Canal Road Plans Cause Controversy

By Tim Haggerty Hoya Staff Writer

Although Georgetown University’s proposed construction of a new Canal Road entrance has been discussed at 17 community group and advisory board meetings over a span of the last 11 years, some community members have recently said the project is moving forward too quickly. Their concerns stem largely from the Final Environmental Impact Statement released last month by the Federal Highway Administration.

The proposal presented in the FEIS calls for a traffic signal at the Canal Road entrance. It also calls for the removal of a section of median in order to allow left turns from Canal Road into the university and out of the university onto Canal Road. Under the plan, the Prospect Street entrance will remain open.

The FEIS says “Proposed Action would. .substantially improve vehicle access to the Main Academic Parking Lot.”

University Director of Media Relations Dan Wackerman said that an entrance from the Canal Road side of campus is something that “the university has always wanted” and that the present plan has been in the process of development since 1987.

The FHA released its report Dec. 14, 1998. A 45-day public comment period was set to end Feb. 1, three weeks after the statement was published Jan. 8 in the Federal Register. During the public comment period, neighbors have the opportunity to share their views with the FHA.

According to Wackerman, the university is attempting during this time to demonstrate why it needs a fully functional entrance on Canal Road.

Following the public comment period, the FHA will issue a final decision and then work on a construction design that will be submitted to the National Capital Planning Commission for approval. If the plans are approved, construction will begin in about eight months, according to Wackerman.

Peggy Pagano, president of the Palisades Citizens’ Association, said the FHA has not allowed enough time for the public to consider and comment on such a significant issue.

“It is a little unfair,” she said, asking the FHA for a 90-day public comment period and a public hearing regarding the issue, in order to have “a little more breathing room.”

Pagano said the FHA told her over the phone that the comment period would be extended to 60 days but that no public hearing would be granted. She has not yet received official confirmation of this extension.

In fact, at a meeting of the Foxhall Community Association on Wednesday evening, a representative from the FHA confirmed that the comment period would be extended to February 22, Pagano said.

She said that her neighborhood’s major concern “will be the impact of traffic on Canal Road and the possible ripple effects around here.” She said that Canal Road is already a “heavily trafficked” road and that if university traffic is switched to that road, “then the potential is there for serious traffic jams.”

The plan does include measures intended to alleviate traffic. It provides for the prohibition of left hand turns from the entrance onto Canal Road during morning rush hours and a third eastbound lane around the intersection of Canal Road and Whitehurst Freeway.

It also calls for the synchronization of the new traffic signal with those at the Canal Road/Foxhall and Canal Road/Whitehurst intersections.

The FEIS says that there would be “no substantial changes to the through traffic measures” either eastbound or westbound in the morning or evening.

However, Pagano said that “the statistics don’t make sense to a lot of people” and “the traffic studies just aren’t convincing.”

She said that she is in favor of a six-month trial, with a temporary light at the existing Canal Road entrance to see if the plan works. “You can’t just plunk a new entrance,” she said.

Wackerman maintained that the entrance was necessary to “alleviate traffic congestion leaving the campus in the afternoon rush hours” and also to provide a better entrance for delivery vehicles, which “take a toll on the historic streets of Georgetown.”

He also said that emergency vehicles do not have access to one side of campus because it is impossible to turn left into the campus from Canal Road.

Pagano said that although the communities “don’t want to fight with the university,” neighbors are concerned about the possibility of future university construction that could increase traffic through the Canal Road entrance.

In a letter to the editor of The Georgetown Current, Assistant Vice President for External Relations Linda Greenan responded to this concern. She said that the FEIS “did account for increased university development” and that “this project has no bearing on our plans for future campus development.” Further, she said that “the university has no intention of allowing commercial use of campus space.”

Pagano sees the Canal Road proposal as “an opportunity to work together with the university to find a solution that is more palatable to the neighborhoods.”

However, she said, “there are people ready to go to court to stop this.” She said that she is “not sure who would [go to court]; it could be individuals or a joint effort between neighborhoods.”

Some of the legal issues, she said, involved the question of who owned the land that would be used to create the third lane on Canal Road.

She said that “the challenge is to find a solution that is beneficial to both sides” and that “we have a couple of weeks to take the pulse of public opinion.” However, she said that she “wouldn’t want to speculate” about the possible legal disputes.

Greenan wrote, “The public will have an opportunity to comment on the land transfer issues during public hearing by the NCPC” during the construction design approval phase.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.