Over the Top: Funding some D.C. tunnel work

Air Rights Tunnel (Photo: DDOT)Air Rights Tunnel (Photo: DDOT)

I’m always looking for interesting ways to fund transportation infrastructure and today I come across this one in Washington, D.C.

While speaking to American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) Federal Issues program in Washington D.C., District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Chief Engineer Nick Nicholson talked about a project that does a lot for the District’s infrastructure but also brings in money long after it’s done.

Two tunnels on the I-395 corridor in D.C. need work. The District and a private developer get together and come up with a way to do it so everyone is happy. The key to it is the air rights over the tunnels.

The developer works on the tunnels so that the District gets the best tunnels money can buy. The developer then goes on to build a high-rise development over the tunnels in land zoned for Class A retail. The District continues to get income from the retail development, which creates jobs and expands the local tax base.

The plan is through the environmental phase, is a comprehensive agreement is in place with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on how joint use and exclusive use will be defined as the project proceeds and preliminary engineering work is being done to ensure that the tunnel work is compatible with what DDOT wants and what the developer needs to build up into the Washington skyline.

A little innovative thinking and a little willingness to try something new goes a long way in these days of underfunding.