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City pledges drainage fixes for potholed alley

By Brady Holt Current Staff Writer

Driving down the hill in the 1600 block of 32nd Street, you pass a row of row houses valued at more than a million dollars apiece, facing a brick sidewalk and a pleasant street. But when resident Jane Saunders and her neighbors drive to those homes along a parallel alley, she said, “it feels like you’re riding your car on the surface of the moon.”

Neighbors have for years called for the D.C. Department of Transportation to resolve drainage issues that continually damage the gravel-paved alley, send stormwater runoff onto neighbors’ properties and leave puddles in the roadway’s potholes.

Resident Dale Curtis said a longtime neighbor told him the problems have been around since at least the 1960s. He added that some pedestrians have twisted their ankles in the alley’s holes and trenches.

“What there needs to be, ultimately, is storm drains put in, so as the water flows south on the alley there’s a place for it to go other than somebody’s back yard,” said Charlie Eason, who represents the area on the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission.

The Transportation Department said last Wednesday that it had found money to begin working out a permanent fix, and pledged that design work for a rebuilt alley would begin in the spring. This past spring, the agency regraded the alley to clear some of the largest potholes, but Saunders said it is quickly degrading again. Transportation spokesperson John Lisle said he’s well aware of the problems.

“We’ve been working with the residents there, and we made some improvements to the alley a few months back, and we’re going to continue to work with them and hopefully find a more long-term solution that will satisfy their concerns and improve the alley,” Lisle said in an interview.

He noted, though, that it’s not yet clear how soon reconstruction can begin. “This is just the first step — the funds to engineer it and design it,” said Lisle. “The actual construction costs would come down the road. When we’ve completed the design, we’ll identify funds to complete work.”

Eason, who said he has personally been working on this issue for the last two years, noted that he’s heard many promises about the alley. “The DDOT rep at our last meeting said [full reconstruction] would be a done deal in 90 days at the outside, and that was half a year ago,” he said. “I don’t think they fully contemplated what the real problems are there. This is a much bigger project than they thought.”

Saunders said that although she’s grateful for the plans for alley work, getting this far involved “emailing, emailing, emailing to anyone who would listen,” and long stretches of inactivity. “Periodically, a group of these city officials would gather and they would look at the holes and rub their chins and say, ‘This is a real problem, but we have no money,’” she said.

Curtis said he would give the Transportation Department a “C” overall for its handling of the alley. “They’ve shown good intentions, they’ve shown good responsiveness with a phone call and a meeting here and there,” he said, “but this is taking forever and we have no permanent solution in sight.”

Some residents said they had heard that the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority was holding up efforts to send the runoff into its sewers; Lisle and authority spokesperson Emanuel Briggs said that wasn’t the case. “As there is currently no storm drainage system at this location, DDOT will be coordinating with DC Water on installation of a system in the future,” Briggs wrote in an email.

This article appears in the Dec. 7 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.