From A To B: Construction Crews Preserve Georgetown, One Stone At A Time (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From A to B: Construction Crews Preserve Georgetown, One Stone at a Time

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We'll head now to a neighborhood whose name might be a bit more familiar to you, Georgetown. That's where city workers spent much of this year rebuilding two streets that hearken back to a very different time in D.C. and that's the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:27
If you've ever driven on O or P Street in Georgetown, you might've wondered about their bumpy cobblestones and obsolete trolley tracks. These features are reminders of a rich history in the area. And as Martin Di Caro tells us, that history is being remembered and preserved, one stone at a time.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

00:00:46
It's a cacophony of construction. Since March last year, sweat-stained workers using hammers, shovels, circular saws and backhoes have been putting O and P Streets back together, piece by piece.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

00:01:04
In a swirl of dust and noise, construction workers are using what's called the plate tamper, a very loud machine that levels out the roadway. Other workers put the old stones down in place, then they shovel sand and gravel over them and the plate tamper flattens it out.

MS. DARA WARD

00:01:22
We're reusing as much of the old material as absolutely possible.

CARO

00:01:26
Dara Ward is a spokeswoman for the O and P Street Project. The granite stones in these streets were first laid down in the late 19th century and each one in about a mile and a half of roadway was dug up. What was beneath them was the reason why the District decided to rebuild the streets.

WARD

00:01:41
The substructure that was used back then was considerably different than the substructure that's used now and it, over time the water from rain and runoff really just caused that substructure to degrade, causing major potholes and anomalies in the road shape and structure. So the stones themselves weren't necessarily the problem.

CARO

00:02:03
Ramesh Mirchandani is the O and P Street Project manager at the District Department of Transportation. He says 90 percent of the stones were in good enough shape to be reused.

MR. RAMESH MIRCHANDANI

00:02:12
So we take out each and every stone, make sure it's not damaged and we clean it up, restore it, then bring it back.

CARO

00:02:21
The granite stones aren't the only historic aspect of these streets that will be preserved. The trolley tracks that run through O and P were last used in 1960, but they'll be a feature of the renovated roadways as well.

WARD

00:02:33
This community decided that they wanted to preserve the historic nature of the area. This is a unique system within the United States. There's one remaining example of this in the world and it's in London. The community said, "This is what we want."

CARO

00:02:48
So now we're on P Street, the finished product. It's a lot less noisy over here.

WARD

00:02:54
It is. We still have one block on P Street that we're working on which is the 3200 block closest to Wisconsin. But the 3300 and 3400 blocks are both done.

CARO

00:03:04
I can see when the cars pass over that they're not going ba-boom, boom, boom, over old stones.

WARD

00:03:09
Exactly. Much less chance of bottoming out now.

CARO

00:03:13
This sound is what drivers in this neighborhood have been waiting for. Tires roll smoothly over granite and gravel. The street car tracks now even with the roadway. Resident Stephen Martin says it looks great.

MR. STEPHEN MARTIN

00:03:26
This neighborhood used to rip up my tires and I'm looking forward to not having to buy tires every year. Because the trolley car tracks were uneven and there were pieces of jagged metal sticking up.

CARO

00:03:35
It's even quieter in the Peabody Room of the public library in Georgetown, the domain of Jerry McCoy, a special collections librarian and historic preservationist. He greeted me with a photo.

MR. JERRY MCCOY

00:03:46
This is a photograph that was taken 1893. It's looking north up Wisconsin Avenue at the corner of O Street and this is one of the horse-drawn streetcars belonging to the Metropolitan Railroad Company coming out onto Wisconsin Avenue.

CARO

00:04:01
That's right. D.C.'s first streetcars were pulled by horses. The tracks reached Georgetown in 1872. By 1892 the streetcars were powered by underground electric cables. The fare was a nickel.

MCCOY

00:04:13
That nickel fare lasted for decades and decades and then, you know, it went up to $.07 and people threw a fit.

CARO

00:04:19
The streetcar system was ended so the streets could be opened up to cars and buses which were thought to be cheaper to operate than trolleys. While streetcars are making a comeback in other parts of D.C. the O and P Street tracks are only for show. But McCoy says they're important nonetheless.

MCCOY

00:04:34
Georgetown isn't only about, you know, 18th century colonial America. There's really some important 20th century and 19th century history embodied here and I just think it's great that these tracks are being preserved.

CARO

00:04:46
And now residents just have to step outside their front doors to imagine what the neighborhood looked like when horse pulled the trolleys down O and P. I'm Martin Di Caro.
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