From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter@Tomonswann.
A large crowd turned out for the pre-construction meeting on the streetscape rehabilitationproject along U Street NW. At Wednesday night’s meeting it was announced that the project is scheduled to begin the week of June 11 and is expected to be complete in April 2013. The blocks to be upgraded include both the north and south side of U Street from 9th Street NW to 14th Street NW.
Councilmember Jim Graham (D-ward 1) was the opening speaker and quickly tried to temper the anxiety anyone in the room had by explaining that this project will not be nearly as disruptive at the current 18th Street Adams Morgan project — at least during this first phase. Graham then introduced many stakeholders, including contacts from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Myla Moss of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B and Brian Card of the U Street Neighborhood Association.
When Graham asked for a show of hands, residents slightly outnumbered business owners in attendance at the meeting.
Improvements and Disruptions Detailed
A representative from David Volkert & Associates Engineering walked attendees through the improvements and gave details on what to expect during construction. The improvements will include new curbs, gutters, sidewalks, bus pads, bike racks, storm drains, traffic signals, lighting and multispace parking meters. The $5 million project is mostly federally funded with about 16% coming from local funds.
Construction will begin at 9th and U Streets NW and move west toward 14th Street. Upgrades will take about three to four weeks per block, per side. During that time, parking will be interrupted: first as the curbs are replaced, then as pedestrians are routed into the parking lane as sidewalks are replaced. The sidewalk will be widened where conditions do not meet ADA standards. Planners hope to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction. Steel plates and ramps will allow pedestrians to access affected businesses during the process. Bus stops may be moved temporarily when they are in the construction zone.
Business Owners Are Concerned
During the question and answer period, business owners expressed serious concerns about the impact on their operations. Councilmember Graham pointed out that owners will be able to apply for no-interest loans for assistance. A few commenters dismissed the benefit of the loan program and suggested other compensation such as tax relief. The project will impact a variety of independent stores, restaurants and bars. Among the impacted businesses are such U Street landmarks as Ben’s Chili Bowl, Lee’s Flower Shop, the Lincoln Theater and Nellie’s Sports Bar.
Phase Two and Beyond
The second phase of the project from 14th to 18th Street is scheduled to begin in late 2013. That segment is expected to be more intrusive as there will be deeper digging in the street for upgrades. The upgrades along 14th Street NW are on hold as extensive development currently underway would interfere with the project. The current target for the start of that project is now fiscal year 2015 or 2016.
The Borderstan neighborhoods have seen similar streetscape upgrades over the years. Recent ones include the blocks of P Street west of Dupont Circle, 17th Street NW from P to R Streets and several blocks of 18th Street NW in the middle of the Adams Morgan commercial strip. While the reviews of the improvements have generally been favorable; the disruption to the businesses especially during the P Street and now 18th Street NW projects have been well documented.