The District's New York Avenue Bridge is just a brief rise and decline along a route that carries about 65,000 vehicles a day. But its reconstruction is about to have a big impact on commuters. The bridge is old and needs to be rebuilt, and there's federal stimulus money available to do it. Here's a look at what's going to happen and what commuters can do to reduce their pain.
The bridge reconstruction is one of five transportation projects along the corridor through Northeast Washington that were announced in 2009. Under the original plan drafted by the District Department of Transportation, the bridge project would have been well underway by now.
In the meantime, the District has finished its reconstruction project on Brentwood Road NE and postponed the rehabilitation of First Street NE to 2012. A safety improvement program turned the triangle at New York and Florida avenues into what planners call a "virtual circle." That was a major disruption for drivers, and transportation officials are still monitoring the traffic flow and signal timing.
Ali Shakeri, the District's program manager for the New York Avenue projects, said that there is extra congestion in that area and that traffic has slowed down a little. At the same time, pedestrian safety has been improved, particularly for students heading to and from McKinley High School across those wide and heavily used streets.
To the east, the replacement of the Ninth Street Bridge is about 90 percent complete. The bridge itself is done, and the old one will be down by May. The ramps that will form the final connections to the new bridge still must be completed. The entire project is scheduled to be done by autumn.
Now comes the New York Avenue Bridge, located just east of the virtual traffic circle that is home to a Wendy's restaurant and west of the Ninth Street Bridge. Planners are hoping that the overall impact of the reconstruction on traffic may be somewhat diminished by the progress made on other projects. But that wasn't the reason behind the delay.
The New York Avenue Bridge rises not so majestically above the tracks north of Union Station that are used by Amtrak, MARC, VRE, CSX and Metro. The importance of those rail links created difficulties with the original engineering plan to replace the bridge, Shakeri said. There are plenty of wires and cables for the rail systems right under the bridge, and there is almost no time when the tracks are inactive. The bridge replacement was redesigned as the impact of those construction realities became clearer.
The goal now is to rehabilitate and reinforce the existing structure while improving the approach roads and sidewalks.
The rebuilding of the bridge is scheduled to continue into early 2014. The sidewalks on both sides have been closed. In the first phase, through the winter and spring and into the summer, one lane along this half-mile stretch of New York Avenue may be closed at times, but so far, three lanes remain open in each direction. This is potentially less burdensome for drivers than the original plan, which called for a full-time closing of one lane in this phase.
But starting in the summer, drivers will feel the full impact of the reconstruction. The lanes currently used for westbound travel will close. Bridge traffic will be reconfigured so that there are two lanes available for each direction. In fall 2012, the lanes currently used for westbound travel will reopen, and the eastbound side will be closed for the reconstruction. The overall pattern will remain with two lanes open in each direction. Then for the final phase, starting in late 2013, three lanes will be open in the peak direction and two in the opposite direction.
Bottom line: For two years starting in mid- to late summer, one of the District's main commuter routes will be narrowed from six lanes to four lanes, even at rush hours. Project managers think this will delay traffic 15 to 30 minutes in the work zone.
The impact of the bridge project extends to pedestrians and cyclists. Detour signs at Florida Avenue on the west side and Penn Street on the east side point them south toward Fourth Street NE to get around the work zone and back onto New York Avenue. I walked the detour in about 10 minutes in the daytime past the shops and food wholesale centers on Fourth Street. I'd be less inclined to do it at night.
For drivers who might consider alternative routes, the District Department of Transportation has these suggestions:
-Take West Virginia Avenue NE to Florida Avenue NE.
-Take South Dakota Avenue NE to Rhode Island Avenue NE to Lincoln Road to North Capitol Street.
-Take Bladensburg Road to Florida Avenue.
-Take Kenilworth Avenue to three potential exits: Benning Road, East Capitol Street or Howard Road.