The D.C. interstate network that was not to be

TRAFFIC TALK

August 12, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TWO WEEKS ago, I ran a question from Al Gregg, who wondered why only one interstate runs into Washington from Maryland. If you know the answer, I said in that column, I want to hear from you.

And I did.

First of all, Glenn Hoge set us straight about the detail of how many roads lead to D.C.: "In response to the question about the pitiful dearth of expressways leading into our nation's capital, there are in fact two from Maryland: the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and U.S. 50. But, of course, neither of these roads provides expressway access all the way into downtown."

Mr. Hoge pointed out that several other major routes into D.C. from Maryland were planned: "Interstates 95 and 270 were originally intended to go all the way into D.C. but were blocked by community opposition," he said. "I think these roads should have been extended into downtown. But I hasten to add that I don't live in or next to the path that either of them would have taken. No doubt my perspective would be different if I did."

The not-in-my-back-yard syndrome is central to Walter Dirndorfer's observation about the roads: "To help answer some questions about the D.C. interstate - or lack thereof - there is some info on the Internet. Most of the data I was able to find while I was gathering data to fight against the proposed Maglev system between Baltimore and D.C. The Maglev system doesn't make sense, but the [originally proposed] interstate system would have been useful. The problem with getting it built was D.C. politics and a great amount of NIMBY," he said.

Ron McCandless e-mailed to recommend an interesting Web site that provides enlightenment about the lack of expressways into our nation's capital, www.roadstothefuture.com/DC_Interstate_Fwy.html. The site "has a ton of history on why roads were and were not constructed," he said. "I think that'll answer your reader's questions about why only one highway goes between Baltimore and D.C."

According to information from www.roadstothefuture. com, there was a plan in 1971 to build a complete freeway system in the District of Columbia, with connections to the national interstate highway system. Had this system been completed, I-95 would look much different from the way it looks today. Instead of skirting the district in Prince George's County, it would have passed beneath Fort Totten, headed to within a few blocks of the Capitol through the I-395 tunnel and left the district at the 14th Street Bridge.

The New York Avenue Industrial Freeway would have continued the expressway from U.S. 50 to junctions with other proposed interstates, including the proposed route of I-95, from the Virginia side.

Farther north, the proposed interstate system would have made it possible to travel from Rockville on I-70S (now I-270) on the proposed North Central Freeway and join the Capital Beltway near Takoma Park.

If money and political will coincide, space still exists for some of those roads to be constructed, said Mike Pruett, who runs the Web site www.mdroads. com.

"On I-95 in Maryland inside the beltway, there is still space cleared out for the roadway." he said. "Typographical maps show an overhead power line along this corridor. There are subdivisions on both sides, but minimum crossings and only by the major roads," he said.

But community opposition is alive and well, he said. Other concerns also exist. "In D.C., there was and still is (for example, Barney Circle) NIMBY action," he said. "Despite the supposed pro-highway tilt of a Republican administration and the possible relaxation of some of the environmental requirements, there is now the homeland security issue for I-95. In the current environment, Congress would not likely want most of the truck traffic on the East Coast to pass beneath the Capitol Reflecting Pool (through the current I-395 tunnel)." This made the rebuilding of the Wilson Bridge and Springfield "mixing bowl" in Virginia even more necessary, Pruett said.

Pruett said the proposed I-70S (now I-270) into D.C. would have run along Rock Creek Park. "The NIMBY would be in Silver Spring and Takoma Park," he said. "To satisfy any NIMBY opposition would require a Big Dig-type project similar to what's happening in Boston. Most of these plans would only be acceptable if large portions are built underground with a minimum of disruption topside. With the Big Dig out of the way, hopefully the lessons learned in Boston can be put to use here."

Pruett also recommends www.highwaysandcommunities.com/Introduction.htm for more information about the history of some of the plans.

I love living in Maryland, and there are few places I'd rather be. But I can see how it would improve the way we live, work and play in and around Washington if we had a road system worthy of our national's capital.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044.

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