WASHINGTON — The George Washington Memorial Parkway isn’t just a commuter route — it’s also a memorial for the nation’s first president. And a variety of road projects this Presidents Day weekend — and in the years to come — are aimed at preserving the parkway.
More than 33 million people drive the gentle curves of the George Washington Parkway along the steep banks of the Potomac River every year.
“When it was originally completed in 1932, the road was a direct link between the capital and our first president’s home in Mount Vernon,” said Jonathan Shafer, spokesperson for the National Park Service.
But the northern section of the scenic byway, opened in 1962, is showing its age, with this winter’s temperature swings causing an outbreak of potholes and road divots. While many workers will spend the holiday weekend at home or on vacation, essential crews will be on duty and doing their best to patch road damage.
“This weekend, drivers can expect to see maintenance workers on the road filling potholes north and southbound. … It’s important that drivers lower their speed and be mindful of their surroundings,” Shafer said. “We want to make sure our maintenance staff are able to get home safely.”
Crews will also be on the hunt for potholes on the Clara Barton and Baltimore-Washington parkways. (The Clara Barton was itself once called the George Washington Parkway and was considered Maryland’s counterpart on the opposite side of the river. It was renamed after the founder of the Red Cross in 1989 to eliminate confusion.)
The northern section of the G.W. is 57 years old. Rehabilitation of the Windy Run Bridge north of Spout Run is winding down, but several other bridges are nearing the end of their service life, and other facets of the road are withering. The rock walls are crumbling after repeated impacts from crashes, the curbs are cracking with years of runoff, and the Virginia Route 123 interchange is ill-equipped for today’s heavier traffic volumes.
The park service says it’s moving forward with long-term plans to rehabilitate 8 miles of the scenic byway, upgrading its guardrails, rehabilitating the two scenic overlooks and redesigning the Route 123 ramps in the years ahead.
Following a public comment period, the park service drafted an environmental assessment in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division and the National Capital Planning Commission. That report set the stage for eligibility for funds from the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program.
The $150 million project also seeks to repair stormwater-management systems to prevent excess water from damaging the road, and to construct emergency turnarounds for drivers to use under police direction when crashes or downed trees block the lanes.