Garage Wars: Should Buses Park at Walter Reed?
It's fair to say that, given a choice, you probably wouldn't want to live next to a bus barn. You can't get anything to eat there, or buy toilet paper. Big, smelly vehicles are coming and going all the time.
Right now, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority has two bus garages that it needs to move. The "Northern" location, a huge site on 14th Street NW between Buchanan and Decatur Street, is 104 years old and in need of substantial renovations. The "Western" location, on 44th and Harrison Street NW, is younger but still falling apart.
What could solve those two problems? Consolidating the two garages on the site of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, much of which will be transferred to the District in relatively short order. "The facts are, we have these two old facilities that are in need of major repair or replacement," says WMATA spokesman Dan Stessel. "Walter Reed seems to be the best alternative we've seen in years." According to current property assessments, selling the Friendship Heights garage would net about $30 million and the 14th Street location is valued at $13 million, which would easily fund the construction of a new garage at Walter Reed, and allow for the redevelopment of those parcels in a much more neighborhood-friendly way.
The problem is, the neighbors around Walter Reed doesn't want a bus barn either. It wasn't among the winning proposals during the first planning process, which will have to start over this fall. Some worry that it wouldn't leave enough room for other big priorities—like, say, a Wegman's—and that the 250 buses to be housed there would dull the area's attractiveness. Unfortunately, it can't even be built underground like a normal parking garage, given the amount of fumes the buses generate.
Today, D.C. politicians rejected the idea too. Mayor Vince Gray said no this morning on WTOP, and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser followed up with a broadside of her own. "The redevelopment of the Walter Reed campus is an opportunity to revitalize a corridor and deliver better access to affordable housing, and provide retail and green space for the residents of Ward 4," she said in a press release. "Relocating the bus facilities undermines this opportunity, discourages private investment, and harms the immediate neighborhood. It also has the potential to add scores of buses to an already congested corridor not served by Metrorail.”
Stessel isn't aware of other alternatives, though, and wants to reassure Shepherd Park and Brightwood residents that living near a bus barn wouldn't be all that bad. "We are prepared to be the best possible neighbor," he says.