A rendering of "Lightweave" on L Street NE in NoMa, one of the underpass projects that will begin construction this month. Image by Future Cities Lab.

The NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) has long sought to activate the dark underpasses created by railroad tracks that bisect the neighborhood. While various issues have delayed plans to do this on M Street NE and L Street NE since they were unveiled in 2015, the NoMa Parks Foundation aims to begin construction next week. The first installation is targeted for completion in March.

NoMa will install “Rain,” comprised of 4,000 LED light rods hung from an underpass ceiling in a series of vaults, on M Street and “Lightweave,” a series of lights that drop from the ceiling in a discontinuous and undulating manner similar to clouds, on L Street. Thurlow Small Architects and NIO designed Rain, and Future Cities Lab designed Lightweave.

M Street will get “Rain”

In the M Street underpass, NoMa will close the southern sidewalk entirely and the northern sidewalk partially (pedestrians will be able to pass under the tracks on the north side) on January 11, according to a schedule released Friday. Installation on the south side of the street will occur first and take about three weeks, after which work will take place on the north side with a target opening in March.

A rendering of "Rain" in the M Street underpass. Image by NoMa BID.

The first signs of construction on M Street were in September 2016, when crews began installing the foundations for Rain. However, approvals from Amtrak took longer than expected, delaying the work.

“We've had, really, one stumble and that's this M Street underpass,” said NoMa BID president Robin-Eve Jasper at an April 2017 community meeting. “Dealing with Amtrak has just proved more difficult than we anticipated.”

Today, following the news of the construction schedule for the underpasses, Jasper says, “We received great support from senior management people at Amtrak, some of whom live in the neighborhood.”

L Street will welcome “Lightweave”

In the L Street underpass, the sidewalks on both sides of the street will be partially blocked for staging on January 11. NoMa will fully close the northern sidewalk when construction begins on January 23. The southern sidewalk will close after work is complete on the northern one, with completion targeted for April.

An aerial overview of Lightweave on L Street. Image by Future Cities Lab.

Future Cities Lab has posted a number of photos of the fabrication and testing of Lightweave to its Instagram feed.

NoMa Parks is setting up for a busy 2018. In addition to the installation of Rain and Lightweave, work on Swampoodle Park at 3rd Street and L Street NE is nearing completion, with opening expected as soon as February.

To the north, NoMa Parks plans to break ground on its new two-acre park along the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Eckington later this year.

Edward Russell is an air transport reporter by day with a passion for all things transportation. He is a resident of Eckington and tweets frequently about planes, trains and bikes.