Dr. Gridlock

Dr. Gridlock: Trust Me -- There Are Crews Working on Chain Bridge

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, July 5, 2009

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It has been nearly a month since one lane on Chain Bridge has been eliminated because of construction. I have noticed, while waiting in long traffic, that there is no sign of any construction equipment. [Last Sunday], on a walk, I checked out the possibility that the work might be happening under the bridge. Nope -- nothing going on there, either.

Please tell us if there is secret bridge construction going on without any equipment or crews. We would like to have a safe bridge, but please don't take away one precious lane and then do nothing.

-- Rose Mary Padberg, Arlington

Many drivers in the 22,000 vehicles using Chain Bridge each day would love to get this rehab project over with, but it's scheduled to take until January. The most annoying thing is that one lane -- and there are only three -- is closed for the duration.

To find the work, you have to be looking in the right place at the right time. So far, most of the work is underneath the bridge and out of sight of drivers crossing it, said John Lisle, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation. The workers are relocating the towpath on the C&O Canal land to accommodate steel repairs, and they are setting up to repoint the stone facing on the bridge pier.

The contractor needs the lane on the bridge for the delivery of materials, bridge lighting work and the painting of the superstructure steel beams, Lisle said. The department and the contractor tried to figure out another way to get the job done but concluded that there was no other method, he added.

One adjustment was made: The signal lights on the Arlington County and District sides of the bridge were retimed and synchronized to ease the congestion caused by the lane blockage. Traffic is likely to decline somewhat during the summer but will pick back up in September.

The Chain Bridge disruption and the other rehab project downriver at the 14th Street bridge seem to be creating a commuter sandwich of congestion at the Key Bridge in between, drivers say.

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