A study is underway to replace the closed piece of the Southeast Freeway between the 11th Street bridges and Barney Circle with a new road. But is a new road even the best use of the space at all?


The freeway segment under construction in 1972. Photo from DDOT.

A 2005 “Middle Anacostia Crossings” study recommended a 4-lane boulevard to replace the freeway segment. That freeway was initially designed as part of a network of inner-city freeways, but DC thankfully stopped those plans before they divided and damaged any more neighborhoods as the freeway did to Southwest and Near Southeast.


Map of the area. Image from DDOT.

Now, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is starting a formal study of this as well as ways to rebuild Barney Circle. Communication about the “Southeast Boulevard” project often presumed that this project would indeed build a 4-lane boulevard.

Early concept sketches showed how some of the land could accommodate tour bus parking, but those sketches all also showed a 4-lane boulevard.

Is that the right way to use the land?

Is a boulevard the answer?

The 11th Street Bridge has added car capacity across the Anacostia and given drivers a direct connection between DC-295 north of the bridges and the Southeast Freeway. Today, the road is closed, so no cars are using it at all.

Think of it this way: What if there were no boulevard here and it were just empty space, perhaps a decommissioned railyard or some abandoned warehouses. Would DC build a road?


Houses adjacent to the construction. Photo from DDOT.

Craig Lenhart and Sanjay Kumar, who are managing the project for DDOT, say that they are indeed willing to study whether there need not be any new road at all, or a narrower one than 4 lanes. Based on feedback from a number of residents on this issue, they say they will study just that.

One of the objectives for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, which includes this project, is to strengthen connections to and across the river. While the 11th Street bridges have provided better connections for car traffic around the neighborhood and across the river, bicycles and pedestrians also need better connections.

Rebuilding Barney Circle will be an opportunity to stengthen and make safer the Anacostia River trails’ connections to Capitol Hill, the Sousa Bridge (Pennsylvania Avenue), and subsequently neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. The study will also look at ways to connect the neighborhood to the river with bridges over the CSX tracks, the DDOT representatives say.

What is the best way to use this land?

The land between the southernmost homes on L Street SE and the CSX is zoned for commercial/manufacturing currently, and the District of Columbia owns it. It could also be rezoned if the city determined other worthwhile uses to pursue here.

As one of many possibilities, David created a mockup in 2010 of how the land could house more residents (some with pretty impressive water views):


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Or, DC could build many other things. Playgrounds or sports fields, a mountain bike park, a community theater or an art museum, public buildings, or much more. What do you think DC should do with this land?

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC’s Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff’s writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.