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Residents question logistics of bridge replacement plans

(Published May 21, 2001)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

The chairman of D.C. City Councilís public works committee, prompted by residentsí concerns, is questioning an apparent lack of planning involved in the Williams administrationís announced plans to close the Ninth Street bridge over New York Avenue for reconstruction shortly after a huge new retail development opens nearby.

"The closure of this bridge at a time that closely coincides with the opening of one of the largest retail development projects the city has seen will easily cause a traffic nightmare that will not soon go away," At-Large Councilwoman Carol Schwartz wrote in an April 27 letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams. An aide to Schwartz said the council member is still awaiting a response.

The bridge connects New York Avenue to Brentwood Road in Northeast Washington, just blocks away from the vehicle impoundment lot the city is selling for $3 million to a Detroit developer that plans to build the Districtís first Kmart and Home Depot stores and its fifth Giant Food store on the site.

The stores are scheduled to open next spring. A representative of the District Division of Transportation told a meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5B on April 5 that the city plans to begin "emergency" reconstruction of the Ninth Street bridge in the fall of 2002. The timetable calls for the span to be closed and all traffic to be detoured for 30 months.

A DDOT spokesman said the bridge currently carries about 20,000 vehicles per day.

"Where is all the traffic going to go?" said ANC Commissioner Regina James, whose single-member district includes the retail development site.

James, who recently was elected president of the Brookland Civic Association, said she is scheduling a June 14 community meeting at which she expects city officials to provide residents with answers about how they plan to manage the inevitable traffic "nightmare" in her already congested neighborhood.

James, who supports the planned retail development, said officials still have not adequately responded to concerns residents raised in relation to construction vehicles and customer traffic that will be generated by the retail project.

James complained that the timing of the bridge closing "steals the thunder of our new stores that will be opening" and said she is urging expedited reconstruction of the bridge to coincide with the retail construction schedule.

"The city knew about the condition of the Ninth Street bridge five years ago," James said.

The bridge currently has a 20-ton weight limit, and its crumbling undercarriage is reinforced in at least three places by steel supports. Motorists yielding at the top of the bridge ramp from westbound New York Avenue can often feel the bridge vibrating as traffic crosses it.

"The bridge is not unsafe," said DDOT spokesman Bill Rice. He said the steel bridge supports were erected due to "normal wear and tear" and that design work is in progress for a new bridge. Rice did not respond to a request for access to inspection reports.

Retail developer R. Richard Walker of Graimark/Walker said he has "no concerns" about the planned bridge closing in relation to construction and opening of the planned Kmart, Home Depot and Giant Food stores. One entrance to the shopping center, adjacent to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, will directly connect the stores to the existing Rhode Island Avenue NE commercial corridor.

"Most of the people who will shop at that store probably wonít come from New York Avenue," said Barry F. Scher, Giantís vice president of public affairs. He said Giant will cooperate with the city in efforts to lessen the impact of detoured traffic on the surrounding neighborhoods. "The bridge really does need to be replaced," he said.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator