The Southeast Boulevard Project

Important project still in flux

A map of the Barney Circle and Southeast Boulevard Transportation Study area. Community members met with representatives from the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI) to review and comment on proposed design concepts for the area. Photo: AWI

On November 21 at Payne Elementary School, a standing-room only crowd attended the second meeting regarding the Barney Circle and Southeast Boulevard Transportation Study. Held by the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI), community members reviewed and commented on updated design concepts for the Southeast Boulevard, which is intended to replace the now-closed portion of the SE-SW Expressway between 11th Street and Barney Circle. “Hopefully, we have addressed all your comments; if not, please let us know...” said Sanjay Kumar, who serves as project manager. “But we have to balance your comments against the project's needs.”

Anacostia Waterfront Initiative

The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is a 30-year plan intended to improve areas surrounding the Anacostia River located in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8. There are five principles guiding AWI: providing waterfront access to pedestrians and cyclists; promoting a modal shift to public transit; creating urban boulevards with mixed use, landscaping, and civic spaces; redesigning highways and freeways to reduce boundaries between neighborhoods and waterfront parks; and reconnecting the street grid to waterfront parks.

Barney Circle/Southeast Boulevard Transportation Study

The study focuses on four goals. First, it will look at transforming a portion of the Southeast Freeway (between 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue) “...into a boulevard that is integrated with adjacent neighborhoods...” Second, it plans to reconstruct Barney Circle to accommodate turning vehicles. Third, the study would help plans was to “...improve pedestrian and bicyclist connectivity to the Anacostia River Waterfront....” Finally, it will evaluate design options for “multi-modal transportation uses,” meaning that the concepts should work with cars, buses, streetcars, and other vehicles.

On February 21, the initiative held its first community meeting, introducing the project and giving residents a chance to comment. Those concerns include adding pedestrian and bicycle connections to the Waterfront, including Kentucky Avenue in the study area (to cut down on potential cut-through traffic), and creating an underground parking structure. These items were later addressed during the design process, which also included a traffic analysis.

Southeast Boulevard

While a no-build option, meaning no changes, was considered for Southeast Boulevard, the presenters offered five other concepts. The first option would align the boulevard between L Street and the CSX railroad tracks. It also offers a green space buffer between L Street and Southeast Boulevard, as well as underground parking. The next two concepts suggest a design located closer to L Street with surface parking and adjacent green space; however, one places them on the same level as L Street, while the other places them below it. The last two concepts place the boulevard closer to the tracks, with surface parking and green space located either below or on the same level as L Street.

Barney Circle

Located near the west end of John Philip Sousa Bridge, Barney Circle gives direct access to the Southeast Freeway, Pennsylvania Avenue, Kentucky Avenue, and 17th Street. With Southeast Boulevard's construction, DDOT offered two designs to improve access to those roads. The first makes nearby K Street one-way and accessible only through Pennsylvania Avenue. Kentucky Avenue would become one-way northbound with direct access to the Circle and two-way southbound of the Freedom Way alley. The second design gives more connectivity options to K Street, while limiting access to Kentucky Avenue; it would be one-way southbound into Barney Circle, making a portion of H Street (between 16th and 17th Streets) two-way.

Community Comments

One major concern the audience raised involved potential cut-through traffic through neighborhoods. Current designs for Southeast Boulevard attempt to alleviate the issue by maintaining a four-lane roadway and eliminating potential connections to 13th, 14th, and 15th Streets. However, as one resident pointed out, this could mean a traffic increase on 17th Street. According to Otto Clemente, a senior project planner with AWI partner CH2M HILL, the traffic analysis showed that even if they went with a no-build option, traffic will indeed increase on 17th Street.

The audience was also concerned about safety. One resident talked about Southeast Boulevard's potential underground parking area. “It will be covered. It will invite crime,” she stated. “There has been an increase of crime in our neighborhoods, with cars being broken into...I'm asking you to look carefully at where the lots are located.” Another audience member, who identified herself as Payne Elementary's track coach, discussed issues with speeding commuters in the area. “We need some security around this neighborhood or speed bumps for the senior citizens and children because they are getting hurt,” she said. “It doesn't matter what bridges you build, they don't want that; they still want to take shortcuts.”

Next Steps

Between now and January, the initiative is encouraging residents to continue commenting on the designs. The sooner AWI receive responses, the sooner they can evaluate and use them to finalize the concepts and move forward with their environment assessment (EA). According to the presentation, the project team will present the EA in another public meeting this spring and make a final project decision by summer.

To find out more about the study, visit www.anacostiawaterfront.org/BarneyCircle. Send your comments on the study to Sanjay Kumar, P.E. at barneycircle@prrbiz.com.

Former ANC Commissioner and Hill activist Norman Metzger has a very cogent discussion of this issue and information about boulevard transformation in other cities on page 165 of the November Hill Rag. The commentary can also be accessed on our website at http://www.capitalcommunitynews.com/content/southeast-boulevard-learning-history or by searching Southeast Boulevard.


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