SIX YEARS AGO, four gold-colored concrete lions that had guarded the city from each end of the William Howard Taft Bridge since 1907 were taken from their pedestals for restoration. They were supposed to be gone for two years while the bridge was being fixed. The bridge is now in nifty shape, but the lions are nowhere to be seen. The official deadline for returning them to their duty stations has come and gone, too -- several times. An unprotected city, and especially pedestrians and motorists traveling Connecticut Avenue over Rock Creek Park, want them back.

It's not as if the lions haven't been missed. Residents and visitors to the nation's capital constantly ask of their whereabouts. The Post's Dr. Gridlock reports that some concerned citizens have gone so far as to create a Web site dedicated to keeping memory of the lions alive. Yes, they were badly battered from age, weather and the pounding of nearby traffic. They needed work. But to take away those magnificent historic beasts and let them languish for years in a city storage area underneath the Third Street Tunnel -- which is what has occurred -- is treatment that borders on cruelty to animals.

So last week we asked Gary Burch, the city's chief traffic engineer, about the missing felines. Mr. Burch reported that the original concrete lions won't be back. Apparently, they were eroded beyond repair. But Mr. Burch also promised that four properly regal lions looking exactly like the old ones will be on their perches by the Fourth of July. The new lions -- two alert and two sleeping as before -- will be recast in concrete containing additives to protect the statues from the elements and aging, Mr. Burch said.

As for the July 4 deadline, we live in hope. It's only fair to note, however, that exactly one year ago, Mayor Anthony Williams listed several projects that would be completed within the first year of his term. The Taft Bridge lions were on that list.