Off the Tracks

Displacements and other questions face O & P

March 11, 2011

“What about the displaced underground residents?” one neighbor asked in the active Q&A session Wednesday night at the O and P Street reconstruction community meeting at Hyde-Addison Elementary. 

The questions from Georgetown residents – to contractors, city utilities, forestry commission and three archaeologists – were good. “Has the presence of underground streams been studied?” someone asked.  “What about the contractors doing the work, where will they be parking?”  “We haven’t heard anything about fiber optics, or cable.  Will those services be introduced/and or put underground?”

ANC Commissioner Jeff Jones addresses residents (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) ANC Commissioner Jeff Jones addresses residents

Gas was a big topic.  Replacement of gas lines, which have been in place since 1927.  Gas meters currently inside houses being relocated to the outside, a foot off the ground.  Water and gas lines being replaced at slightly different times, trenches that will need to be dug. Conversion of the low pressure system to a high pressure system.  And water – the main water lines will be replaced (a 100-year-old system) and the lateral lines to the individual properties, stopping at the property line unless you have old lead pipes, which the homeowner can have replaced under a separate and private agreement.

We were shown diagrams of the progression of the project, which moves from west to east, ending at Wisconsin Avenue.  The confusing part is that there is clear evidence of road/utility work happening right now on Volta, 33rd, and Q Streets which, it turns out, are projects separate from the O and P Streets reconstruction.  Are they being coordinated?  All of these questions,  we’re told, will be addressed on the project website.

Carlson Klapthor, program analyst from the Urban Forestry Administration, talked about the 230 tree boxes that will have to be rebuilt, and about protecting the existing trees.  He admitted how difficult the project would be, and that some of the trees weren’t in the best of shape to begin with.  The road surface, he said, around the trees, including the area of the canopy, would be removed as carefully as possible, at times by hand/shovel rather than heavy equipment, to try to preserve the root structure.  “We hate to see trees taken down,” he said, but safety, he

Equipment waits out the rain (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Equipment waits out the rain
added, "trumps trees.”  If a tree is not stable, it will have to be removed.  Most road surfaces built today, he explained, have asphalt and non-porous surfaces curb to curb, but the cobblestones were laid in a sand base, and tree roots will naturally travel towards light and water.  Because of this, the roots in some cases will be under the surface of the road and as the excavation level on P and O streets will be “full depth,” or 22 inches, and some of the tree roots will be impacted.

The archaeologists will be checking in on the project on a daily basis and piecing together bits and pieces of history as they go, using old Fire Insurance maps and other historical data to create a series of overlay maps that will help to illustrate the engineering of the road system over the years.  Historic utilities are of particular interest to them, as they may find evidence of water lines made of brick or wood.   In Annapolis, one of the archaeologists said, a log road was uncovered from the 17th century, actually low in the water table, which kept it well preserved.  “We’re not sure what we’ll find,” said Lyle Torp and Tom Bodor, who are archaeologists hired by the contractor, Capitol Paving.  Nothing of note has been found so far, it was reported. 

So yes, the project will be long (18 months minimum), disruptive (utilities, noise, parking) and at times frustrating, but everyone seems to agree it needs to happen.   ANC Commissioners Jeff Jones and Ed Solomon said frequent meetings, informative website (with RSS feeds if desired) and communication with neighbors should help to ease concerns along the way.

“Please, ask your questions,” they emphasized.  “But try to do it with a smile.  We all have to get through this together.”

Notes and contact information from the March 9th meeting, we’re told, will be available on, including answers to the questions asked at the meeting.  We’re interested in seeing what will be said about the “displaced underground residents” that live under our old streets.


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Big dig starts on O & P Streets

March 4, 2011

And we’re off!

No parking signs signal the big dig (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) No parking signs signal the big dig

In Georgetown's biggest non-waterfront dig in recent memory, preliminary work began Monday to remove historic trolley tracks that punch toward the sky and to replace several blocks of cobblestones along O and P Streets in the West Village. 

Crews posted "No Parking" signs and began to move equipment into place, starting on P at 37th and moving east towards Wisconsin.  In order to keep one lane open at all times, crews will begin excavation on the north side of P, followed by the south side of P and the west side of 36th.  The third segment to be completed in this area will be the east

Chart shows construction plans (Photo by: DDOT) Chart shows construction plans
side of 36th Street. Existing water mains (8” and 12”) will be replaced in the first phase.  Construction will continue using the same pattern, with the next section focusing on P and 35th Streets.

This initial phase is also exploratory, to see what exactly lies under the layers of asphalt in this area. 

As the work progresses, vibration monitors will be placed within the construction zones.  These monitoring instruments are small and unobtrusive devices that need outside power and a place to be somewhat secured under a porch or in a garden in the street area under constructio

Hopscotch? Maybe not on this sidewalk for now... (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Hopscotch? Maybe not on this sidewalk for now...
n.  The construction team appreciates in advance any assistance that our residents can provide in providing power and a place for the monitoring equipment. 

If you were thinking hopscotch, well – not exactly. 

The guide to the sidewalk stripes is as follows: see chart or use summary:

A community meeting will take place at Hyde-Addison School on Wednesday, March 9 at 6:00 pm. The project office is located at 3632 N Street, NW at the corner of 37th and N Streets. 

Color chart shows what lies beneath... (Photo by: DDOT) Color chart shows what lies beneath...

Construction crew digs in for the project (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Construction crew digs in for the project

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Georgetown's cobblestone streets begin renewal project

February 25, 2011

Standing near old rail tracks jutting upward out of cobblestones on a roadway rippling like a spring river, Mayor Vincent Gray, Councilmember Jack Evans and D.C. officials broke ground at long last today

Digging in, ceremonially, for the groundbreaking (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Digging in, ceremonially, for the groundbreaking
on the reconstruction of O and P Streets in Georgetown.  The groundbreaking ceremony, on the sidewalk in front of Hyde-Addison Elementary, marked the beginning of a project that was first conceived in 1982, partially started eight years ago, and after years of planning and discussions, finally may be underway.

Some people navigate O & P Streets with their cars gliding on the tracks. Some straddle the tracks and deal with the potholes. During snow, well, we won’t go there.  Countless tires have been cut when navigating on and off the tracks, and cabbies many times won’t drive on the street, so you’re left dragging your bags a few blocks.  So the time has come for the complete reconstruction of Georgetown’s remaining cobblestone cross-streets. 

Construction is scheduled to start Monday in the 3600 block of P street and proceed east towards

The cobblestones and the tracks (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) The cobblestones and the tracks
Wisconsin Avenue.  The contractor plans to start with the utility phase which includes the installation of water main and electrical duct banks for street lights.   DDOT will remove the streetcar wheel rails and slot rails and other historic elements including the granite street pavers, blue stone curbs and sidewalk brick and then reinstall them on O and P Streets between Wisconsin Avenue and 35th streets.  The cobblestones and trolley tracks on O and P between 35th and 37th (some currently under asphalt) will also be removed and refurbished for possible use in  the event that there are not sufficient materials in the reconstructed track/cobblestone areas.  33rd, 34th, 35th, 36th and 37th streets between O and P streets will be resurfaced, with the addition of new granite curbs.

These streets date back to the 1800s.  City officials say wooden planks were uncovered on a cobblestone street project in North Carolina that dated from the early 1800s.   Even though the engineers have excavated test plots, they’re not sure exactly what they’ll find.  Really – how could anybody know?  Water mains were added in the late 1890s, gas lines in the 1920s, so that means it’s been almost a century since any significant excavation has taken place. 

Golden shovels (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Golden shovels
The tracks on O and P Streets were part of the Washington streetcar system, which operated until 1962.  They are set on 350 pound cast-iron yokes beneath the center of the roadway, and other than a small section of conduit system streetcar track in London, are believed to be the only surviving examples of this type of track system. Archaeological monitoring will take place during all construction activities, officials say.

The project will not only include the restoration and repaving of the streets and sidewalks, but the installation of new water mains, storm lines, electrical conduits, street light poles, tree box fences, tree planting, wheelchair ramps, catch basins and driveways as well as the reinstallation of police call and fire alarm boxes. 

The project is scheduled for completion in August of 2012, and traffic and parking will be affected on a rolling basis as the project proceeds.  In order to maintain one lane of through traffic at all times, the project will focus on one block and side of the street at a time.  Nearby residents and businesses will be provided advance notice regarding work in their immediate surroundings.  Construction teams plan to monitor noise and vibration levels, and dust control measures will be implemented throughout the project. 

Community meetings will be held on a continuing basis. A website,, will publish updates. There are already many questions coming from the community.  The Georgetown Dish will be reporting on a continuing basis on the project, providing information (what do those blue, green, yellow and red lines mean?) and will make every attempt to answer questions from our readers. We’ll provide diagrams and photos, updates,  and some historical perspective as well. Questions? Email us at



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