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House Bill Marks $50M for South Capitol

Among the thousands of special projects included in the $284 billion transportation bill passed Thursday by the House is a $50 million earmark for improvements to the District of Columbia’s South Capitol Corridor.

While the bill must still be passed on the Senate side and then approved by a White House that has stated its reluctance to grant new “set aside” projects, District planners and local Congressional leaders are already hailing the budget outlay as a major step toward revitalizing one of the most run-down transportation corridors of the city.

The House version of the Transportation reauthorization bill — which authorizes federal funding for surface transportation projects in the next six years — allows for $50 million to be spent on the rehabilitation of South Capitol Street and the Frederick Douglass Bridge. This funding level is $30 million more than the allocation in the 2004 transportation bill, which passed in the House last year but could not be worked out with the Senate before the end of the 108th Congress.

Thursday’s announcement came just one week after the National Capitol Planning Commission, the federal government’s central planning agency for Washington, D.C., released its long-term vision for transforming South Capitol Street into one of the city’s premier urban boulevards. The plan calls for the reconstruction and eventual replacement of the Frederick Douglass Bridge and the creation of a grand waterfront gateway along the Anacostia River next to the site selected for the city’s new baseball stadium.

Before the bill’s passage last week, Dan Tangherlini, the director of the District Department of Transportation, said that bridge revitalization is the city’s most serious transportation challenge.

“They’re just the biggest problem because they are this huge price tag,” he said. “As we try to get in there and fix them, it just consumes everything else we want to do.”

But the new bridge earmark called for in H.R. 3 could still be in doubt if President Bush sticks to his plan of limiting special projects in the transportation bill.

The Office of Management and Budget’s Statement of Administration Policy on the House’s transportation bill, released last week, made it clear that “the Administration opposes the proliferation of new categorical programs, set-asides and so-called ‘high priority’ projects in H.R. 3. The Administration believes the vast majority of Federal-aid highway funds should be distributed to States via formula as States are far better equipped than the Federal Government to make appropriate decisions about their own transportation systems.”

The two Members most involved in seeking South Capitol funding were House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who has long championed the restoration of the South Capitol Street area, and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). Of the funding for this project, $40 million in earmarks came from Norton and $10 million came from Hoyer.

Norton said she hopes that by combining her earmarks for just a few major projects, including the South Capitol Street project and the reconstruction of the 11th Street Bridge, the administration will see where the District’s major priorities lie.

“I chose to put my earmarks where the real priorities were and that’s in fixing the bridges the lead into and out of the District,” Norton said.

In a statement released Thursday, Hoyer said, “In the coming days I look forward to working with the NCPC, and all of the South Capitol Gateway partners to secure the necessary resources and keep this process moving forward. Ultimately, I look forward to the day when this waterfront fulfills our vision as one of the most highly visited locations in Washington, D.C.”

NCPC Chairman John Cogbill praised both Hoyer and Norton, saying that with their support the South Capitol corridor stands on the brink of a major change.

“This funding is a key step in moving forward with our shared vision with Congress and the District of Columbia for a vibrant and grand entryway to the nation’s capital,” he said. “With its dramatic views to and from the U.S. Capitol, we believe the corridor can be a signature boulevard with magnificent spaces for public plazas, parkland, national monuments, and commercial and residential uses.”

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