If you ask Google Maps how to get from Baltimore to Richmond (or New York to Raleigh, or Boston to Miami), it suggests taking the Beltway around through Bethesda and Tysons to circumvent DC. But that may change.
There’s no all-freeway route that goes through DC’s center. According to Google Maps, the alternate route along the Anacostia Freeway to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is only a minute more; taking the eastern half of the Beltway is three minutes more. The most direct route on a map is to take the Anacostia Freeway to the Southeast Freeway. But there’s no direct connection, and drivers have to get off the freeway to cross the river. That encourages people to go around instead.
Unfortunately, DDOT’s split personality on traffic has come down on the traffic-speeding side with the redesign of the 11th Street bridges. Under the laudable goal of better connecting neighborhoods east and west of the river, the Fenty Administration and DDOT have thrown their weight behind spending $500 million of local money (not federally matched money) to widen the road and connect the southbound Anacostia Freeway to westbound Southeast Freeway (and vice versa).
Traffic is simple. When you increase capacity at a bottleneck (which this is), you increase overall capacity, and when you increase overall capacity, you get induced demand, people driving who wouldn’t have driven before. There’s little doubt that more people will be driving along this stretch who didn’t before. And the Sierra Club has numerous other objections which project officials have so far ignored.
I’d love to know why DDOT is doing this. Does Deputy Chief Engineer Kathleen Penney (who I’m told has a bridge-building background) come from the more-lanes-more-cars school of traffic management? Is Mayor Fenty, unlike his predecessors, just clueless on traffic (as on Klingle)? Are our suburban Congresspeople (Hoyer, Van Hollen, Davis, et. al.) pushing for this to shove more traffic through the poor, black neighborhoods of DC and make commuting easier for their constituents (as happened when the NPS considered closing Beach Drive during some off-peak times)?
People in Wards 7 and 8 support this at the moment because it’d be convenient to cross the river without getting on and then off the freeway. There’s also the potential to get some traffic off their neighborhood streets that gets off the freeway to cross the river since there’s no direct connection; but traffic calming those streets, a better solution, isn’t an alternative in the EIS.
I suspect that if built, five or ten or twenty years from now residents will be agitating to remove it, as environmental justice advocates are pushing for the Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx. Is increased asthma and loss of parks and a boathouse worth $500 million and the convenience of a quicker trip to Capitol Hill?