Crumbling Constitution Avenue to be rebuilt

By Ashley Halsey III
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 12:40 PM

Why does a good road go bad?

A road that has carried presidents in their moments of triumph and on their way to the tomb, that has felt the footfalls of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and 200,000 marchers, that trembles each May under the roar of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle riders?

Constitution Avenue, a pathway to America's most cherished monuments, is crumbling.

Fixing it will snarl traffic for the rest of the year.

The National Park Service, which owns the avenue, is about to begin the most significant overhaul to the eight-lane thoroughfare in more than 60 years. Working one block at a time, between 15th and 23rd streets NW, it will rip out the whole rotten shebang, replacing pavement, curbs, crosswalks, lights and sidewalks.

The work will require closing four lanes of traffic on each block under construction, beginning at 23rd Street on April 11, after cherry blossom season ends. The estimated 50,000 drivers who use the avenue daily will probably not remember this as a fun experience.

"There's no easy way. There's no good time to do this, so we will try to make it as painless as possible," said Charles N. Borders II of the Park Service.

To minimize the mess, the Park Service has put out a list of alternative routes and plans to update its Web site whenever it designates a new one. Overhead traffic signs in Virginia and the District will display warnings and news.

Work will cease on big traffic days: the White House Easter Egg Roll, Rolling Thunder, July 4, the Marine Corps Marathon, the National Christmas Tree lighting and national holidays.

The $10.3 million project has been needed for years, the Park Service said, but the agency waited until other road jobs on its turf and in the District were completed, for fear of giving the impression that every street in town was under construction.

The reason for the need - the explanation of why good roads go bad - applies to millions of miles of roadway across the nation. Understanding it provides one key to comprehending the country's crumbling infrastructure, the repair of which has been likened to the urgency of addressing the deficit: The longer it's ignored, the worse it gets.

Constitution Avenue, literally and figuratively, is a slice of America's problem in microcosm.

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