Freeway faces scrutiny

The Whitehurst Freeway, D.C. drivers’ main route from downtown to the Key Bridge in Georgetown, could be torn down following a proposal from Foggy Bottom’s city councilmember Jack Evans.

Evans’ proposal, introduced in January, would lead to the destruction of the freeway between K Street and Canal Street. The Mount Vernon Campus Shuttle buses use the freeway.

The issue has come to light because a new waterfront park is scheduled for construction in Georgetown this fall, and city leaders hope that construction will lead to a larger beautification project that includes taking down the freeway. The city is conducting a study on the impact of taking down the freeway.

“This would be a way to make (the waterfront) even better,” said Ramona Burns, Evans’ transportation coordinator for Ward 2.

Burns declined to comment on the alternatives to the freeway because the city is waiting for the study to be finished before discussing other design possibilities.

“The thing I really want to stress is that we haven’t gotten to that stage yet,” Burns said.

The District Department of Transportation said on its Web site, “This freeway is a physical barrier separating Georgetown from the waterfront. It blocks vistas of the waterfront and prevents full utilization of the Georgetown waterfront park.”

The department’s Web site also lists examples of similar projects undertaken by other major cities such as Portland’s Harbor Drive, San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and Boston’s Big Dig.

“Georgetown’s waterfront is a little more developed,” Burns said, comparing the Whitehurst to other projects.

Mike Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, said the deconstruction of the freeway is not a GW issue even though Mount Vernon Shuttle buses use the route.

“We’re not going to take a position on this,” Akin said of the deconstruction. “Tearing down the freeway would happen in conjunction with a whole bunch of other transportation alternatives. There’s no reason to get excited about it.”

Proposed alternatives mentioned by DDOT include a tunnel or turning K Street into a divided highway that has a median for pedestrians. A public meeting examining these alternatives has been held, and five more are planned, including one on Wednesday at the Melrose Hotel.

Elizabeth Eliot, a member of the Foggy Bottom Association, said she attended the public meeting on April 7 where GW construction director Michele Honey made a presentation highlighting the improved public safety that would result from the destruction of the freeway. Honey could not be reached for comment.

Eliot said she herself has yet to take a position on the issue.

“I’m trying to remain neutral and ask questions,” Eliot said. “No one knows what the motivation is for this,” she added.

Barbara Spillinger, vice counsel for the FBA, said the destruction proposal is counterintuitive.

“One of the arguments is that the Whitehurst Freeway causes a barrier between Georgetown and … the waterfront,” Spillinger said.

But Spillinger said removing the freeway would create a barrier between Georgetown and the waterfront because pedestrians would have to interact with the 42,000 cars daily that use the freeway.

An FBA newsletter said the group has not yet taken an official position on the destruction proposal. It also said that members are concerned about a lack of a rationale for the study.

The newsletter also said the Whitehurst Freeway has won an award for its practicality and design.

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