Dead End at the Anacostia

The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, which carries South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River, has been closed for repairs.
The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, which carries South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River, has been closed for repairs. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007

As if the daily Washington commute isn't tough enough, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge was scheduled to close early today for about two months for structural repairs.

District officials warned the 77,000 commuters who use the span to expect delays of as long as 30 minutes as South Capitol Street traffic is detoured to other Anacostia River crossings.

Transportation officials are hoping that the prospect of delays will cause drivers to switch to mass transit, and they are offering daily bridge commuters subsidized train and bus fare. Commuters also are encouraged to take advantage of parking at the Anacostia Metro station and the park-and-ride lot at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

Metro and the Maryland Transit Administration are modifying commuter bus routes from Southern Maryland to give passengers the option of transferring to Metrorail instead of riding the bus on heavily congested detour routes. But transit officials do not plan to add trains or buses -- at least not yet.

Metro added rail cars on the Green Line in April and runs some eight-car trains during the morning and evening rushes. But Metro is not adding service specifically to address the Douglass Bridge closure. The Green Line, the system's third busiest, carries about 101,000 riders on a typical weekday, or 14 percent of Metrorail's total.

The Maryland Transit Administration said it would add buses if demand surges. Although many buses run full, there are seats available "depending on time and day," said Greg Primrose, an MTA spokesman.

Only two MTA commuter bus routes, 901 and 907, regularly use the Douglass Bridge, but the MTA said the closure and detours are also expected to cause major delays on routes 902, 903, 904, 905 and 909. MTA buses will give riders a choice between being dropped off at a Metrorail station or continuing to their regular stops in the city.

Metro will change the routes of its P17, P19 and W13 express buses during the closure to terminate at Green Line Metro stations.

Most of the Douglass Bridge's District-bound traffic will be detoured to the 11th Street Bridge. The District Department of Transportation has paved an additional lane on Interstate 295 between Suitland Parkway and the bridge to improve the flow of inbound traffic.

Traffic officials also pledged to increase the number of motorist assistance vehicles to clear incidents more quickly. Electronic signs will help manage traffic.

Terron Whitehead, a limousine driver from Hyattsville, said he will take his chances on the 11th Street Bridge. "They opened another lane there, so I'll just go that way," he said.

Although most inbound bridge traffic heads to destinations in the District, a sizable number of daily commuters -- about 40 percent, according to the District Department of Transportation -- use the Douglass Bridge to bypass the Capital Beltway to Northern Virginia. After crossing the Douglass Bridge, they take Interstate 395 and the 14th Street bridge to reach jobs at the Pentagon and elsewhere.

"This will cut that link," said John Deatrick, the Transportation Department's chief engineer. As a result, he said the Douglass Bridge closure could result in increased traffic on the Beltway and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, in addition to Anacostia River crossings into the District.

The bridge repairs are being done to extend the life of the span until a new bridge is built. The $27 million project also will allow the new bridge to be built and connected to the street grid without major interruptions, officials said.

About 400 feet of bridge will be eliminated on the northern side of the crossing and 200 feet will be lowered about 10 feet so the span touches down at Potomac Avenue. As part of the project, the stretch of South Capitol Street just north of the bridge will become a tree-lined boulevard.

To minimize the inconvenience, the project was scheduled for summer, when many people take vacations and Congress is on break. Officials said traffic volume is down 15 to 20 percent in July and August.

Project officials are trying to speed the project to completion by offering an early-completion incentive to Corman Construction Inc. The company will receive money for every day the project is finished ahead of schedule, up to $1 million if the job is done in one month instead of two.

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