The Whitehurst Freeway could be Mayor Adrian Fenty’s first serious flip-flop in office. In August we were pleased to hear then-candidate Fenty say that he opposes tearing down the Whitehurst, an eminently useful waterfront causeway. Reports are surfacing that he has changed his mind. But tearing down the freeway would benefit narrow interests while harming the rest of us.
The Whitehurst works. It strikes some as anachronistic and grittily industrial, but more than 40,000 motorists traverse it on weekdays because it whisks motorists around congested Georgetown from the Key Bridge to K Street in a few short minutes. Tearing down the Whitehurst has been under study at the D.C. Department of Transportation for years and will be for years more, says Ken Laden, head of Transportation Police and Planning. But the reasons to consider a demolition have never been clear. The best argument for change — Mr. Laden’s — is that the space the Whitehurst occupies could be improved to serve both local drivers’ needs and those of crosstown travelers. But the local drivers could never number as many as the crosstowners, and so far, the 22 plans the department has offered for public comment are not very promising.Some reroute the traffic onto K and M Streets, which would probably worsen those already congested areas. One burrows through an obscenely expensive tunnel. Others keep the Whitehurst intact while adding ramps, which looks better.
Mr. Fenty’s office did not return our calls Friday, but Mr. Laden poured cold water on a report in the Georgetown Voice quoting transportation spokesman Chris Ziemann saying that the mayor has “modified” his previous opposition and touting the virtues of Whitehurst deconstruction. “I disagree with that completely,” Mr. Laden said, calling the report either a misquote or a misstatement. “We are not going to tear it down right away” — only after years of consultation and public hearings.
Even if some wonderful plan to open traffic on the Whitehurst were devised, crosstown traffic should still be the primary focus. Imagine how tearing down the freeway would compound the already congested K and M Streets NW with 40,000 additional motorists during rush and non-rush hours. Until and unless the mayor and his transportation gurus can show a real plan to improve traffic flow, the Whitehurst must stay. Either way, Mr. Fenty needs to go on the record about his position.