- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

Metro opened its newest station yesterday amid hopes that it would spark more economic development in the city’s Northeast commercial district along Florida and New York avenues while serving residents in the nearby, emerging neighborhoods.

However, the $103.7 million Red Line station is far from complete and questions remain about safety for the growing number of pedestrians who will attempt to reach it by crossing the area’s busy thoroughfares in the coming weeks.

“The whole area is a work in progress,” D.C. Department of Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini told The Washington Times yesterday. “I think you are looking at two to three years before it looks like it does on the front of the brochures.”

The first order of business, he said, is to finish construction of a $7 million concrete overpass that will allow pedestrians to avoid the heavy traffic on New York and Florida avenues to reach the New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet University station.

The overpass runs alongside the train platform and goes south to Union Station and north over Florida Avenue, under New York Avenue, then drops pedestrians near the headquarters of XM Satellite Radio on Eckington Place NE.

With several wooden planks visible, and only a makeshift wire railing in place along the edge of the 30-foot-high overpass, the structure remained closed yesterday. It will not be ready for pedestrians until a more secure railing is built, which Mr. Tangherlini said will take at least two more weeks.

The overpass will also be the first completed section of the Metropolitan Branch trail, an 8-mile-long, multiuse path that will run along the Red Line from Union Station to Silver Spring.

Despite the unfinished construction, yesterday was a day for cork-popping, back-patting and ribbon-cutting by officials who tout the new station as a linchpin of revitalization in a once-devastated section of Northeast.

The station, at 200 Florida Ave. NE, is the first in Metro history to be built between two already existing ones — Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood.

Though the station was built for residents on both sides of New York Avenue, it will also serve employees at the new federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) headquarters, being built adjacent to the station and scheduled to open in 2006.

With a marching band playing outside, a host of D.C. dignitaries packed a tent set up on the dirt yesterday between the new station’s entrance and the adjacent construction site.

“This is not a win-win situation, but a win-win-win situation; the businesses, the District and the federal government all winning at the same time,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress.

The District should be proud, she said, that only a third of the money for the station came from the federal government, with the rest from the city budget and private partnerships, about $54 million and $25 million, respectively.

Mrs. Norton praised city officials for their commitment to public transportation, saying the District beat out Virginia as the site for the new ATF headquarters because Virginia couldn’t provide a place with a nearby Metro stop.

Joining her on stage were D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, several D.C. Council members, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board members, and several other dignitaries, including D.C. Poet Laureate Dolores Kendrick.

One of Miss Kendrick’s original poems is carved beneath a sculpture by Arizona artist Barbara Grygutis outside the new station. The sculpture depicts leaves of a scarlet oak, the District’s official tree.

The celebrations went on undeterred by the fact that no parking lot or driveway has been paved leading to the station’s main entrance.

Concrete slabs about 15 yards from the entrance stop at a large patch of dirt between the station and the massive ATF construction site.

Pedestrians must reach the station through smaller entrances at each end of the train platform until the work is complete.

One entrance opens onto a sidewalk on M Street and the other onto a sidewalk beside several lanes of heavy auto traffic on Florida Avenue, about two blocks east of the intersection with New York Avenue.

One corner of the intersection has no electronic crossing signals.

Frederick Hannah, 43, who arrived at the new station yesterday on a subway car, said he was eager to explore walking routes between the station and his home near S and First streets NW.

However, he had to negotiate the intersection of New York and Florida avenues.

Mr. Hannah, a regular user of the Shaw-Howard University Station on Metro’s Green Line, said he would be checking whether the new station was feasible in terms of “distance, time, safety and security.”

“I want to see how much of a challenge it’s going to be for me to get from here to there without having to fight the traffic challenges,” he said.

Mr. Williams — wearing a pair of black Nike “Air” sneakers as he toured the station — sidestepped a reporter from The Times who asked about the absence of electronic crosswalk lights at one portion of the intersection.

The mayor referred questions to Mr. Tangherlini, who responded by saying city officials were already “right on it.”

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