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In the 1960s and 1970s, federal highway authorities cut a deep gash into a central D.C. neighborhood, building the Center Leg Freeway from New York Avenue NW to the Southwest Freeway. Ever since, the freeway, also known as I-395, has cut off the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood from Sursum Corda and NoMa to the east and hindered the development of the fast-growing area. But now a developer plans to heal the scar by covering it over with new city blocks that’ll contain offices, residences, and retail, including a much-anticipated Eataly restaurant and market from Mario Batali.
Not so fast, says Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In a press release today, Norton demanded consultation with regional members of Congress before the Federal Highway Administration approves the closure of I-395 in order to facilitate the construction of the project, known as Capitol Crossing. The developer, Property Group Partners, is seeking to close a portion of the freeway for more than a year, a step the developer says would cut the construction time in half and avoid the need for loud and potentially dangerous nighttime construction. That request prompted outrage from the Washington Post‘s Dr. Gridlock on behalf of the commuters who comprise his readership.
“We are demanding a meeting between regional Members, FHWA, and [the District Department of Transportation] as soon as possible,” Norton said in a statement. “Not even my office received notice or copies of the correspondence between DDOT and FHWA, regarding the alternatives for possible partial or full closure of this D.C. section of I-395 and the implications. Impacts of a closure would fall directly not only on the District, whose streets in the area are already saturated, but equally on regional and D.C. residents, who need participation, time and planning before a major highway is closed.”
Commuters who live in the districts represented by the Virginia and Maryland members of Congress Norton is hoping to bring into the conversation surely stand to lose more from the highway closure than they stand to gain from the reclaimed street grid and new development. But for Norton, the request for approval from members of Congress would seem to go against her ongoing fight for greater D.C. autonomy.
“The message we’re pushing here is that there’s been no public participation in this process, and there should have been,” says Norton spokesman Jon Amar.
In her statement, Norton expressed support for the development project, which will be financed solely by the developer and is expected to generate $30 million in property taxes, according to Norton’s office. But she’s pushing for regional collaboration on it, much as regional leaders coordinated the 2007 closure of the South Capitol Street Bridge.
Update: That was fast. Norton’s office emails that she’s set up a meeting this Thursday between the regional congressional delegation, FHWA, and DDOT.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery; rendering from Property Group Partners