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Repairs on D.C.'s 14th Street bridge to continue 14 months, one lane at a time

Orange barrels and electronic lane-closure signs mark the way for vehicles crossing the increasingly confusing 14th Street bridge.
Orange barrels and electronic lane-closure signs mark the way for vehicles crossing the increasingly confusing 14th Street bridge. (Gerald Martineau/the Washington Post)
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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2010

Are you among the thousands who have been shaking and rattling while rolling across the 14th Street bridge every day for what now seems to be just about forever? Have you jolted loose a couple of fillings, tossed a hubcap or several dozen expletives?

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Take heart. It won't last for eternity.

But for now, it may get more confusing.

Since you can't block too many lanes on a bridge that carries 200,000 cars a day, the $27 million, two-year rehabilitation will proceed one lane at a time for about the next 14 months.

Most of the rehab work, including the launch of Phase 2 for Monday morning's commute, is focused on the five-lane span of the bridge that carries traffic from Virginia into the District, and that's where the lane work is underway.

What makes the whole business of shifting lanes tricky for drivers is this: Two major highways -- Interstate 395 and the ramp from the George Washington Parkway -- merge coming onto the bridge from the south. Then traffic splits in two on the north side, feeding both 14th Street and I-395.

Even when all lanes are open, it can be a challenge to switch lanes while crossing the bridge if, for example, you merged onto the bridge from the right and want to exit the bridge to the left.

Now, picture one of those lanes blocked, and the crisscross could get nerve-racking.

"That's one issue we want to make sure people are prepared for," said John Lisle, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation. "People who know what they're doing will take [I-395] to the 12th Street tunnel so they don't have to cross over. It's the tourists and people who don't use the bridge much that we're concerned about."

That tunnel surfaces two blocks over from 14th Street, a lower-risk route than trying to buck across I-395 traffic to exit the bridge directly onto 14th.

The right lane of the bridge has been closed for months, far longer than had been anticipated, because DDOT engineers determined that it wasn't having a huge traffic impact. So, they used it as a staging area for work on the bridge tower, the pilings that support the bridge and painting.

That lane will reopen as the rest of the work rolls out in seven phases, each expected to last three to five weeks.

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