The D.C. Department of Transportation provided incorrect dates for the beginning of two major highways construction projects that were reported in an article last Saturday. Replacement of the deck on the Whitney Young Jr. (East Capitol Street) bridge is scheduled to begin this summer. Replacement of the Michigan Avenue NE bridge is scheduled to begin this September. CAPTION: Picture, The Whitehurst Freeway is scheduled for a $25 million repair job. By Douglas Chevalier -- The Washington Post
Many major bridges and elevated highways in the Washington area have deteriorated to the point that their entire decks must be replaced in the next few years at a total cost of more than $100 million, according to highway officials.
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the-Whitehurst Freeway and the District of Columbia approaches to the 14th Street Bridge are among the arterials scheduled for extensive renovation. Their weaknesses were brought dramatically to the surface as The Great Snowstorm melted away to reveal a road network strewn with craters.
The repairs-needed list reads like a Who's Who of major rush-hour routes, and the repairs will means hours of delay to motorists. Projects planned include:
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which carries the Capital Beltway across the Potomac River. Maryland officials are negotiating with the Federal Highway Administration, owner of the bridge, on final plans to replace the badly scarred deck. More than 100,000 vehicles a day use the bridge. The new deck will cost from $30 million to $40 million; work could begin this fall.
The 14th Street bridge approaches, which cross the Tidal Basin inlet, Maine Avenue and Ohio Drive. Work is scheduled to begin in January 1980 at a cost of $19.1 million.
The East Capitol Street (Whitney Young Jr.) Bridge, which crosses the Anacostia River. Work on a new deck, costing $8 million, is scheduled to begin in the summer of 1980.
Chain Bridge, which crosses the Potomac River just below Little Falls. Work on a $3.7 million new deck will begin sometime in 1980, after the National Park Service has finished work on five bridges on the George Washington Parkway.
The Benning Road NE viaduct over the Conrail tracks. Complete replacement, costing $9.6 million, is scheduled to begin late in 1980.
The Michigan Avenue NE viaduct over the B&O and Washington metro tracks. Complete replacement, costing $8.4 million, is scheduled to begin in September 1980.
The Whitehurst Freeway, which connects Georgetown and Key Bridge with downtown Washington. The elevated structure was once hailed as the solution to Washington's traffic problems, reviled as a blight on Georgetown's horizon, and most recently cursed for its potholes. It is scheduled to receive a $25 million facelifting beginning in October 1980.
The prime culprit forcing replace ment of older bridge decks and elevated structures, highway engineers said, is the chemical reaction that results when thawing ice and snow mixes with the salt used to melt them.
The brine seeps through cracks in the concrete to the reinforcing steel rods and dramatically accelerates deterioration. Contributing factors are age, increasing traffic volume and heavier truck weights.
"At the time we were building these bridges we just didn't realize what road salts would do to them," said Robert Nickerson of the Federal Highway Administration's Maryland office. Various technologies are used in building new decks to protect the reinforcing steel from salt.
Adding to the salt problem for the Whitehurst has been an overlay of local politics. Maintenance was deferred for years on the assumption that the Whitehurst would eventually be torn down and replaced with another freeway, or just torn down.
"We have concluded that the best thing to do is to rebuild the Whitehurst, and try to make it a better appearing thing," said James Clark, chief of planning for the D.C. Department of Transportation.
Although the Whitehurst is pockmarked with holes and temporary asphalt patches, the basic underlying sturcture is sound, Clark and engineers agree, and will be adequate to support a new deck.
Plans for the new deck could be under way within the next month, Clark said, but construction could not begin before October 1980. The District is hoping to receive 85 percent federal funding for the program.
The Whitehurst Freeway was Washington's first expressway, planned before World War II and finally completed in 1949. It was to have been called the K Street Skyway, but was renamed in honor of Capt. H. C. Whitehurst, who for 18 years headed the D.C. highway department. Whitehurst died shortly before the freeway he had promoted and built was opened. His memorial is 4.200 feet long, four lanes wide, and cost only $3.5 million to build.
When urban freeways became the rage in the mid 1950s, an extensive network was planned for inner-city Washington. One leg of that now defunct system was to be called the Potomac River Freeway. It would have proceeded along the Georgetown waterfront in an eight-lane tunnel and would have connected with, among other things, the once proposed Three Sisters Bridge across the Potomac.
When the Three Sisters Bridge was officially removed from the map last year, so was the last reason for the Potomac River Freeway.
During all those years, Georgetown residents looked out their windows and sighed. The Whitehurst has been called every bad name in the urban planners book. But traffic planners say it has become an invaluable link in the area's road network.
"We just don't have another way to manage that kind of traffic," Clark said. "To suggest that we do would be irresponsible." The Whitehurst was supposed to carry 30,000 vehicles a day. Today, it carries 46,000.
Clark and other D.C. officials have been meeting with Georgetown citizens' groups, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Fine Arts Commission and others to devise final plans. "We hope we can do something that will at least make the structure more attractive," Clark said.