Feds Consider Shut Down of I-395 in D.C.

Some say the move would cripple one of Washington’s busiest commuter thoroughfares.

Mon December 29, 2014 - Northeast Edition
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WASHINGTON (AP) Federal authorities are considering a request to shut down two-thirds of Interstate 395 in the District of Columbia, a move that would help a mammoth development project finish sooner but one that critics say would cripple one of Washington’s busiest commuter thoroughfares and make the region’s gridlock an even bigger nightmare.

New York-based Property Group Partners told The Washington Post that if the highway is closed for 15 to 18 months between New York Avenue and D Street Northwest, it could halve the construction time of a $200 million deck over the freeway’s entrance. The deck will support the company’s 2.2 million sq.-ft. mixed-use development there, known as Capitol Crossing.

Without full access to that section of Interstate 395 — which sees as many as 90,000 vehicles a day — the developer said the platform project could take at least three years to finish, require loud work at night and potentially endanger workers.

But the impact of such a closure on commuters is certain.

“This would be impacting tens of thousands of people ... and it will have a cascading effect,’’ AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson said. “All the vehicles that can’t be there are going to be forced onto other very crowded major routes in the city.’’

Jeffrey Sussman, president and founder of Property Group Partners, said drivers should be able to figure out how to navigate around closures until the highway can be reopened.

“People find their way who drive because they like to drive,’’ Sussman said. “They like to figure out how to do it.’’

Authorities with the Federal Highway Administration have been quietly reviewing Sussman’s request but declined to say whether it’s likely to be approved.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, who heads the panel’s transportation committee, said she wasn’t aware of the closure request until a reporter asked her about it.

“My jaw dropped at the idea of closing 395 — with the disruption that that would cause,’’ Cheh said. “I just don’t see how that could work in any way that wouldn’t be a nightmare.’’

Other city leaders acknowledge that a closure would be painful, but say it’s worth considering, based on the value Capitol Crossing will bring to the city.

Since the 1980s, District officials have wanted to develop the area, now 6.8 acres of empty space over the sunken I-395 corridor.

As it is now, it’s “a visible and physical scar upon our fair city,’’ said Matthew Troy, the city’s director of real estate. “It is also a pedestrian nightmare and an unproductive piece of real estate.’’

Capitol Crossing, which will comprise three new city blocks, will include five buildings for office, retail and residential uses, with the first building slated to be finished in 2017 and the rest within nine years.

Rich Bradley, executive director of the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, an association of property owners, including Sussman’s company, said by allowing the closure, the impact on traffic will end sooner and the scar of the decades of split communities can be healed.

“We are sorry there will be inconveniences, but there is no way around it, unfortunately,’’ he said.