Staff Editorial: Klingle Trail’s drainage issues erode public confidence

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The new Klingle Valley Trail is already slated for repairs to its drainage system. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)
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It should come as no surprise to anyone that Klingle Valley has drainage issues. In the stretch of parkland between Woodley Park and Mount Pleasant, Klingle Road NW famously closed in 1991 due to unrepaired water damage and then continued to deteriorate as the years passed. The District government’s prolonged inability to do anything with this roadway became a symbol of D.C.’s bleakest financial era.

It took years of planning and years of construction to reopen access through the valley, now as a trail for bicyclists and pedestrians that debuted in late June. The high price tag — $6 million for less than a mile of trail — reflected the need to protect against the recurrence of water-related damage. The need to mitigate damage from the valley’s stream was glaringly obvious.

But erosion has already begun. According to the D.C. Department of Transportation, the new drainage system is faulty. The trail has lasted barely three months, and it now threatens to symbolize yet another type of D.C. embarrassment. The city now has ample revenue to invest in upgrades to facilities and infrastructure, and spends generously. But then, all too often, the work turns out to have serious and costly defects.

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“We have a shopping list of repairs that we want to make,” the Transportation Department’s Paul Hoffman told The Current about the Klingle Valley Trail.

We don’t know whether the fault in this case resides with the Transportation Department itself or with an outside contractor. However, the agency told The Current that the District is paying for the repairs.

Whatever the issue, it should not have happened in the Klingle Trail case and it should not be happening in general to District projects. We’d like the D.C. Council and the D.C. auditor to look for explanations of what went wrong, and to investigate safeguards that can prevent future issues. It’s unacceptable to so consistently allow our public projects to be undermined by poor design, shoddy workmanship or both.

This doesn’t mean that we should reopen the years of debate about whether Klingle Road should have been restored for motor vehicle traffic instead of as the 10-foot-wide trail the District constructed. Rather, the overriding public interest at this point is to ensure that taxpayers receive the safe, usable trail that we paid for, and that similar shortcomings don’t affect other D.C. projects.