- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Kevin Costner’s character in “No Way Out” jumped off the Whitehurst Freeway and slipped into a Baltimore subway stop to escape the bad guys, a cinematic liberty that possibly is the high point in the life of the 57-year-old roadway.

There is not a lot of love for the freeway, even among those who love the convenience of it. Perhaps the best that can be said of the freeway is that it is highly functional, which is not unimportant.

A Georgetown contingent is looking to raze the freeway, with the help of urban planners. The contingent is ever obsessed with the waterfront property that sits underneath the freeway, no doubt because of an expected bump in property values if the elevated bypass is dispatched to concrete heaven.

For now, the freeway is the alternative to the vehicular mess of Georgetown, no small point of concern among the estimated 43,000 commuters who use the bypass on weekdays. To most, the best view of Georgetown comes from the rearview mirror.

That no doubt comes as news to the Georgetown residents who imagine their stretch of asphalt to be the most idyllic in the world. That conceit no doubt intrudes on the Whitehurst debate.

The Whitehurst Freeway has seen worse days, of course, back in the meat-plant days of the 1960s, when a trip on it was best navigated with a clothespin attached to the nose, so awful was the stench. Now that part of Georgetown is a whole lot more hospitable to the nose but no more inviting to non-tourists and those a few years beyond a beer-soaked 21.

Officials with the District Department of Transportation envision a Georgetown without the obtrusive structure: a beautiful waterfront splashed in sun and a pedestrian-friendly area abutting an expanded K Street. It is hard to imagine pedestrians being enthralled with a street that is choked with vehicles, but that is the hope of urban planners.

According to their $540,000 study that took two years to complete, residents will rush to have a picnic along the waterfront, while inhaling vast amounts of carbon monoxide between bites on a sandwich. People have been known to do goofier things than picnic by a parking lot masquerading as a roadway, such as commencing to jog along George Washington Parkway on a 95-degree day with automobiles whizzing past.

For the record: I have no vested interest in the outcome of the Whitehurst squabble. I do wonder if anyone other than Georgetown homeowners and developers will benefit from the razing of this three-quarter-mile freeway. I also wonder how that part of town will be able to assimilate 43,000 daily commuters.

And let’s be honest: Urban planners do not always get it right. If they did, the Whitehurst Freeway would not have been built in 1949, and $35 million would not have been spent to improve it a decade ago.

A Web site devoted to saving the Whitehurst Freeway makes a fair number of compelling points, most having to do with the crush of traffic that inevitably would end up spilling into the streets of Georgetown.

Foggy Bottom residents are skeptical of the plans as well. They fear the razing of the Whitehurst Freeway will lead to development that burdens their corridor of the city even further.

One thing is certain: Traffic is getting only worse in the region, and Georgetown in particular lacks a Metro stop to ease the commuter nightmare. The same goes for Georgetown’s neighbors to the west, in Foxhall, the Palisades and Kent. Many customarily employ the freeway to go to their offices downtown and have been vociferous in their support of the so-called eyesore.

Regardless, DDOT officials have whittled down their proposals to five, none that saves the Whitehurst Freeway.

Georgetown’s residents can take that as a sign to celebrate or buy earplugs, assuming their traffic woes will increase considerably in the distant future.

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