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No Big Dig for New York Ave
Boston's Big Dig. Flickr photo by cody_7147.

Boston's Big Dig. Flickr photo by cody_7147.

Richard Layman wrote last Wednesday about Boston’s Big Dig sparking more proposals to bury stretches of highway. He cites this example in Philly which, not knowing almost anything about the city, seems like a good thing. But then Layman goes and talks about burying New York Avenue. This seems like a total waste of money.

The DDOT’s NY Ave. Corridor Study does call for burying NY Ave. between Mt. Vernon Square and North Capitol. This seems like a good idea, as this is good real estate that could be turned into what DDOT calls “an address street.” But I fail to see how burying NY Ave. would do anything to help the corridor beyond the New York Ave. Red Line station.

The problem is the railroad tracks.

Take a look at a few google map stills:



NY Ave runs directly along the AMTRAK/MARC line between Union Station and New Carrollton. As such, it’s hard to argue that the highway is somehow separating two neighborhoods that otherwise would be connected in an urban fabric. The rails have precisely the same effect as the highway in that respect. In fact, Jane Jacobs uses railroad tracks as her archetypal example of a facility that acts as an unused border and thereby saps the life out of the surrounding area.
The Big Dig was so important because it reunited the valuable (in terms of dollars, vitality, beauty, you name it) waterfront with the central city. Burying New York Ave. would reunite the surrounding neighborhoods with the railroad tracks. I don’t see how that’s ever going to justify the cost.

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  • This article seems to be deliberetly obtuse- a tunnel alongside New York Avenue and the rail tracks would be reletively easy to build – dig out the parking lots alongside, and them erect a deck atop with development rights for beaux arts apartment buildins as seen in Paris.

    I see no reason why the tunnel must instead be directly under New York Avenue for this distance, ewhoich would make it more expensive to construct, but without the air right sales.

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  • Noah Kazis

    Noah M. – the DDOT proposal calls for burying NY Ave West of North Capitol. This is a good idea. Richard Layman calls for expanding the burying all the way to the MD line. This is what I critique.

  • I think we can generally credit the strange insistence with which these proposals keep arising with the persistence of one or two people in the face of pretty much any and all evidence.

  • Noah Mamis

    Sorry, Noah, but I’m slightly confused. Isn’t the stretch of NY Ave between Mt Vernon Square and North Capitol Street to the West of the area you go on to describe? I didn’t read very much of the DDOT’s proposal because I’m busy saving the West, but I didn’t see them calling for burying NY Ave anywhere in Northeast.

  • Noah Kazis

    BeyondDC, couldn’t agree more. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify that I don’t think NY Ave NE isn’t a potential site for development, but rather that I think the specific development benefits of burying a highway are unlikely to work there.

  • PS: The I-395 trench from E St to Mass Ave should be the city’s highest-priority highway to cap. Luckily those plans are already in the works.

  • There’s plenty of good urban redevelopment potential along its stretch in Northeast. The road is really no different there from any suburban arterial. It may as well be Rt 355 in Gaithersburg, Rt 1 in College Park, or 50 in Fairfax. On NY Ave, just like on those other places, the answer isn’t to bury anything, but is to give the road the boulevard treatment. That’s all you need from the square up to Bladensburg Road. After Bladensburg Road we may as well just accept that it’s a highway.

    If we’re going to bury any roads, I’d rather bury 14th Street under the Mall (like 12th), or 395 in Southwest, or that tangle in front of the Kennedy Center.

    Actually, if we’re going to go to the expense of burying anything, I’d rather it be a train.