The Anacostia bridge: Changes we've needed for so long

Workers prepare to remove wood pilings in the Anacostia River to make room for a construction barge and new 11th Street bridges. The replacement is a $300 million project.
Workers prepare to remove wood pilings in the Anacostia River to make room for a construction barge and new 11th Street bridges. The replacement is a $300 million project. (Robert Thomson/the Washington Post)
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By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Many transportation projects in the Washington region involve a lot of pain for little apparent gain. Agencies fix things that must be fixed but don't make them noticeably better for drivers or rail passengers. Metro's weekend maintenance and the rehabilitation of the 14th Street bridge and Chain Bridge fit that pattern.

The replacement of the 11th Street bridges, just underway in the Anacostia River, is likely to have a different result. Drivers can continue to use the two old bridges while the three new ones are being built between them. When the $300 million project is done, by late summer or early fall of 2013, we'll have something better.

The new bridges will forge a link between Maryland, the District and Virginia that has been missing since the original highway plan for the District was abandoned decades ago. And it will create a new link between neighborhoods on both sides of the Anacostia while relieving them of some of the commuter traffic that spills onto local streets.

What to expect

Winter: Construction is just getting underway, with pile driving in the river, off-road clearing, drainage work and building along D.C. 295, shoulder encroachments and slight lane shifts on 295. (The lanes still will be 12 feet wide.)

Spring/summer: Construction on M and O streets, continued work along 295, bridge construction in the river.

All this will have a limited effect on drivers. I asked Bart Clark, the bridge project manager for the District Department of Transportation if there will be times when construction is so intense that the District will recommend that commuters find alternative routes.

The first thing that occurred to him were the traffic impacts we'd probably experience during the roadway paving in the project's latter stages.

There will be about a year and a half of work on the bridges before traffic patterns would need to be interrupted, he said.

The gawk factor may come into play and slow traffic: Drivers will see the bridge piers rising, then the decks put in place. A spaghetti network of ramps will be built on both sides of the river.

The result

It's not the form of the completed bridges that will provide the wow factor. The new structure will be bridge decks on top of river piers, like the old ones. (They will look nicer.)

It's the function that will impress. Greer Johnson Gillis, the District's acting chief engineer, said it "has many of the movements that we were craving."

Long distance: Once the project is done, commuters won't have to get off a highway in the District to drive between, say, a job in Bowie and an office at the Pentagon.

The new bridges, with their elaborate approaches and ramps, provide for all those movements, coming and going. Drivers will travel along new ramps that connect D.C. 295 with the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

No longer will eastbound drivers on the freeway need to cross the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge and wait for a left turn signal onto the highway. No longer will westbound drivers on 295 need to loop around at the Suitland Parkway exit to reach the 11th Street bridges.

Local: The project will help revitalize the Anacostia River area, Gillis said. It will separate the freeway traffic from the local traffic, incorporate bike lanes, walkways and streetcar tracks and link up with Anacostia River trails. The new local bridge, southernmost of the three new spans, will connect traffic to the Navy Yard, the Marine Corps barracks, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Anacostia Park and Historic Anacostia.

Traffic flow: By 2030, the bridges probably will be carrying about 180,000 vehicles a day. Although the connections will be smoother and the traffic division more logical, rush-hour traffic will remain heavy. Traffic at many ramps and intersections near the new bridges will be very slow. The M Street corridor approaching the crossing is likely to be particularly difficult. The District Department of Transportation will have to pay particular attention to signal timing along the corridor and deploy traffic control officers.

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