Last night I attended a DC United game. I'm not a big soccer fan, but that team is just so much fun to cheer. I did my usual when attending events at RFK: drive to Cheverly Metro station and train it in from there. After the game, I went back to a friend's house near Waterfront to dry off (the rain was intense!) and then the plan was to give me a ride back to Cheverly, as Metro had stopped running. My chosen route was Southeast Freeway to PA Av, over the Sousa Bridge and then 295 to 50. but halfway up 295, we hit traffic. At 1 am. Apparently, 295 was flooded so bad they closed it. Same with Canal Road and Rock Creek Parkway.
I understand that there is construction on 295, but closed for flooding? This road is a primary evacuation route in case of emergency! That bodes poorly.
Furthermore, it's bad for the argument I am about to make. I have a real problem with the freeways within the District. We don't have too many, we don't need more... we just did them very, very wrong.
A route running north-south through the city is a good idea, as long as it is relatively unobtrusive. 395 in Southwest isn't nearly as bad as freeways in other cities. There are connections relatively close to each other. It needs a lot of work between South Capitol Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, but I believe it can be an asset to the city. I don't mean as a commuter route; more for the reasons Eisenhower pushed the Interstate System in the first place.
My idea would be to boulevardize two routes in favor of building one new freeway connection:
Green: Boulevardized roads
Yellow Improved functionality of Freeways/interchanges
Red: New freeways alignment.
The upper green area is New York Avenue. Let's turn that back into a city street. Get rid of the interchange at Brentwood Parkway. Downplay the connectivity to the two freeways (50 and 295) at Fort Lincoln. Put some mixed use housing/retail along the route, bikeways, and maybe a nice median with some trees. If it is possible to engineer, I'd say its worth investing in a giant deck over the rail yards. This road leads to the Capitol Building, not an office park in Loudon County. Let's make it look and function like a grand avenue and not a traffic gutter.
The lower green is the Anacostia Freeway between the Douglass Bridge and the proposed bridge. Open it up, return the river to the residents of Anacostia. This road- I'll call it Anacostia Avenue- ought to invite people to cross it and engage the riverfront. The current Anacostia Drive could become a bike path. The new Anacostia Avenue could offer street level retail with river view condos above them.
The bottom of the yellow line is the existing Southeast Freeway. This road needs work. It cuts Near Southeast in half, which destroys much of the area's character. Could this be a cut-and-cover freeway under Virginia Avenue? I think it would help if we got rid of the connection to the 3rd Street Tunnel. If all the traffic goes up the new portion, the need for a connection to New York Avenue is greatly decreased. Take GreaterGreaterWashington's suggestion and use it as a Metro tunnel.
Now the red, the part I'm sure many would deplore. I believe it is necessary for a contiguous freeway to serve every city. A four lane bridge from Barney Circle paralleling the freight train tracks and connecting to 295 would do the trick. Remove most of New York Avenue's connectivity with the B-W Parkway and the John Hanson Highway, keeping commuters off New York and other neighborhood streets and charge congestion pricing for anyone opting to drive their commute into the city. It would shake up the status quo for driving, but it could improve life in the city quite a bit. So I'm saying build a highway connection. Cue the barrage of tomatoes.
Why don't we just get rid of all the highways?
In my opinion, we can't yet. DC is a city that probably can't ever. These roads serve as evacuation routes (when they're not flooded). They also carry some types of traffic that shouldn't be on a regular DC street, such as military vehicles and various motorcades. This isn't Pyongyang. I never want to see Hum-Vees on New York Avenue unless it's a Veteran's Day parade.
We can utilize a mostly-existing freeway infrastructure as a means to trade two routes for what will ultimately amount to just a bridge. And we can charge people to drive on a continuous highway a lot easier than three fragmented highways that basically dead-end in various places. Going from Hywattsville to Lincolnia? drive all the way around or pay a couple bucks and save time. It will encourage a third option too: transit.
What transit infrastructure would we need with this?
I always caveat that I'm not an engineer, my degree is in general geography (engineers, feel free to set me straight!) But to help this, I would start by suggesting residential-focused transit-oriented development on the Orange line from Minnesota Avenue to New Carrollton. These five stations are greatly underutilized, and my experience is that they are best reached by car if you're in the suburbs (like my trip to the United game from Cheverly). Perhaps something along the heavy rail route from Deanwood to Hyattsville and onto College Park as well, as Matt at Track Twenty-Nine suggested a while back. And TOD the heck out of that region of PG county.
Also, better MARC service. And by better, I mean more frequent, dedicated tracks better service. If our regional system is only running during rush hour and sharing tracks with freight trains and AMTRAK, driving will look like a much more palatable option. I'd even suggest another MARC line in the median of US 50 with stops in Bowie and Annapolis (and who knows? Maybe one day fulfill my dream of taking MARC to Ocean City for vacation.)
Transit along New York Avenue would help redevelop the stretch as well. Perhaps a line connecting Union Station to College Park or New Carrollton along the existing freight/MARC rail with a few stops along the way (versus the existing MARC line). Of course, most of these suggestions would be a good idea anyway, and virtually nothing I've proposed for the trains is a wildly original idea. But these changes in particular would be a good compliment to the freeway realignment.
Eisenhower's original plan for freeways was for national security, not for commuting. I say keep one freeway and use it as a reason to get rid of the rest of them. Make sense to anyone else?