Dan McEvily, a Washington attorney, enjoys the peace he finds each morning about 5 a.m., as he sculls along the Potomac River between Key Bridge and the Kennedy Center. He likes the quiet and the smells and the solitude. In fact, the only thing he doesn't like is the view towards Georgetown.
"The Whitehurst Freeway is ugly," McEvily said. "Out on the river, you get an entirely different perspective on Georgetown. Georgetown is beautiful, but no matter when you look at its skyline, all you can see is the freeway."
Even in his office in the Waterfront Center at 1010 Wisconsin Ave. NW, McEvily cannot escape the dull hum of cars cruising past the waterfront on the elevated freeway.
But eyesores don't last forever, and after blotting out Georgetown's view of the Potomac for 32 years, the Whitehurst Freeway may finally be coming down. District officials have taken the first step toward replacing it by asking engineers to study alternatives to the waterfront roadway.
It likely will be years before it's done, but District officials are considering a street-level boulevard along K Street NW to replace the freeway.
"I'll be glad to see it go," declared McEvily, but other workers in the Waterfront Center have different feelings.
Lawyer Brian P. Murphy moved his sixth-floor desk into a better position to watch the daily commuter crush. "Nothing happens out there without my seeing it," said Murphy, a partner in the firm of Repetti, Murphy and Evans.
Murphy agreed that the elevated roadway is "ugly," but added, "I'd hate to see it go."
"There's no other possible way to move the traffic through here," he said, wondering aloud how commuters would get into the waterfront area from Maryland and Virginia without the freeway.
He said the surrounding buildings contain "plenty of parking, with new offices going up all over." As he spoke from his office balcony, the construction noise from two nearby high-rise office building projects nearly drowned out normal conversation.
The Georgetown waterfront was an industrial slum when the Whitehurst was built in 1949, a hodgepodge of factories, flour mills, cement plants and a notorious rendering works that offended the olfactory senses of motorists, even at 50 mph.
Nowadays what offends Georgetowners most about the waterfront is its prosperity. Every piece of land south of the C&O Canal has been snapped up by developers except the old city incinerator site, and the District is about to auction that off.
So many big buildings are being constructed so close together that local residents coined a name for what's happening to their neighborhood: "Manhattanization."
Even the Whitehurst Freeway is a reminder of Manhattan. New York City neglected the elevated highway along its Hudson riverfront for so long that one day a truck fell right through the roadway, finally forcing the city to face the cost of repairs.
The Whitehurst isn't in that bad shape yet, but it "definitely needs a complete reconstruction," says D.C. Transportation Director Thomas Downs.
The city is considering replacing the freeway to avoid future maintenance problems and because "it's just plain ugly," he added.
"You can't have everything," lawyer Murphy philosophizes. "I'd rather look at an ugly bridge that's keeping the traffic away than have a better view of the river."
On the fourth floor of the Waterfront Center, the president of the magazine division of Housing Data Reports Inc., Charles Browning, bemoaned the potential demise of his occasional tete-a-tetes with stationary motorists. His office affords an intimate view of the interior of every passing car.
"I make many new friends every day at rush hour," Browning joked.
"But, tearing down the Whitehurst is potentially the first step in fixing up what is an abominable waterfront. However, they [city planners] will have to come up with a freeway variation that will continue to channel traffic around Georgetown and not through it."
City traffic planners agree, and their instructions to engineers studying a replacement for the Whitehurst are that the new road is not supposed to make it easier for commuters to drive into Washington through congested Georgetown.
Reconstruction of the ramps connecting the Whitehurst to Key Bridge will be necessary -- particularly the elimination of the ramp from the bridge to the freeway, which requires motorists to make a hard right turn from the bridge.
Key Bridge itself need major repairs, estimated to cost $32 million to $35 million. The floor of the bridge is falling apart, and there are flaws in the smaller arches.
No Whitehurst Freeway plans have been drawn yet, but Downs said it appears feasible to build ramps that will drop traffic from Key Bridge directly to K Street.
There the design gets tricky. A railroad track runs down K Street to a GSA power plant that must be supplied with carloads of coal. Several side streets handle loads of tourists and shoppers, as well as the increasing number of persons living in costly condominiums that would offer great views of the Potomac if it weren't for the Whitehurst.
But not everyone on the waterfront will be glad to see the freeway torn down. Dave Williams, owner of the Bayou, a popular nightclub nestled under the Whitehurst at 3135 K St. NW, was forceful in his opposition.
"I'd love to see it torn down, but at the same time, I don't want to be put out of business for two years," he said. "I've known this was coming for some time. Since February 1980, I've put a minimum of $750,000 into the Bayou. But now, not another penny until I find out what's going on."