Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of the bridge. This version has been corrected.

Answer Man gets straight to the truth about Humpback Bridge

By John Kelly
Sunday, December 13, 2009

When the traffic reporters are on the air, they often mention a problem at the Humpback Bridge. I know it is in the vicinity of the 14th Street bridge crossing the Potomac, but exactly which bridge is it and how did it get its name?

-- Carole Sonneborn, Silver Spring

The Humpback Bridge doesn't go over the Potomac. It carries the George Washington Memorial Parkway over a little inlet just northwest of the 14th Street Bridge. That inlet leads into the Columbia Island Marina. Bill Line of the National Park Service said many rangers refer to it as the Columbia Channel Bridge. Answer Man has seen it more frequently called the Boundary Channel Bridge.

The bridge was built in 1932, and when you look at it from the side, it does not appear to be suffering from kyphosis -- the medical term for the condition known variously as humpback, hunchback, dowager's hump or Scheuermann's disease. It is a handsome stone-clad bridge that, like the parkway itself, dates from a simpler time. Built to carry 20,000 vehicles a day, its load is now more than four times that.

The reason you hear it referred to so often by the Lisa Badens and Bob Marbourgs of the world is that it has become the site of numerous traffic backups.

But why that nickname -- humpback? The bridge does not appear arched. The tops of its side walls are straight and level. It's the roadbed that is humped. Said Bill: "The reason it got the name Humpback is that when cars were driving over it, especially northbound, if you were going a little too fast you'd literally jump up in the air in your car."

Even if you weren't going too fast, the alignment of the bridge was such that you couldn't always see what was happening ahead of you. If you were moving and cars were stopped, well, you might just make "Traffic on the eights."

Answer Man speaks of the hump in the past tense because the bridge is in the midst of a $35 million plan to improve safety and traffic flow. When the job is finished in the spring, the bridge will have received a humpectomy. Whether it receives a new nickname, only time will tell.

I like Washington history. I like doing good during the holiday season. How can I combine those impulses?

-- John Kelly, Silver Spring

That name looks so familiar to Answer Man . . .

Why not consider donating to Children's Hospital? Although the medicine that is practiced there is the most modern, let us not forget that the hospital has been a part of Washington since 1871. In that sense, it is truly historic.

From the beginning, its mission has been the same: Heal sick children, no matter how poor they might be. Page through old copies of The Post, and you will encounter story after story of children struck by beer wagons or thrown from streetcars, of children injured by mangles or burned by coal fires. Where were they taken? More often than not, Children's Hospital.

It has a different name now, one that's a testament to a reputation extending far beyond the city's borders: Children's National Medical Center. And the injuries are different now -- who could have foreseen the awful toll guns would take? But the need is just as great. For seven decades, readers of The Post have been supporting the hospital's uncompensated care fund, which pays the bills of uninsured patients.

Our goal is to raise $500,000 by Jan. 8. Please make a gift today. To donate, send a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390. To donate online using a credit card, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital. To give by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100.

Your gift will be used to pay the bills of uninsured children.

Send your questions to answerman@washpost.com.


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