- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2003

In a town packed with monuments and memorials, it is the original tribute to New Jersey.

Laid out and named by D.C. planner Pierre L’Enfant, New Jersey Avenue runs just over 2.5 miles, often with the Capitol Dome in sight. A century ago, New Jersey Avenue was where visitors disembarked trains at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station, a short walk from the Capitol.

The intervening decades have not been kind. Trains now stop several blocks away, at Union Station. Near the Capitol, New Jersey Avenue has been cut open and blocked off for security measures. Elsewhere, it traverses rundown residential and desolate industrial areas.

“It definitely got marginalized, but it started out as being important,” said Pamela J. Scott, an architectural historian and author.

Avenues named for former colonies were given prominent spots in L’Enfant’s Washington. Pennsylvania Avenue connects the White House and the Capitol. Massachusetts Avenue, one of the District’s longest, passes the vice president’s residence, Embassy Row and Union Station.

New Jersey Avenue travels a less lofty route. It is home to two firehouses, at least five churches, a high school, hotels and office buildings, a power plant, a trash-transfer yard, and a Metrorail station.

There is no record of how L’Enfant decided which avenues would be named after which states, Miss Scott said.

Her theory is that L’Enfant honored some states where the Continental Congress met — Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey — by assigning their names to avenues that run into the Capitol grounds. (The Continental Congress convened in New Jersey in Princeton in 1783 and in Trenton in 1784.)

A modern-day tour of New Jersey Avenue begins in Northeast at Florida Avenue, near Howard University. From here, New Jersey Avenue angles southeasterly toward the Capitol, skirting some of Washington’s historic neighborhoods — LeDroit Park, Mount Vernon Square, Logan Circle.

The administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams has targeted sections of this area as part of a “Home Again” initiative designed to rehabilitate the large supply of vacant and abandoned buildings.

A half-mile into its route, New Jersey Avenue meets New York Avenue at a baffling intersection of timed traffic lights, “Do Not Enter” signs and right-turn-only lanes. With 56 reported motor vehicle collisions, the New Jersey-New York intersection was the third worst in Washington in 2001.

The intersection is one of five sites identified in November as a potential home of a Major League Baseball stadium, should the District succeed in luring a team. That plan would require closing part of New Jersey Avenue, and city officials are said to be dubious about messing so extensively with L’Enfant’s layout.

Closer to the Capitol, New Jersey Avenue passes a gaggle of hotels and office buildings popular for their proximity to the halls of government. This is where the Italianate B&O; railroad station stood for 55 years until its razing in 1907.

The northern part of the avenue reaches an inelegant end at Constitution Avenue, in the shadow of the Capitol Dome. Construction crews have ripped open New Jersey Avenue to install a 1,000-foot service tunnel that garbage and delivery trucks will use to reach the Capitol.

The tunnel is being built as part of the new Capitol Visitor Center beneath the Capitol’s East Grounds. Long proposed, the visitor center finally got the go-ahead after a deranged gunman ran into a Capitol entrance and fatally shot two police officers in 1998.

South of the Capitol, on the House side, New Jersey Avenue resumes at another spot altered because of security concerns.

Its first two blocks are sealed off by concrete and hydraulic steel barriers that keep unauthorized cars away from the Longworth and Cannon House Office Buildings. The security measures were installed after the September 11 attacks.

Several blocks south, again open to traffic, the avenue brushes up against one of Capitol Hill’s most notorious eyesores, the Capitol Power Plant.

The facility began providing electricity in 1910 and today provides steam for heating and chilled water for cooling Capitol complex buildings. Its two towering smokestacks are a familiar view for drivers on Interstate 395. Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, has called the facility “the armpit” of the Capitol.

After the power plant, the avenue passes over railroad tracks, beneath I-395, and along a municipal trash-transfer yard.

Then the Anacostia River comes into view, and with it, some hope for the avenue’s future.

A 10-story office building is under construction on New Jersey Avenue’s final block. A vacant lot a block away is to become a 344-unit apartment building and 200-room hotel.

And directly across M Street from the avenue’s southern terminus, the U.S. General Services is redeveloping 55 riverfront acres of the Washington Navy Yard as the Southeast Federal Center, a mix of office, housing and retail development — including the new headquarters of the Department of Transportation.

That is the centerpiece of efforts to improve the underused riverfront. Once the plan is done, New Jersey Avenue will end at a waterfront park.

“Five years from now, I think that whole neighborhood will be staggeringly different,” said Jacqueline Dupree, who uses her personal Web site (www.jdland.com/dc/newjerseyave.html) to track the redevelopment of the neighborhood known as the “Near Southeast.”

A resident for eight years, Miss Dupree said New Jersey Avenue has been sadly underused.

“It’s one of the few avenues in the entire city that have clear, unobstructed views of the Capitol Dome,” she said. “That’s why I like the ideas they’re putting forward, all these redevelopment plans to make New Jersey Avenue a boulevard, a gateway to the Capitol and down to the river.”

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