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From A To B: The History Of Highways Never Built

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The highways that carve a small ravine between the Kennedy Center and the rest of the District would have extended much farther into the city if the three-loop plan had gone forward.
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The highways that carve a small ravine between the Kennedy Center and the rest of the District would have extended much farther into the city if the three-loop plan had gone forward.

Residents in the Washington, D.C. area may have heard about the long-discussed "Outer Beltway," but many don't know about the smaller loops once proposed for the heart of Washington. Earlier transportation plans for Interstate 495 - also known as the Capital Beltway - included major highways that would have right cut through the center of the District.

"The Inner Loop of this three-loop plan would have been around the central core of the city, and actually about a half a mile north and south of the White House," says Jane Freundel Levey, a historian for Cultural Tourism D.C.

The southern part of the loop would have approached the National Mall, and the northern end may have cut a path somewhere near Dupont Circle.

Residents protest highway plans

So what stopped the highways plans from becoming a reality? Levey says the mix of neighborhoods that would have been disproportionately affected by the highways - from predominately African-American areas around 3rd Street NW, and others in southwest, D.C., to more affluent, whiter neighborhoods in Cleveland Park and Georgetown - created a powerful coalition that was able to push back against the business interests in favor of the plan.

"This being Washington, D.C., we had so many marvelous lawyers here who got involved, and then we had activists," says Levey . "We had people who took to the streets, and picketed, and disrupted city council meetings and brought an incredible amount of attention to the injustices that they saw in the plans for the routes of these highways."

After a fight that lasted decades, D.C. and the federal government eventually decided to pour more resources into rapid transit and the Metro system. But Levey says the story isn't as simple as highways versus mass transit.

"Planners wanted both rapid transit and highways," she says. "[President] Lyndon Johnson, who was very powerful, ended up releasing funds from the money for the highways and diverting them to the Metro."

There are still remnants of D.C.'s lost highway plan. Levey says they are most clear near the 3rd Street Tunnel, where the government began buying up land in preparation for a highway extension, and near the Kennedy Center, which is still separated from much of the city by four lanes of freeway traffic.

"When you come downtown and you see a big parking lot, that's a signal for you to think, 'Well, what happened here?'"

[Music: "A to B" by The Futureheads from The Futureheads / "Middle of the Road (Karaoke Version)" by Karaoke on Sing Lost Classics]

Photos: The History of Highways Never Built

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