Projects Shaping a New Neighborhood

Sometimes we shape our neighborhood and sometimes our neighborhood shapes us. And sometimes other forces shape us and our neighborhoods. I was thinking of these premises recently after reflecting on major projects underway or planned for the Capitol Riverfront.

As residents of the District we have opportunities to shape our city and neighborhoods by whom we elect to public office, what public and private projects we support through bond issues or at ANC and Zoning Commission meetings, by attending fundraisers for institutions, by the support we provide to neighborhood schools, through our friendships with neighbors, and even by how we garden and the color we paint our homes.

Our neighborhoods and the city often shape us through other forces – major public works projects, transportation initiatives such as the Metro system and now streetcar lines, the DC Clean Rivers project, new bridges, new community/recreation centers, restaurant and retail stores, the location of sports facilities and new public parks, and new private development projects. The policies and plans of our elected officials and the development community can shape or influence our city and neighborhoods for years to come.

Sometimes tragic events shape our neighborhoods or commercial corridors, such as with the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It took over 30 years before the H Street, SE, and 14th Street, NW, commercial corridors began to exhibit new investment and regeneration following those riots.

The Capitol Riverfront neighborhood is no exception to these premises, and has been and will be shaped by DC residents, major economic development decisions, and both public and private projects for years to come. Major economic development planning and investment by the city and the federal government have led to the rediscovery of our neighborhood and the Anacostia River, after being considered a generally undesirable place to live or work since World War II. 

Examples of this planning, positioning, and investment that have helped transform the Capitol Riverfront include:

Metro’s Green Line/Navy Yard Station – the Navy Yard station opened in 1991 and immediately connected our neighborhood to the rest of the Metro system and the entire region.

The Base Realignment & Closure Act (BRAC) – in 1995 BRAC decisions brought NAVSEA and over 7,000 employees to the Navy Yard campus, leading to over 2 million square feet of new office space being constructed on the base and five new private office buildings being constructed along M Street SE, to house defense contractors.

HUD HOPE VI – more than a decade ago the Arthur Capper Carrollsburg public housing complex was awarded a HUD HOPE VI grant for the demolition of the existing complex and its rebuilding with one-to-one replacement of the publicly assisted units and the addition of 1,100 new workforce and market rate units.

Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI) – under the leadership of Mayor Williams in 2003 the DC Council adopted the AWI Framework Plan that established a framework for the clean-up of the river, the upgrading and building of infrastructure to support new communities along the river, new access to the river, and the creation of parks and a 20-mile Anacostia Riverwalk Trail system.

Yards Development – in 2004 the federal government selected Forest City Washington to redevelop the 42-acre southeast Federal Center as a high-density, mixed-use community with a riverfront park. The DC government has invested heavily in the project through PILOT bonds that have funded new roads, water and sewer lines, Yards Park, environmental remediation, and flood plain mitigation.

US Department of Transportation (DOT) Building – the site for the new federal DOT headquarters office building was selected in 2001, and JBG finished the 2-million-square-foot building in 2007, bringing 7,000 DOT employees to the neighborhood.

Nationals Park – in 2005 the Capitol Riverfront was selected to be the home of the new baseball stadium for our baseball team, the Washington Nationals. Opening in 2008, Nationals Park has hosted over 2 million fans a year, with 2.4 million attending last year. The ballpark has “mentally mapped” our neighborhood in a region of over 6 million people.

These major policies, decisions, and investments have led to $2.3 billion in private investment in the neighborhood, including 7.2 million square feet of office space; over 2,800 residential units with another 1,000 under construction; a 204-room Marriott Courtyard hotel; and several hundred thousand square feet of retail completed or under construction.

But the “shaping” of the neighborhood is not yet complete, and over the next five years we will see the completion or beginning of several major public works projects that continue to define the quality, look and feel, experience, and accessibility of the Capitol Riverfront.

11th Street Bridges Project 

A bridge construction and replacement project that has been underway for over two years, the new 11th Street Bridges and local connector bridge, will be completed in summer 2014. They provide new highway accessibility to the Capitol Riverfront, Anacostia, and Capitol Hill, with a local connector bridge to Anacostia.

DC Clean Rivers Project 

The Clean Rivers Project is a multi-year, approximately $2 billion project to clean up the Anacostia River by solving the combined storm water/sanitary sewer issues in the city. Currently underway, the project involves construction of a 28-foot-diameter tunnel from the Blue Plains Treatment Plant to the DC Water pumphouse that will serve as a giant “cistern” for the combined effluent, thereby preventing it from discharging into the river.

South Capitol Street Bridge Project 

A new South Capitol Street Bridge will be constructed over the next three to five years, replacing the old bridge and adding a memorial ellipse on South Capitol near the ballpark. The project will also reconfigure highway intersections with South Capitol Street on both sides of the bridge and include a reconstruction of intersections from Potomac to Eye Street SE.

CSX Tunnel Project 

This project is still in the EIS review and community input phases, and no tunnel design and construction methodology have been approved yet. The reconstruction of this 120+ year-old tunnel will enable the double-stacking of shipping containers as well as adding a second set of tracks. While this will be a major impact on the neighborhood, the post-construction re-build of the Virginia Avenue ROW offers the opportunity for significant community benefits.

DC Streetcar Project 

The Capitol Riverfront is currently slated for two streetcar lines. One will cross the 11th Street local bridge and continue north through Capitol Hill to the H Street “One City” line. An east-west line will run along M Street from 11th Street to SW Waterfront and connect north along 4th or 7th streets SW. The BID’s Urban Design Framework Plan also recommends a new north-south line from Union Station across the South Capitol Street Bridge to St. Elizabeths via the Capitol Riverfront. This line would provide a vital local and regional connection as well as relieve pressure on the Green Line. It would also provide connections to the Green, Blue, Orange, and Red lines at various Metro stations.

These projects and more will shape our neighborhood and us as DC residents for decades to come. They will increase our regional and local accessibility, help clean up the Anacostia River, better connect us to adjacent neighborhoods and employment centers, and make South Capitol Street a gateway to the city, while continuing to improve the Capitol Riverfront community. The big positioning is not over, and as we as a neighborhood are shaped by policies and projects, we will continue to try and shape them through input and partnerships to make them the best they can be.

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