1995 an open-and-shut case

Toll road debuts, Pennsylvania Ave. closes, work continues.

Metropolitan Times

For many, 1995 will be remembered as the year Pennsylvania Avenue was closed in front of the White House, a private toll road opened in Virginia and immediately lost money, and several public road projects moved closer to completion.

Also, for the first time in two years, the District undertook new road projects. Strapped for cash, the city had been unable to pay a matching share to get federal money, but Congress made an exception and permitted the city to pay back the money at a later date.

That allowed the city to start rebuilding New York Avenue NE, North Capitol Street and Whitehurst Freeway.

Meanwhile, two city bridges were rehabilitated -- the Sousa Bridge, which canies Pennsylvania Avenue over the Anacostia River, and the Taft Bridge, which carries Connecticut Avenue over Rock Creek.

Perhaps the most widely observed road opening in the country occurred in September, when the Duiles Greenway opened between Leesburg and the Dulles Toll Road.

The 14-miie toll road, which charges a one-way fee of $1.75, was the first privateiy built highway to open in more than 100 years -- when it was common for private enterprise to build toll roads.

But the Greenway is suffering financially. The road is averaging 10,500 vehicles a day, but officials say the road must average 33,000 vehicles daily by next fall for the company to make its loan payments without investors having to dip into their own pockets. The road cost $236 million to build.

It's a joy to drive on though, and ought to be a model for future highways, whether they built with public or private money.

It's fitting the biggest D.C. traffic story occurred where most of the other biggest D.C. stories occur -- at the White House.

On May 20th, shortly after the bombing of a federal building in Oaklahoma, the Secret Service, with President Clinton's go-ahead, abruptly closed Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets.

The expected traffic jams didn't materialize, as many drivers simply avoided the entire White House area. Pedestrians didn't know exactly what to make of the open street, and for a few days continued to use crdoswalks to get from Lafayette Park to the White House.

In-line skaters, runners, and skateboarders soon found out about the empty stretch of asphalt and made good use of it.

City officials helped drivers nagivate around what was once a major city thoroughfare. They made I Street one-way westbound -- opposite from the course it ran before -- from New York Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue. A block south, H Street traffic began to run oneway eastbound.

In Montgomery County, traffic routinely backed up at the two spurs connecting Interstates 495 and 270. Both spurs are being widened, so relief is coming in about a year, but the construction has increased anxiety for downtown commuters living in Rockville and points north.

In Northern Virginia, workers neared completion of the widening of lnterstate 95, south of Springfield and north of Quantico, after more than five years of work. Crews hope to finish the 19-mile project in mid-1997.

On Friday, they opened the four-mile stretch from the Occoquan River to Opitz Boulevard.

For two years, construction crews have built additional carpool lanes on Interstate 66, from Route 50 to Route 234. Part of that project was completed Dec. 21, and the rest will be completed by August.

Also, six miles of the Fairfax County Parkway opened from I66 to Route 123, and key parkway interchanges opened at Route 29, Route 50 and Frontier Drive.

Between the two states, over the Potomac River, there also was progress. It just wasn't too visible.

A panel of regional officials moved closer toward deciding what will replace the 34-year-old Woodrow Wilson Bridge, a drawbridge that carries I-495 and I-95 over the Potomac River between Alexandria and Oxon Hill.

The panel is seriously considering building another drawbridge 20 feet higher than the existing bridge. It also is considering the construction of two tunnels and a high fixed-span bridge that ships could pass beneath without stopping traffic.

Part of the money to pay for the new bridge or tunnels, it appears, would come from tolls.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park