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1968 War Over D.C. Interstate Highways

Why are there no interstate highways cutting through Washington? It's one of the few cities without a major highway right through it. Learn the history going back to the 1960s.
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As you all know, D.C. is one of the only cities (if not the lone city) without an interstate highway cutting through the heart of it. I-395 makes its way all the way to New York Ave. and I-295 slices through the east part of D.C., but nothing cuts through the core of the District.

Back in the heyday of highway building, a number of folks were arguing for more highways through our city, including 95/395 going all the way through, and 66 and 70 uniting between Georgetown and the Palisades. Things sure would be different had these plans come to fruition.

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Check out the map below from The Washington Post on January 23rd, 1968.

Proposed 1968 highways
Proposed 1968 highways

Below are excerpts from the article.

The District’s 20-year war over interstate freeways appears to be entering ints most decisive stage.

Ten miles of the 29-mile system proposed in 1947 are open to traffic. The 19 miles the Highway Department wants to build before 1973, the target completion date for the national system would cost about a half-billion dollars, of which 90 per cent would be provided by the Federal Government.

One of the main complaints of the system’s opponents is that the 19 miles would displace 1359 families and several hundred businesses.

Actually, the rapid rail system of Washington has been the principal hostage of this freeway war. In 1966, members of the House threatened to kill the proposed subway unless freeways go the go-ahead.

They got it, and the subway system is still alive. But so is the threat of retaliation against the rapid rail forces if the House District Committee decides the freeway system is being slowed.

The article goes on for a while about arguments over who has the authority to kill the projects, but it gets interesting again when talk resumes about a proposed crosstown link under K Street.

As now planned, the link would be a tunnel, beneath K Street, beginning at 26th Street nw., surfacing near Mount Vernon Square (9th Street nw.) and connecting with the Center Leg of the Inner Loop, near the Capitol.

This tunnel was proposed in the Policy Advisory Committee’s sweeping agreement that cleared the freeway program in 1966.

Evidently, there was also a proposed “North Leg” route which cut up Florida Ave. and then east between S and T Streets, which would have displaced 10,000 people, a number of businesses, in addition to the Cosmos Club. Another proposal in the article mentions a four-lane freeway through Glover-Archibold Park. Ugh, thankfully none of these happened. How awful would that have been?!

proposed highway costs
proposed highway costs

Thankfully, a large number of these city-destroying proposals didn’t happen.

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