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Building Washington: Capitol Crossing: Reuniting Neighborhoods, Creating New Space
July 01, 2017
by: Mary Lou Jay
Back in 2007, developer Property Group Partners (PGP) chose Balfour Beatty Construction to help plan the transformation of seven acres of previously unusable space in the heart of Washington, DC, into an exciting mixed-use area. Capitol Crossing restores space lost decades ago to interstate construction and reunites two neighborhoods - Capitol Hill and East End - divided by the highway. Capitol Crossing extends north to south from Massachusetts Avenue to E Street, NW, and from east to west between 2nd and 3rd Streets, NW.
Capitol Crossing creates a new neighborhood including five new buildings, 2.2 million square feet of space and three new city blocks, and opens up new commuter and pedestrian corridors across the city.
Balfour Beatty has been assisting PGP and its design team since 2007, first with pre-construction activities and, since 2014, with actual construction. The general contractor’s project scope includes relocation of existing utilities and installation of new utilities in and around the site; the construction of the deck and bridges over I-395 and of two new portals/ramps onto and off of I-395; construction of two buildings in the project’s first phase, North Block; installation of new tunnel systems; construction of the below-grade parking garage and concourse; and relocation of two structures on the site.
Capitol Crossing will at long last replace the District’s most visible physical scar—the I-395 Center Leg Freeway. Open plazas and thoroughfares in the neighborhood, including a new pedestrian promenade at G Street, NW, and the newly-connected F Street, will improve access, reunite communities and bring vitality to the area by drawing pedestrian and vehicular traffic to the new neighborhood.
Laying the Groundwork
Balfour Beatty moved onsite in 2012 and began construction in early 2014. During the first few years, the project was focused primarily on infrastructure upgrades, utility relocation and platform construction. That work included the installation of a 30-inch water main and high-voltage electric line under Massachusetts Avenue, new water lines for both 2nd and 3rd Streets and new gas lines throughout the project. Traffic along the interstate and on the city streets made both the utility relocation and the bridge deck construction more challenging.
“It’s basically a 24/7 operation because all that deck work over the highway could only be done at night,” said Rebecca Nordby, Balfour Beatty’s project executive. “For example, we could not safely bring in the steel girders that span the highway with traffic flowing, so we closed traffic at night in one direction in order to get those elements in place.”
Balfour Beatty had to build a new on-ramp for I-395 before it could access the entire area of excavation for an underground, five-level garage. “The existing 3rd Street on-ramp cuts right through the garage, so we now are building the Massachusetts Avenue portal,” said Nordby. “Once that comes online, it will allow us to demolish the old 3rd Street on-ramp and really get going with the excavation of the garage.”
Building the North Block
With the utility work mostly complete, Balfour Beatty has been able to focus more on the construction of the two office buildings that will comprise the North Block, a project the company won in August 2016.
The first building on site, 200 Massachusetts Avenue, sits over the interstate on a portion of the new platform. The other, 250 Massachusetts Avenue, will rest atop the parking garage. (It will also have much of its MEP equipment below grade, in a space adjacent to the highway but underneath the building.)
The North Block buildings will each be 12 stories high with ground-level retail. They will feature floor-to-ceiling glass, some cantilevered facades and a unique glass pedestrian bridge to connect them. Together, the two buildings comprise nearly one million of the 2.2 million square feet of space being created at Capitol Crossing. Both buildings are on time for delivery - 200 Massachusetts Avenue will be complete in late 2018 and 250 Massachusetts Avenue in 2019.
Since the buildings will be spanning the highway, their structural design had to accommodate both the traffic clearances below and the load of the buildings above. That required Balfour Beatty to install extensive, deep foundations adjacent to active highway traffic.
The buildings are bordered by either bridge structures or deck structures on three sides, so Balfour Beatty not only had to solve the logistical problems associated with working in heavy traffic but also work around the limited ground available for staging cranes and delivering materials. A piece of land near the corner of 2nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue now serves as the location for the mobile cranes, which are brought to the job site as needed.
The concrete pour for 200 Massachusetts Avenue is complete, but work on that portion of 250 Massachusetts Avenue won't begin until later this fall, after the excavation and construction of the parking area is complete below. The 700,000 square-foot underground lot will accommodate 1,146 parking spaces, charging stations for electric vehicles and 440 bicycle spaces.
High Tech and Sustainable
The parking garage has a unique exhaust system. Unlike traditional underground garages, which rely on vertical shafts with fans to move the garage air to the surface, this garage will feature EcoChimneys that use large plants to clean the air as it rises through the vertical shaft.
Developer PGP plans to add similar sustainable elements throughout the project in an effort to exceed the LEED® Certified Platinum Criteria, making it the first Eco-District in Washington, DC.
"The high environmental standards the client is working to achieve throughout all five buildings include reducing water consumption, conserving energy, improving air quality, and innovating and choosing better building materials," said Nordby. Those efforts will incorporate the construction of an electrical cogeneration plant, which is not currently a Balfour Beatty project, and an extensive rainwater management/recapture system, which is.
There are some high-tech aspects of the job as well. Balfour Beatty has a full-time technology specialist on site to assist with the BIM modeling of the MEP work. "That's not typical on a project, but we really did require a full-time person because of the size of the job and the number of designers that we are coordinating between," said Nordby.
Electricians have been using GPS to locate sleeve openings before a concrete pour to ensure that access to the future electrical rooms is maintained. This saves time and improves accuracy, Nordby added.
Since there's an average of 300 construction workers on site each day, keeping track of the employees of the various subcontractors can be challenging. Balfour Beatty has solved that problem with RFID chips in construction hardhats. Each unique chip is assigned to a worker and it is read by a scanner when the worker comes onsite. As a result, Balfour Beatty always knows who is on the jobsite.
Creating a New Place
Two buildings on the site are being relocated and expanded to make way for the Capitol Crossing construction. It was the second new location for Adas Israel Synagogue, which was recognized as a historical landmark and moved back in 1969 to make way for the Metro building. "We have already picked it up and temporarily moved it about 30 feet away, to the corner of 3rd Street and G Street, so that we can dig out the garage," said Nordby. "Then it will be moving a block down and will sit on top of the garage at 3rd and F Streets. It's part of the Jewish Historical Society; used for different events and educational tours."
Holy Rosary Church had some of its facilities relocated in the late 1960s because of interstate construction. "They moved a portion of them into the F Street right of way, but now we need to reopen the right of way," Nordby added. "We began demolition of that church rectory and annex at the end of March, and we will rebuild them in the future at the east side of the church." Balfour Beatty is performing renovation work on the church to prepare it for the other buildings' demolition.
The work on the Capitol Crossing project has been unusual in many ways, Nordby said. "Balfour Beatty is a large company and we have had a lot of experience with all the different elements here. But this job is unique because it brings all those elements in our company together in one job. That is rare."
The project environment is also unique. "It's an eclectic neighborhood of apartment buildings, condos, houses of worship, the Georgetown Law School, the General Services Administration (GSA) building and other businesses. So there's a wide array of people who are adjacent to this project and watching it," she added.
They will have lots more to observe. In addition to the North Block that Balfour Beatty is currently working on, Capitol Crossing will also include the Center Block, slated for two buildings, likely one residential and one office building, and one building for the South Block, between F and E Streets. The South Block building is currently under design, but has not been awarded.
Completion of various parts of Capitol Crossing will occur between 2018 and 2020, Nordby said. Sean Cahill of Property Group Partners concluded, "The transformation of the area from empty space over the highway to economic engine is fully underway. Today we are seeing a vibrant new neighborhood destination take shape, which will draw Washingtonians and visitors from all over to world-class restaurant concepts, amenity-driven retail and the District's most sustainable, trophy offices."
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