By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2006
After all those traffic jams that caused all those missed ballgames, missed meetings, missed life, the commuter who faced the most frustration from the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge will have the chance to head to Alexandria this month and, in an officially sanctioned act of road rage, blow the sucker to bits.
Wilson Bridge project officials announced yesterday that they are holding a contest in which drivers can compete to see who suffered the most at the hands of the old span. The traffic loser turned contest winner will get to trigger explosive charges that will send a half-mile section of the old bridge crashing to the banks of the Potomac River at the stroke of midnight Aug. 24.
"May it rest in pieces," reads the news release on the project's Web site, http://www.wilsonbridge.com , where bridge-loathing contestants are asked to fill out forms detailing how long they've commuted across the bridge and to describe their worst days.
Bridge officials said the contest, which is underway and ends Aug. 18, is a twisted tribute to the motorists who've long suffered in the backups that choke both approaches.
"This is a thank-you and a recognition for all the folks who have had to endure a miserable time getting across the old bridge," spokesman John Undeland said. "We want to involve the public and get the commuter who's had it the worst to be the triggerman -- or triggerwoman -- to bring down the bridge that has caused them so much woe."
Undeland said the contest is also a fun way to warn motorists and local residents of the demolition, which is scheduled for midnight because it will shut down Interstate 95 traffic for about 30 minutes and send shockwaves rumbling through the Alexandria neighborhoods closest to the site.
Undeland predicted that the controlled explosions shattering the steel girders that form the bridge's skeleton will have "the brightness of lightning" and sound "like a roll of thunder."
Commuters who wish to pay their last respects -- or hurl any final insults -- can watch from a public viewing area that will be set up a safe distance away on Washington Street.
Because the old bridge, which opened in 1961, is being dismantled in sections, only about a half-mile portion of the span over Alexandria's Jones Point Park will be leveled by the winning motorist. The concrete deck has been removed from that section, and the remaining structure is in the path of construction of the second half of the new bridge.
The first six-lane span of the new Wilson Bridge, part of the $2.4 billion project, opened this summer. A second six-lane span, which is expected to alleviate daily jams on both shores, is scheduled to open in summer 2008.
For many commuters, that's when the real celebration will begin. Even with the new bridge, getting to work remains dismal for motorists such as Jack E. Hay, who has been driving from Maryland to Virginia and back every day since 1982.
"If you accumulate all the years together, it's pretty tough," said Hay, who calculates that he has spent more than an hour each day stuck in traffic near the bridge. Add that up over 24 years, and Hay has lost about a year of his life to Wilson Bridge jams.
Hay said he is planning to enter the contest and thinks he has as good a shot as anyone. But even if he doesn't win, he will make the pilgrimage to watch the old span be blown up.
"It'll be fulfilling to see it go down," he said.