Monday, February 12, 2007

Why Not Just Raise the City?

This just strikes me as spending good money on a bad project

As part of the new stadium district revitilization plan, the District of Columbia is going to make massive renovations to the Frederick Douglass Bridge aka South Capitol Street Bridge, the 58-year old swing span over the Anacostia in the District. For Washingtonians, this is a busy artery in and out of town, giving commuters access to Interstate 295, the eastside north-south thoroughfare through the city. It so happens that the Nationals' new stadium site is right to the east of South Capitol Street just before the Anacostia crossing.

You can see the area by entering this criteria into Google Maps: 1721 s capitol st sw washington dc (it's a random address that shows the area). That big open area above and to the right of the green arrow is the new stadium site. Toggle over to Satellite view and zoom in if you want to look around.

The bridge takes off ground level almost a quarter mile before the river, and two streets, P Street and Potomac Avenue (really three because Q Street intersects Potomac Avenue right at the bridge) go under it. This page at JD Land gives you a good idea of how bad urban highway-ey the area is right now, and how scary it might look at night for a drunken baseball fan looking for his car. The plan is to make the approach to the river on the ground level, and generally more business- and pedestrian-friendly.

There are three problems with this whole thing. I have ordered them in descending order from big to stupid to what the fuck.

The big problem is that this is just a ridiculous undertaking. I followed the whole stadium saga and I never heard about the bridge work, which certainly doesn't mean it was never reported. There was a great deal of talk about 'revitalization' of the area, a la Chinatown with MCI Verizon Center, but I never heard nothing bout no 27 million dollars for lowerin no bridge.

I don't know what makes the city think it can do this for any amount of money in any reasonable timeframe, much less the next year and a half until the stadium opens. If you look at this convenient Washington Post graphic here, you will see 800 feet of the bridge is to be removed and almost 600 feet is to be lowered. Along with demolishing the first section, they will have to clear it, re-grade, pave and install the fan-friendly infrastructure, all the while keeping a major in-out artery open.

As for the section to be lowered, what, are they going to truss the whole thing in temporary suspension, torch out the sections of vertical, lower it and weld? I have no idea how the logistics of something like this can even work but it's a 58-year old bridge. You tell me if you think 27 million dollars and 15 months is what this project will take. The idea that the city that accepted 20 million on credit from Congress for stadium-related Metro renovations but made the 611 million dollar stadium deal before getting a signature on the 20 mil can manage a capital project like lowering a working swing span brige 20 feet in time with the opening of the new stadium is insane.

At this point, I'd like to remind all District residents and Nationals fans that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was stridently against the stadium plan, but now as mayor is saddled with having to supervise the implemenation of the plan as an honest player. Fun.

Curly W aside: Mayor Fenty, a star I have had the pleasure of watching rise in DC politics since I moved here as an independent adult over a decade ago, will heretofore be known as Mayor Lamont Cranston for his uncanny resemblance to The Shadow, and not the crappy Alec Baldwin Shadow from the movies, the Howard Chaykin comic book revival from the 80s. Hat tip to Why I Hate DC blog here and here.

The stupid problem is that this is an ancient bridge that needs to be replaced. It was finished in 1949 and since I moved here as an independent adult in 1995, the Frederick Douglass Bridge has been a topic for renewal in the District. It rarely opens (seven times in 2005) and it needs to be replaced, but I've never really read about a serious effort to replace it...

...before researching this piece that is. I found the South Capitol Street Bridge Project website here. In February 2005, the District government initiated a study on how to deal with a bridge that is at the

point of being structurally deficient and functionally inefficient.
Ok then. So this study ended in June of last year, and I do not rememeber reading about the results. The site, in District government fashion, conveniently does not feature conclusions. I did see this here though:
The new bridge alignment places the bridge downstream of the existing bridge...The South Capitol Street Bridge Corridor is located in the Coastal Plain Physiographic Province. Locally, the bridge site is characterized by the Pamlico formation of recent Pleistocene Age. It is entirely fluvial and estuarine and consists chiefly of sand, gravel, and silt, with organic silts.
Ok, at this point I need lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery, a professional archaeologist, to comment on WTF this stuff all means.

John Kelly reported in November 2006 (op. cit. previous WaPo link) that estimates for a new bridge vary from 285 to 392 million dollars and can't start before 2011.

The what the fuck problem is that this is just not a pedestrian-friendly area. This part of the District feeds drivers in and out of town at a high rate of speed, and I just do not see how the transit needs of this artery to the city overall can match up with the desire to make this area friendly to pedestrian foot traffic and cool chain businesses like Johnny Rockets and Cheesecake Factory. A traffic circle at Potomac Avenue at the western base of the bridge? There's just no way 70,000 vehicles a day works in this plan.

Spending 10 percent of the cost of a new bridge now to meet a deadline that didn't exist when the original replacement timeline was created for a need that suits principally private interests. The stadium charley-foxtrot just got bigger. A lot bigger.

Top image is a detail of the graphic from the Washington Post here.

Photo of the South Capitol Street Bridge: Washington Post photo from 1949 from here.

The Shadow from here. I read this comic in high school and have all four original issues in this miniseries, but they're all in my parents' basement.