The draft Benning Road and Bridges Transportation Improvements Environmental Assessment (EA), published in May 2016, evaluates transportation improvements and their potential impacts in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508), and the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Environmental Impact and Related Procedures (23 CFR 771). The process to finalize the EA is ongoing. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will submit a Final EA and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for review and approval.
DDOT has selected Build Alternative 2 as the preferred alternative from the draft EA. The Benning Road Reconstruction and Streetcar project is a preliminary design project that advances the concept design for draft EA Build Alternative 2. A more detailed level of design will be conducted using new and updated field surveys, traffic analysis, and bridge conditions assessments. The project will assist DDOT in responding to questions received from reviewers and the public during the EA comment period.
The No Build Alternative from the draft EA remains an option, and assumes that all other currently programmed, committed, or funded transportation projects in the study area would be completed, including the ongoing Minnesota Avenue Revitalization project.
In coordination with the preliminary design, DDOT is studying interchange modifications at DC-295 and Benning Road NE.
Cost estimates prepared for the ongoing Benning Road Streetcar and Bridges Transportation Improvements EA put the total project construction cost for the DDOT Preferred Alternative at about $175 million, which includes roadway, bridge, and streetcar capital costs. Updated cost estimates will be prepared as part of the project.
If the project should move forward, it would be built almost entirely within DDOT right-of-way. Some Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) right-of-way has been identified for the end-of-line at the Benning Road Metrorail station and a traction power substation (TPSS) facility located near the Benning Road Metrorail station. The project would not displace or relocate any residence, business, or community facility; however, the geometry of the road will change and will bring the curb on each side of the street closer to adjacent residences and businesses in some locations.
The roadway geometry changes also would result in the need to remove and replace street trees. The final extent of tree removal will be determined in the design process, following a detailed survey of the corridor’s street trees. DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration will develop and implement a street tree management plan. The street trees would not be removed as a result of the propulsion (power) system for the proposed streetcar extension.
More specifics regarding property and street tree impacts will be available as preliminary design advances through this project.
The preliminary design process currently underway is expected to take 18 months to complete. Subsequent project phases, including final design and construction, are subject to the findings of the environmental reviews and have yet to be finalized. If the project should move forward, the goal for project completion is 2024–2025. Changes to funding availability and decisions made during preliminary and final design could affect this schedule.
If the project should move forward, lanes would be temporarily closed in sections of the corridor for the construction of streetcar tracks, interchange modifications, and reconstruction or rehabilitation of the bridges. A maintenance of traffic (MOT) plan would be developed that would detail lane closures and any detour routes for all travel modes (pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, and automobiles). DDOT anticipates using Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods to reduce the duration of construction. Constructing roadway and bridge improvements together with streetcar elements also would reduce impacts to the community over the long term.
The District identified the Benning Road corridor as an area for commercial and residential redevelopment via its designation as a Great Street. The Great Street program allows existing small businesses and new businesses to apply for up to $85,000 in reimbursable grants for capital expenditures. Redevelopment already is occurring along the corridor and will likely continue due to its proximity to employment centers and the Metrorail system. Introducing an additional transit option would support the existing and future development by increasing safety, mobility, and connectivity in the corridor.
Initiated in 2000, the AWI envisions a clean river environment, new parks and other recreational facilities, more job-creating commercial centers, revitalized residential neighborhoods, and multimodal transportation options through DDOT infrastructure projects. Improvements to and the reconstruction of the Benning Road/DC-295 interchange are proposed in the 2014 Anacostia Waterfront Initiative Transportation Master Plan.
Congress passed NEPA in 1969. The act promotes better-informed decision making as a part of federally funded projects. NEPA requires preparation of an environmental document to evaluate the environmental effects of federally funded projects, and requires transportation agencies across the country to clearly state why a project is needed (“Purpose and Need Statement”), provide adequate consideration of feasible alternatives, and pursue the development of mitigation measures to ensure that potential negative impacts from the proposed project are avoided, minimized, or mitigated to the greatest degree possible. The environmental document for the proposed Benning Road Reconstruction and Streetcar project is an Environmental Assessment (EA). The draft EA evaluates several “Build” alternatives as well as a “No Build” alternative. If the reviewing agency determines that the Build alternative will not result in significant environmental impacts, the District could then move the Benning Road Reconstruction and Streetcar project forward through subsequent final design and construction phases.
An interchange modification report (IMR) is required when new or revised vehicular access to the highway system is proposed. A decision to approve such modifications must be supported by considerations and requirements related to operations, safety, and access. DDOT is studying interchange modifications at the DC-295/Benning Road ramps through an IMR and a separate NEPA study for the interchange. With approval of the access modification and an environmental determinization that the modification would not result in significant environmental impacts, the District could move the DC-295/Benning Road ramps project forward through subsequent final design and construction phases.
Bus service that runs along the corridor today is operated by WMATA as Metrobus service. No changes to existing Metrobus routes are expected as a result of this project; however, local Metrobus stops may need to be relocated to accommodate the streetcar stop platform at the Benning Road Metrorail station.
Metrobus passenger surveys indicate that crowding and schedule adherence along the H Street and Benning Road corridor are key issues. The streetcar can accommodate 150 people seated and standing (as opposed to 48 on a regular Metrobus and 65 on an articulated Metrobus). Passengers also can board and alight using three doors simultaneously on the streetcar. These advantages make the streetcar more attractive than buses, particularly when passengers are riding between the Benning Road Metrorail station and Union Station and will help move passengers from Metrobuses to the streetcar, thereby reducing crowding and bus bunching along the corridor.
The existing H/Benning line features both median- and curb-running tracks. As part of the ongoing Benning Road and Bridges Transportation Improvements EA, DDOT selected a median-running streetcar for the entirety of this eastward extension from Oklahoma Avenue NE to the Benning Road Metrorail station. A median-running streetcar extension would feature median streetcar stops and allow for continued off-peak parking along portions of Benning Road.
Six new streetcar stops are proposed to be located along Benning Road NE at Oklahoma Avenue NE, Kingman Island, 34th Street NE, 39th Street NE, 42nd Street NE, and the Benning Road Metrorail station. These locations have been determined based on spacing, proximity to key local destinations, and physical opportunities and limitations.
DDOT is planning to use on-wire propulsion technology for the Benning Road streetcar extension as part of the Preferred Alternative. Under wired operation, new streetcars would contain the same electrical components as the existing vehicles and would receive electric power from an overhead wire via a roof-mounted pantograph. The selection of on-wire propulsion does not preclude the option of new technologies being used on the corridor at a later date.
In locations where the streetcar must cross active lanes of vehicular traffic, additional streetcar-only signals would be needed. The need for streetcar-only signals will be determined as part of the ongoing preliminary design process.
Why will the streetcar extension go to the Benning Road Metrorail station and not the Minnesota Avenue Metrorail station?
Following a screening process within the ongoing EA, streetcar extension concepts to the Minnesota Avenue Metrorail station were eliminated from consideration. Extending the streetcar to the Benning Road Metrorail station provides an important connection between the streetcar and Metrorail in the study area, results in higher ridership, and allows for more direct trips in the corridor.
Based on ridership forecasts prepared for the project, the Benning Road streetcar extension is projected to have approximately 550 daily riders for the Minnesota Avenue terminus option and 3,500 daily riders for the Benning Road terminus option. During the alternatives development process, the Benning Road terminus option performed the best against the 20 screening factors.
The Minnesota Avenue terminus option was not carried forward for detailed study due to geometric deficiencies in the preliminary screening process (streetcars making the turn from Benning to Minnesota had substantial impact on the intersection). Physical and geometric constraints of the Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue intersection would complicate streetcar track and roadway construction. Additionally, accommodation of a track and platform near the intersection could negatively affect overall traffic operations or create new safety issues for pedestrians. For more information, please reference Chapter 2 – Alternatives of the draft EA here: http://www.benningproject.com/resources/
DC Streetcar’s hours of operation are:
Monday–Thursday: 6:00 a.m. – midnight
Friday: 6:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Saturday: 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Sunday and Holidays: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
DC Streetcar currently has 10- to 15-minute headways, meaning passengers’ waiting time at a stop should be no more than 15 minutes. . Existing service will be extended and will operate at the same or slightly higher frequency (10- to 12-minute headways).
DC Streetcar is currently free to ride. DC Streetcar will remain free to residents and visitors of the corridor until DDOT conducts a fare analysis. Should DDOT decide to make a change in fare policy, a public announcement will be made.
In the case of a streetcar accident or breakdown, the streetcar will be towed back to the maintenance area with a specialized vehicle. In the case of a car accident, emergency response teams will move the car away from the streetcar as soon as possible. DDOT is committed to providing connectivity with existing transit services and will work with regional partners should an event occur. On the existing line, most of the delays have not been caused by streetcar vehicles breaking down but by other incidents such as traffic crashes, bus breakdowns, or emergency responders.
As part of the project’s preliminary design, dedicated bicycle facilities are proposed along Benning Road between Oklahoma Avenue NE and 36th Street NE. A shared facility for both bicycles and pedestrians or a widened sidewalk is proposed from 36th Street NE to East Capitol Street. The specific configuration and limits of the bicycle facilities will be determined and presented to the public as preliminary design progresses.
The proposed reconstruction of sidewalks along Benning Road would improve pedestrian conditions in the corridor. Additionally, the DC-295/Benning Road interchange modifications will seek to enhance safety and access for pedestrians where Benning Road interfaces with the highway’s on- and off-ramps. Either rehabilitation or reconstruction of the Viaduct Bridges over DC-295 and the CSX freight rail tracks also would provide sidewalks on both the north and south sides, allowing pedestrian movement on both sides of the bridge. Additional proposed improvements to the pedestrian network include:
- A pedestrian crossing with a traffic signal at the Kingman Island streetcar platform
- An enhanced, high-visibility pedestrian crossing at Benning Road and 36th Street NE to accommodate high pedestrian volumes and safety needs at this intersection
- Sidewalks between 42nd Street NE and the Benning Road Metrorail station that currently do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifications would be brought up to ADA standards
Bridge condition assessments are being conducted as part of the design project.
The Viaduct Bridges carrying Benning Road over DC-295 and the CSX freight rail tracks, comprised of two separate eastbound and westbound structures, do not meet the minimum requirements for height above the rail tracks nor do they meet current design standards to provide safe passage for pedestrians and bicyclists. The condition of the existing structures and the proposed roadway modifications—including pedestrian and bicycle facilities— may result in replacement or reconstruction the two aging structures if the project moves forward. Should the bridges need to be replaced, community input would be vital to determining how a potential new bridge looks and functions.
The Ethel Kennedy Bridge carrying Benning Road over Kingman Island and the Anacostia River is expected to be rehabilitated if the project moves forward.
The ongoing EA has found that the operation of streetcars and transitions at most intersections would result in very little impact on vehicular delay and traffic flow. The current preliminary design process will include more detailed multimodal analysis of the corridor and will seek to identify mitigations for negative traffic impacts. Temporary traffic impacts would be expected during potential future construction activities should the project advance, for which DDOT would develop a transportation management plan.
Similar to the existing H/Benning streetcar line, the proposed Benning Road extension would have streetcar operations occurring in shared lanes with mixed traffic. The streetcar will operate with traffic in one of the current lanes of Benning Road in each direction of travel. Sharing a travel lane enables DDOT to provide the proposed improvements (roadway, bridge, streetcar, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian) within the existing Benning Road right-of-way.
During the alternatives development process, exclusive streetcar lane concepts were explored but ultimately were not carried forward because the elimination of a general purpose travel lane would result in new impacts, such as delays and longer travel times for buses and other vehicles.
Community needs, preferences, and input voiced during past studies—including the DC Transit Future System Plan, DDOT Benning Road Streetcar Extension Study, and Benning Road Corridor Redevelopment Framework Plan and EA—will help shape and inform the project to improve access, operations, and safety for all users along the Benning Road corridor.
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DDOT will seek community feedback on several aspects of the project, including bridge aesthetics, streetcar stop design, trail connections, streetscape design, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. This feedback will be used to inform the preliminary design.
What other DDOT work is occurring in the project area? How will they be integrated with this project?
Several other DDOT projects and studies are occurring in the project area, including the Minnesota Avenue Revitalization project and the Parkside Access Study. DDOT will conduct the preliminary design of Build Alternative 2 to be compatible with ongoing projects near and along Benning Road. The No Build alternative remains an option under the draft EA, and assumes that all other currently programmed, committed, or funded transportation project in the study area would be completed, including the ongoing Minnesota Avenue Revitalization project.