The proposal to tear down the 35-year-old Southeast Freeway and replace it with a tunnel and boulevard, shops, attractive housing, bike paths and eateries is an ambitious idea and one that raises many of the same concerns Washingtonians had two generations ago when planners proposed building the freeway. Still, it is an idea truly worthy of serious deliberations.
The Southeast Freeway is a 1.5-mile stretch of roadway that connects the Southwest and Anacostia freeways. About 90,000 motorists travel it every day. Nearby employers include Congress, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, three military installations (the Marine Corps, U.S. Navy Yard and Fort McNair which is headquarters for the Military District of Washington) and The Washington Post. Nearby commercial attractions include the seafood offerings along the Southwest Waterfront. Also nearby are longtime Capitol Hill homeowners and scores of low-rise, low-income housing units.
While the Southeast Freeway is a key commuter artery, it is hardly the window to the world. In fact, one planning agency called for demolishing it a few years back. Besides, the time for reshaping the city’s landscape is right now. Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia and other big cities are way ahead of the, ahem, nation’s capital in that respect.
Why not replace the freeway with wide, tree-lined boulevards as Pierre L’Enfant envisioned? Why not develop the Southwest Waterfront to attract tourists like Baltimore’s Inner Harbor does? Why not offer residential properties and hotel rooms with riverside views? Why not reconnect Capitol Hill with its former neighbors that lie just the other side of the freeway?
Of course, the “community” has yet to have its say and have a say it must. That’s where the mayor, the D.C. Council and the heavy lifting come in. Then again, they can handle it. Why settle for the status quo?