Community

Wards 7 and 8 Officials, Residents Fight for DC-295 Improvements

An emergency declaration recently signed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) would expedite the replacement of three bridges along DC-295: the Lane Place Bridge, the Parkside Bridge, and the Douglas Street Bridge.
With an infusion of $1.5 million in contingency funds to replace the Lane Bridge and another $250,000 for the Parkside Bridge, local officials expect these projects to wrap up within the next three years.
However, some community members have described the mandate, in the aftermath of a bridge collapse and the Bowser administration’s initial denial of the request to replace these bridges, as just a small part of what’s required for the entire DC-295 corridor.
For ANC Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green, DC-295 needs a total revamp that prioritizes the needs of the people living in the surrounding neighborhoods, many of whom don’t own a car.
“We need to go from a highway to a boulevard so we can live and walk. That [means] restructuring the road to make it more blended and connected to the community,” Green told The Informer.
In the aftermath of the Polk Street pedestrian bridge collapse on June 23, Green has spoken at length about how DC-295, since its construction in the 1950s, has isolated the majority-Black communities of Parkside-Kenilworth and Mayfair from the rest of the city.
As an elected official and ANC Vision Zero caucus member, Green has often expressed frustration about not getting clarity from other city officials about how to prevent traffic fatalities and congestion along the major streets that connect to DC-295.
While not totally satisfied with the mayor’s recent announcement, he described it as an opportune moment for elected leaders to demand more of the federal government.
“When you’re reimagining 295, you have a roadway where people can still come through our community in a way that doesn’t look like NASCAR,” Green said.
“That’s going to take a federal investment and matching language to action.”

COMPETING PRIORITIES
Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer made known his plans to move through with a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan that has not yet been finalized.
He has also corralled Democrats around the passage of a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that funds family and clean energy programs, along with Medicare. Republicans, out of concern about what has been described as a rushed timeline, pledged to vote against the larger infrastructure bill.
All the while, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has facilitated the influx of federal dollars in District infrastructure projects, a move she described as the result of conversations with District residents concerned about bringing life to eastern portions of the city.
For instance, she told The Informer that, despite DC-295 not counting as federal land, upgrades to portions of the corridor near the Malcolm X Interchange, and other areas between Firth Sterling Avenue SE and the South Capitol/Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, have been factored into the construction of the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Southeast.

As chair of the House’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Norton has also ensured that a FY 2022 appropriations bill includes $5 billion for investments in Vision Zero programs and instructure projects that reconnect divided by the construction of highways and investments in Vision Zero programs.
“I’ve been able to make that connection because DHS is of great importance to the federal government and D.C., Norton told The Informer.
“I’ve gotten funds for DC-295 and should note that DHS is the first agency to be built east of the Anacostia River, which makes it important to us and DC-295. This is resulting in a major awakening. DC-295 is important to residents because of the way it connects to DHS and St. Elizabeths.”
Changes to the portion of DC-295 between Fifth Sterling Avenue SE and South Capitol/Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue include bridges, retaining walls, storm drainage, extensive landscaping, a continuous shared use path, along with the reconfiguration of interchanges.
Though residents have applauded some of these changes, there’s still concern about some of the adjustments they’ve had to make nearly four years after the start of construction along that stretch of the corridor.
For instance, cars often struggle to merge into one lane after exiting onto Malcolm X Boulevard and Chesapeake Avenue. Speeding, and the conditions under which drivers feel they are forced to do so, also counts among people’s concerns.
ANC Commissioner Monique Diop, whose constituency includes the Bellevue community, recounted successfully fighting a speeding ticket she said she received trying to keep up with other drivers surpassing the speed limit near the South Capitol/Martin Luther King, Jr. exit of DC-295.
In regards to the construction near her single-member district, Diop said she welcomes change and has always invited the District of Department of Transportation to make its case. However, convincing her constituents that the newly paved portion of DC-295 leading to the future DHS site directly benefits them has been a battle in itself.
“The government did that [construction on DC-295] the Department of Homeland Security,” Diop told The Informer.
“We’re getting a push-off area where you can stop and look at the view, but they wouldn’t have done that for us,” she added.
“They are also adding bike lanes but they don’t come where I live — at least I don’t think so. If they were to do the construction for our community, the [walkways and bike lanes] would extend there.”

RESIDENTS QUESTION WHERE FUNDS TARGETS
On June 23, DC Fire and EMS reported at least five injuries from the bridge collapse near the Kenilworth and Eastland Garden communities.
Authorities initially mentioned that the bridge passed a February inspection. But a report then surfaced which revealed that the bridge received a “poor” rating one month ago. Still, authorities remain cautious in exclusively blaming the bridge’s structural challenges on the collapse, although they did credit the truck with exacerbating decades of wear and tear.
On the morning of July 9, a number of Ward 7 residents testified before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation & the Environment about plans to replace the pedestrian bridge that collapsed along DC-295 toward the end of June.
During that meeting, ANC Commissioner Dorothy Douglas led her constituents in demanding that the D.C. Council includes bridge repairs and long-term infrastructure changes into the FY 2022 budget that benefit seniors and children.
She told The Informer that she has spoken to DDOT about this issue for decades, all to no avail.
“That money should’ve already been allocated. The question is what happened to it,” Douglas said.
“There’s a safety issue. What about the seniors coming through the bridge?,” she added.
“Kids also have to get across those bridges. We have been talking about it for a long time. The government has been taking the money dedicated to our area and shuffling it somewhere else. We need to have something in place to make sure that residents are being served with the tax dollars.”

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