- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

The Whitehurst Freeway, a key commuter route through Georgetown, could be torn down if city officials get their way.

“It’s an ugly structure, which I don’t like,” D.C. Council member Jack Evans said. He spoke to residents last week about the feasibility of demolishing the road.

The elevated freeway is three-quarters of a mile long and acts as a bypass for tens of thousands of people in Maryland, Virginia and the District traveling to jobs downtown. It opened in 1949 to connect the Key Bridge with a citywide system of highways that was never built.

Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and other city officials think that many of the estimated 42,000 cars that use the road each day will find other paths into the city if it is removed in the next couple of years.

He suggested that much of the traffic could be absorbed by widening K Street below the freeway into a six-lane boulevard. He said commuters also might use the 14th Street and Memorial bridges.

But dozens of people at a contentious meeting Wednesday night in Foggy Bottom remained skeptical.

“If the Whitehurst Freeway isn’t broken, why get rid of it?” asked Susan Wallace, who lives a block south of the freeway’s eastern end. “Let’s wait 30 years and see if technology brings about better ideas.”

The push to eliminate the road comes as officials attempt to revitalize the District’s long-neglected waterfronts on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. One catalyst for change is the proposed site of a baseball stadium in Southeast.

In Georgetown, the waterfront largely has been transformed. In the past five years, a Ritz-Carlton hotel and luxury condominiums have opened nearby. A 14-screen movie theater occupies a building that once housed an incinerator. Also, construction on a waterfront park will begin in the fall.

“Many times when my husband and I drive along [the Whitehurst Freeway], we say isn’t it a shame because the waterfront is so beautiful,” said Carol Gold, who uses the road to travel from her home in Northwest to her office at the Internal Revenue Service.

Still, Mrs. Gold and others said the freeway is important for those who want to avoid Georgetown’s gridlock — even when it is not rush hour.

Abi Lerner of DMJM Harris, the company studying the impact of removing the road, said “we really have to do our homework” in deciding where the traffic would go.

He suggested that encouraging more people to take mass transit might help alleviate problems, and said officials in neighboring jurisdictions also would have to be consulted.

“This is a starting point,” said Ramona Burns, a planner with the D.C. Department of Transportation. “We’re not done by any means.”

City officials plan to hold public meetings in the fall to discuss more concrete plans after several brainstorming sessions with residents.

They expect that if the freeway is removed, property values in the area will increase — generating enough extra taxes to cover the cost of demolition.

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