Once long-term construction along an up-and-coming portion of Minnesota Avenue in Northeast wraps up next October, residents and commuters can enjoy green space, wider sidewalks, additional traffic signals and smoothly paved streets.
The promise of impending improvements, however, hasn’t quelled concerns among owners of nearby businesses who said they have endured the effects of seemingly nonstop bumper-to-bumper traffic, obstructive construction debris, and noise for nearly two years.
“Right from the onset, it affected business,” said Yaw Menyah, owner of Reliance Pharmacy, a drug store of four years in Sharks Plaza, a strip of eateries, convenience stores, and other storefronts located on Minnesota Avenue, across the street from the Department of Employment Services.
“We expected construction to happen overnight, People only have a small portion of the road to use,” said Menyah, a pharmacist of more than 10 years. “I have to stay up the block on Minnesota Avenue for 30 minutes before getting into the parking lot. I have to get up early and leave late to make sure there’s no traffic. The traffic doesn’t flow and there are bumps all over the place.”
The conditions Menyah described manifested out of what’s been touted as Phase Two of the Minnesota Avenue Revitalization Project, part of the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) effort to beautify the corridor, prioritize pedestrian and motorist safety and improve the standard of living.
This portion of the project, near the halfway mark of completion, follows the reconstruction of a half-mile strip along Minnesota Avenue between A Street in Southeast and near Benning Road in Northeast that started in 2015 and ended last year.
Since September 2017, service crews from DDOT, Washington Gas and Pepco providing service upgrades along Minnesota Avenue, between Benning Road and Sheriff Road in Northeast, have restricted the flow of traffic to one travel lane in each direction.
As crews unearth and patch up several feet of pavement over several hours, bright orange flags and traffic cones lining the street direct motorists along a newly carved path. DDOT officials said they’ve confined this activity to between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., when they expect less activity along the corridor.
However, the onslaught of cars and Metro buses converging on an artery of Minnesota Avenue that includes Friendship Public Charter School – Collegiate Academy, the DC Department of Employment Services and a string of franchises and small stores, often creates daily traffic jams and community complaints, the latter of which prompted D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to publicly address the issue.
“We want to make it easier for pedestrians,” Bowser told community members gathered Wednesday, Oct. 17 in a small parking lot and alley around the corner from Friendship PCS before commencing what she described as one of her monthly walks throughout various District communities.
Minutes before she started her stroll, motorists on Minnesota Avenue squeezed into tight corners on the side of the road as a fire truck with its siren and lights on struggled to move through a single lane of rush-hour traffic near the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Grant Street.
In her remarks, Bowser announced officials’ attempts to confine construction to smaller spaces and minimize disruption. She later allowed DDOT representatives to speak and introduced Durriyyah Habeebullah, the newly installed Sixth District commander of the Metropolitan Police Department’s sixth district who answered questions about public safety.
“We have opportunities, and cleaner and safer conditions on the corridor,” the mayor said while surrounded by several city officials. “We want to bring amenities to this community. Pardon our dust as we’re looking for ways to speed up the construction.”
For more than an hour, an increasingly large group of residents, community representatives and government officials followed the mayor as she spoke with elders, youth and business owners along Minnesota Avenue. Businesses visited included Northside Medical Services Corporation, Deanwood Cafe and Sala Thai.
DDOT officials said construction could wrap up two months earlier than expected, toward the end of August, if weather permits. Whatever the outcome, Sala Thai owner Oy Changsila said he wants to use his outdoor patio space by next spring and see more parking that will attract diners to his establishment.
“The construction took all the parking space,” Changsila said, adding that the environmental hazards of construction have taken a toll on his customers. “During the day, the machines outside create carbon monoxide smoke that goes into the restaurant as people dine. It’s beyond my control. I don’t know how much longer we will have to wait.”