The D.C. Department of Transportation revealed four different possibilities for the future of the Whitehurst Freeway – D.C. drivers’ main route from downtown to the Key Bridge in Georgetown – at a public meeting Tuesday.
The agency spent almost a year conducting a $550,000 feasibility study to measure the impact of demolishing the freeway, a plan proposed by Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) in January because it is “an eyesore.” The city believes the freeway is a physical barrier between Georgetown and the waterfront and negates the beautification and development that has taken place along the water in the last few years.
After tallying survey results, the four options the city is considering are tearing down the freeway and upgrading K Street with ramps to and from the street and the Key Bridge; tearing it down and having only one ramp from K Street to the bridge; tearing it down and building a tunnel under K Street to the Key Bridge; or leaving the freeway as it is.
Department of Transportation officials and members of DMJM Harris, the consulting firm hired by the agency to conduct the study, were available for four hours to field questions from anyone who attended the first of three open houses Tuesday night at the Melrose Hotel at 24th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We’re going to consolidate all of the comments (from the meeting),” said Ramona Burns, the Department of Transportation’s Ward 2 transportation planner, adding that she is handing out voting ballots to attendees to gauge public response to the possibilities. “You’ll see a lot of these alternatives are really just small variations.”
Burns said that creating two main veins into Georgetown by upgrading K Street and tearing down the freeway would relieve traffic on M Street by giving drivers choices.
“Our hypothesis is that … (upgrading K Street) opens up this whole grid,” Burns said, referring to the main strip of Georgetown from Pennsylvania Avenue to Canal Street.
However, despite both community members and the Department of Transportation’s views, the ultimate decision on the fate of the freeway will be left up to the D.C. Council, Burns said.
Foggy Bottom residents expressed displeasure with the potential destruction of the freeway at the meeting Tuesday because they think the move is unnecessary and will cause more traffic on residential streets. Drivers and commuters see the freeway as their only alternative around Georgetown.
“We see no reason for the freeway to come down,” Foggy Bottom Association President Joy Howell said, adding that hanging greenery and white lights along the freeway would serve the same purpose as deconstructing it because of its unattractiveness.
The Whitehurst Freeway is frequented by the Mount Vernon Shuttle and serves as a bypass for traffic that would otherwise have to use M Street in Georgetown.
The freeway was built in 1949 to link the Key Bridge to a citywide freeway system that was never completed. At the time the Georgetown Waterfront consisted mainly of a lumberyard, cement works and a meat rendering plant.
Washington officials considered demolishing Whitehurst Freeway a decade ago, but instead community and construction concerns caused them to spend $35 million to rebuild the freeway.