- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

Transportation officials are exploring nearly 20 options as they deliberate the future of the Whitehurst Freeway.

The proposed changes are wide-ranging for the elevated road that parallels the Potomac River, carrying traffic around Georgetown. They include leaving the key commuter route in place with some minor enhancements such as pedestrian walkways, or knocking it down and widening K Street, which runs directly below the hulking structure.

The ideas, officials said, were shaped in part by public comment received at meetings and workshops this past year as the city explores ways to improve the popular Georgetown waterfront without making traffic problems worse.

“A lot of people seem really interested in participating,” said Ramona Burns, a planner with the D.C. Department of Transportation. “This might be an appropriate time to relieve some of the traffic and congestion we have in the area.”

Built in 1949 when Georgetown was predominantly industrial, the Whitehurst Freeway was meant to link the Key Bridge to a citywide system of highways that was never built.

On an average weekday, the three-quarter-mile structure carries about 42,000 vehicles, many traveling from the suburbs to jobs downtown.

At several open houses, the last of which is scheduled for tonight, residents have been given a chance to view poster-board-sized displays of aerial maps depicting what roads in the area could look like without the freeway.

Many of the plans revolve around the same basic idea: diverting the traffic onto K Street, which would be widened to handle more motorists.

Options include having six lanes of regular traffic, with two lanes to be used for parking during off-peak hours. Other proposals would dedicate one lane in either direction for buses, or a single turn lane for cars in the middle. Still others would burrow part of the road underground.

K Street also would be linked with Canal Road, which sits higher above the waterfront, so that motorists in upper Northwest heading toward downtown could bypass M Street, Georgetown’s busy, traffic-clogged thoroughfare. Another variation proposes adding a spiral ramp linking K Street to the Key Bridge.

If transportation officials leave the Whitehurst Freeway intact, plans call for adding elevated sidewalks adjacent to the travel lanes, or even an elevated park that would overlook the waterfront.

Officials cautioned that the costs of the proposals are preliminary, but range from as little as $5,000 to more than $58 million.

At the open house Wednesday night, reactions were mixed.

Some residents continue to push for the city to eliminate the freeway, deeming it an eyesore, while others questioned whether the benefit was worth the trouble.

“Ugly maybe, but broken no,” said Mark Blumenthal, who works in Georgetown and lives in the city’s Palisades neighborhood. “For me, it isn’t worth the cost in a city that can’t fix its schools.”

Allen G. Tomlinson, who has spent 35 years in the neighborhood, said he enjoys the industrial look of the freeway and worries that widening K Street would make the waterfront and area businesses less accessible to pedestrians.

“You can now frequently walk across K Street … while on M Street you take your life into your own hands,” Mr. Tomlinson said.

Miss Burns said officials would narrow the number of proposed changes, possibly to a half-dozen, after receiving more feedback from questionnaires and comment sheets given to residents.

A draft report is expected by early next year, she said.

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