- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

D.C. officials are seeking to demolish the Whitehurst Freeway in the spirit of beautification along the Potomac River waterfront — and darn the estimated 42,000 vehicles that use the Georgetown bypass each day.

It seems those vehicles can be magically absorbed by the already overburdened arteries that connect the city to the suburbs.

Or better yet, you could make use of the city’s mass transportation system.

Or you could walk to work.

Or you could ride a bicycle into the city along the canal path.

Don’t worry, be happy, even if you are stuck in M Street traffic, moving at the tedious rate of 1 mph, if moving is the proper word.

Memo to city officials, and in particular D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat: M Street is a brain-numbing, eye-bulging, vein-popping test of all your patience. What would it be if it weren’t for the 42,000 vehicles being siphoned away by the Whitehurst Freeway?

It would be Dante’s inferno, is what it would be. It would be the worst thoroughfare in the city, which is saying something, considering the stretch of New York Avenue that connects Maryland to downtown is a bumper-car course at rush hour.

Proponents of the beautification plan are thinking in the classroom world of perfection.

Back in the real world, along M Street and the thoroughfare beneath the Whitehurst Freeway, beauty is not the first word that pops into the mind on a typical weekday. The first word is: Help.

Memo No. 2 to city officials: If it is not broke, why demolish it? There is a reason the Whitehurst Freeway, eyesore that it is, has avoided the wrecking ball in the past.

There is no logical alternative to it, no matter how many times city and transportation planners review the numbers and possibilities.

Traffic in the D.C. region is getting worse, not better, and that is because of an ever-burgeoning population. Jobs are fueling the growth, just as jobs are fueling the housing crunch that has led to unthinkable equity for homeowners and multiple contracts at selling.

Now is no time to be eliminating an essential roadway with no justification other than aesthetics.

Now is no time to be revisiting a tired issue that goes back to the ‘80s, when the city first studied the notion of tearing down the freeway and turning it into a boulevard extending to K Street.

What the city found then, in part because of Georgetown’s narrow arteries, was an inability of the neighborhood to accommodate an increase in traffic flow.

That was about 20 years ago. What has changed since then? Nothing except more vehicles and more congestion.

Here is the really peculiar part: The city repaired the elevated freeway in the late ‘90s and so, like it or not, the freeway is now actually one of the more pristine arteries in the city.

It is the lull before you hit the storm of bone-rattling bumps on either K or M streets. It is a three-quarter-of-a-mile refuge to the vehicular madness lurking on M Street or downtown. It is practical to a fault.

Mr. Evans, who represents the environs of Georgetown, suggests commuters use alternative routes into the city, such as the 14th Street and Memorial bridges, which, if forced, commuters undoubtedly would do.

That will not help those already sentenced to crawl across those spans two times a day.

At this planning rate, maybe one day commuters in the D.C. region can aspire to lead the nation in time and money lost going to and from work, and all in celebration of a waterfront that captures the eye.

Georgetown pedestrians should be happy to know that if the freeway eventually comes down, the waterfront section may be something to behold amid an increase of carbon monoxide in the air.

It sure will be a beautiful part of the city between coughs and the honking of horns.

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