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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Focus > May 2004 > Pennsylvania Avenue Gets a New Look
May 2004Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-04-025

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Pennsylvania Avenue Gets a New Look

One of America's most famous streets is getting a face-lift. In early January, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) began a 9-month reconstruction project on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, that includes removing existing concrete barriers that had been installed to close the street off to vehicle traffic and replacing them with steel bollards. The project, which takes place in front of numerous security-sensitive areas such as the White House, runs between 15th and 17th Streets, and also incorporates one block each of the adjoining streets of Madison Place and Jackson Place.

Pennsylvania Avenue will have a new and more scenic look once work is completed. The reconstruction plans call for a great deal of granite, according to project engineer Jorge Alvarez of FHWA's Federal Lands Highway office. Granite is being placed as part of the sidewalks and street surfaces, with the granite portions of the street running between 15th Street and Madison Place and between Jackson Place and 17th Street. In addition, the road surface will be constructed of a brown synthetic asphalt to give it a rustic appearance. "The material meets all of the specifications of standard asphalt," says Alvarez. "It just has a clear binder to reveal the color. The synthetic asphalt is a Superpave mix; the only thing different is the binder. Otherwise, everything is the same as a normal Superpave mix." Use of the brown synthetic asphalt is rare in the DC metropolitan area, so the roadway will have a unique profile.

Aerial view of Pennsylvannia Avenue during reconstruction

Aerial view of Pennsylvannia Avenue during reconstruction

The 9-month reconstruction of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, includes removing concrete barriers that close the street off to vehicle traffic and replacing them with steel bollards.

Completing the project in 9 months, when it would normally take up to 2 years, requires construction around the clock, 6 days a week. White House staff want the project finished by September 30, 2004, so preparations can begin in October for the January 2005 presidential inauguration. Because of this, the contract is a "No Excuse Contract," which means that penalties accrue for the contractor, The Lane Construction Corp. of Meriden, Connecticut, if the work is not completed on time. A bonus will be earned for completion on or before September 30, but a financial penalty will be assessed if work continues on October 1, and each day thereafter.

The most time consuming aspect of the project is the relocation of utilities to accommodate the installation of the security bollards. Some of the bollards will be retractable, forming a gate of sorts to allow motorcades to access the roadway. The moorings for the bollards penetrate deep enough to encroach on the paths of many utility lines. To relocate some of the lines, "we've had to remove the encasement, exposing the actual lines themselves, in order to get the slack to drop the line," says Alvarez. The project has also required considerable hand digging to approach the utilities safely. Relocating the utilities at the 15th Street junction alone has taken almost 3 months.

To meet the project deadline, work has been divided into both daytime and evening shifts. Due to noise restrictions, the evening shift performs tasks such as backfilling and digging with lighter equipment, such as backhoes, while the daytime hours are reserved for the more heavy excavation with hoe rams.

With work taking place right in front of the White House and Blair House, where visiting dignitaries are housed, security is a major concern. The entire job site is fenced off, and the U.S. Secret Service patrols the perimeter of the site and all entrances. A background check is required for all personnel entering the site, so considerable planning must be done to prevent work delays. Alvarez holds a weekly meeting with stakeholders on Monday mornings, to brief concerned parties about the work going on that week. The meetings include representatives from the White House, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Secret Service, Blair House, General Services Administration, National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as representatives from the various utility companies that have utilities running along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Secret Service also advises Alvarez of any unusual movements by President Bush or visiting dignitaries: while exact times are not provided, work crews are given some notice of when to keep an eye out for motorcades. Occasionally, due to motorcades or other events, crews are requested to clear out of certain sections of the site, and concentrate on work in other areas. Despite these security challenges, work is proceeding on schedule.

To learn more about the Pennsylvania Avenue project, contact Jorge Alvarez at FHWA, 202-393-5583 (email: jorge.alvarez@fhwa.dot.gov).

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Updated: 04/07/2011

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