath a new waterfront promenade and slow speed surface road.

Depress and bury the SE Freeway to the west (more complex but worthwhile given the need to do likewise at and west of South Capitol Street), and likewise with an improved DC 295- making that an at grade boulevard will increase guaranteed stop start traffic events and increase vehicular/pedestrian conflict.

Cut and cover is the way to go!

by Douglas Willinger on Jun 1, 2008 8:38 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the response David. My thoughts on this particular intersection is that that battle is already lost. These two freeways are so close together that drivers will still drive the route and then escape to local roads to get through. Focusing on pedestrian-friendly local roads is great, but now you've got freeway volumes dumping onto local roads and overwhelmed exits only to remerge back together shortly after. You're not going to build anything resembling urban with that either.

A reader above recommends converting DC-295 into something akin to Connecticut or Wisconsin Ave. Even doing that I'd say connecting the two "major avenues" might likely be necessary.

by AE on Jun 2, 2008 10:43 am • linkreport

Unfortunately, Washington DC's role as the capital of the nation merits the need for a couple arterial freeways, primarily for defense/military purposes (for which the Eisenhower Interstate System was originally planned). The military bases in the city aren't going anywhere (which is unfortunate, as they occupy some of the best riverfront real estate). I for one do not want military traffic parading through the streets of Anacostia like it were Pyongyang.

As it stands, I do not believe the Federal Government would allow wholesale removal of the freeways in the city. But for this reason I feel it is important to connect the freeways so they rely less on the city streets. A connection from southbound 295 to the 11th Street Bridge, as well as a connection from the bridge to NB 295, could keep this traffic out of the neighborhoods.

I'd also be a fan of decking over the Anacostia Freeway, particularly in areas where it abuts the Metro. I-395 and railroads pass through Southwest, but there are enough underpasses that connect the two neighborhoods. Anacostia is completely robbed of the River for which it is named, and that is downright criminal.

by David Murphy on Jun 3, 2008 1:58 am • linkreport

Oklahoma City has the right idea. They plan to tear down the interstate that bisects the city and replace it with an at-grade boulevard and parks:

by Bianchi on Jun 3, 2008 5:11 pm • linkreport

Coming in *WAY* late on this (like 4 months late), but the reason OK City is able to tear down that interstate segment is because they replaced it with a depressed freeway 5 blocks away.

Not something we can easily do in D.C., but the decking-over idea has merit in some locations.

by Froggie on Oct 24, 2008 3:14 pm • linkreport

Hi Froggie! I actually put up an article about the Oklahoma freeway the next day: Here it is.

by David Alpert on Oct 24, 2008 3:20 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us