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Major 18th Street Reconstruction Underway; Tree Canopy to Get New Plantings and Special Attention

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

A January 25th Community meeting at the International Student House called by the Dupont Circle ANC marked the beginning of the District’s transportation department’s (DDOT) long awaited 18th Street, multi-million dollar streetscape project. Funded by a federal stimulus grant, the stretch between Massachusetts and Florida Avenues will benefit from a complete rehabilitation.

Dupont Circle’s 18th Street project — the second of two currently underway — differs dramatically from that of the other on 17th Street. While the 18th Street sidewalks, curbs and gutters, its traffic signals and street lights, and the landscaping and street furniture will be the same as that of 17th Street, its roadbed will be completely reconstructed and a 12-inch water main with twice the volume of the two existing six-inch mains will be installed as a replacement. With an exception below P Street, tree box configurations will follow existing standards rather than be laid in continuous strips, and bulb-outs for greater pedestrian  crosswalk safety will be constructed at two intersections which presently have no traffic lights.

Bicycle parking and shared bicycle traffic lane symbols will be provided together with shared vehicular parking meters. There will be no separate bicycle lanes. Contemporary ADA standards will be observed throughout.

The well-attended, late January public meeting featured a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation depicting the final project plans, followed by a question and answer period with DDOT’s representatives and its contract construction staff. At the conclusion it was agreed that there would be a walk-through along the project’s route the following Saturday, January 30th, with a DDOT engineer and an urban forester to especially review tree canopy issues.

Tree canopy issues generated the most concern, as reflected by the questions. Both DDOT and Urban Forestry officials gave assurances that only a very few trees were slated for removal; these would be replaced with healthy trees and many more new trees would be planted in new tree boxes. These new trees will be redbud, crêpe myrtle, and silver lindens. The existing trees not only be pruned but will also be carefully protected with wire cages during all phases of  construction.

Pepco’s new construction will include enhancements to the power of its electrical lines and new “duct banks,” cables, and connections, especially for improved street lighting and new traffic signals. Formally structured utility work zones, especially for Pepco, Washington Gas, and WASA, will be established throughout the project’s 12-month duration, scheduled to conclude in February of 2011.

A two-block length segmented work plan was announced, with initial work occurring at the large and complex 18th Street and Florida intersection. Immediately following this effort, work will then begin at Massachussetts Avenue, the project’s south end; from there work will then proceed northward, two blocks at a time. This schedule has been planned with the view to minimize any adverse impacts on the outdoor cafés and retail establishments at the project’s northern end from S Street to Florida Avenue during their busiest spring, summer, and early fall seasons.

The January 30th project walk-through attracted, in addition to this reporter, only five participants — ANC Commissioners Bob Meehan, Will Stevens and Mike Feldstein; one nearby neighbor from Seaton Place; and the exceptionally well-informed DDOT urban forrester, Ms. Munevver Ertem, who had prepared a detailed inventory of the present and proposed enhancements to the tree canopy and provided copies of that document to the attendees. This inventory was in the form of color coded maps of present and proposed new trees and additional tree boxes; it happily obviated the need for slogging up and down 18th Street during that Saturday’s harsh winter weather.

This fascinating set of maps, together with the detailed engineering drawings for the roadway reconstruction and its many sub-parts and components, including dynamically updated scheduling information, is reportedly to be found on a special project information website at