You’d think after waiting decades for something to happen, commuters would take advantage when it does. That isn’t happening as quickly as planners hoped with the new freeway ramp from southbound D.C. 295 to the 11th Street Bridge.
Drivers unfamiliar with this area along the Anacostia River may wonder why a ramp opening is a big deal — historic, even. The reason is that before the ramp, this spot was one of the missing links in the D.C. region’s highway system.
The opening of a ramp onto the 11th Street Bridge's local span is one of many changes this fall.
Generations of commuters from Maryland heading for downtown Washington or jobs in Arlington County complained that they had to get off the freeway right where a connecting ramp would shorten their trips over the river and onto the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.
Residents of Anacostia and Capitol Hill also didn’t think much of the arrangement. It not only created commuting difficulties for them, but it also had those other travelers looking for shortcuts through their neighborhoods.
In 2010, the District started building three new spans to replace the two that made up the 11th Street Bridge. All the new spans — two for freeway traffic and one for local traffic — are now open. Much of this year’s work has involved building the ramps that will create new opportunities for commuters. Many more of them are scheduled to open this fall.
The July 30 opening of the inbound freeway ramp began to ease the burden on commuter and community. In September, many commuters got an extra incentive — not that they should have needed it — to switch to this long-awaited route: The D.C. Department of Transportation shut one of the westbound lanes along the Southeast Freeway between Barney Circle and the main part of the freeway. The new construction will replace this part of the freeway with an urban boulevard.
Because of the recent lane closing, inbound commuters on Pennsylvania Avenue SE face a new problem at the Anacostia River, but they also have a new solution: Follow the detour signs up the ramp onto southbound D.C. 295, then take the new ramp onto the 11th Street Bridge.
“They’re not coming yet,” said Peter McDonough, construction manager for the 11th Street Bridge project. Commuting habits are hard to break, even when they’re unpleasant ones.
McDonough points out that many of those commuters will be forced into a change when the westbound lanes are completely shut later this year.
While those commuters adjust, other new ramps are likely to benefit thousands more and go further toward easing the burden on local streets.
The main event for many will be the opening of the outbound freeway ramp from the bridge onto northbound D.C. 295, the freeway north of the bridge. That’s the other big missing link. McDonough expects it will open around Thanksgiving, an appropriate season for this event. Once the new ramp is in place, only a glutton for punishment will do what commuters do now: Drive from the Southeast Freeway onto Pennsylvania Avenue, cross the Sousa Bridge and wait at a traffic signal to make a left turn onto D.C. 295.