New bridge rising in Anacostia River

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 23, 2010; 8:44 PM

When Greer Johnson Gillis met with reporters on the west bank of the Anacostia River in December to outline construction plans for the new 11th Street Bridge, we could see a few workers in mid-river preparing to remove wood pilings. From the same shoreline today, it's hard to tell there's a river out there. The water view is obscured by barges, dozens of workers, cranes and concrete piers for the new bridge. Gillis, the District's deputy chief engineer, says it's more than 25 percent done and on track for completion in 2013.


The construction project, the biggest public work undertaken by the District Department of Transportation, is somewhat similar to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge reconstruction, in that the two old spans will remain in operation while the new spans are built within the same footprint. For months, the commuters who regularly use this important regional link could have remained unaware that a new version was in the works. Those days are gone.

Between the two old spans, 63 bridge piles rise from the river like concrete redwoods. They are the foundation for two new freeway spans and a separate span for local traffic. The Anacostia boathouse has been relocated along the west bank. A pedestrian bridge over DC 295 has been rebuilt to accommodate the widening of the freeway. The foundations for new ramps and highway lanes are emerging from the ground by Anacostia Park. What now looks like an Evel Knievel-style launch ramp, as Gillis said, is going to become part of a new elevated portion of southbound DC 295. This will be one of the most dramatic features of the construction project as it takes the southbound drivers over the approaches and exits for the three new spans.

Upcoming work

Drivers in the work zone already have encountered lane closings at off-peak hours, and there have been some traffic delays. A significant new phase of the project will begin soon when steel girders arrive for the new bridge spans. They will be trucked out onto the old bridges and lowered onto barges in the river below. Several lanes on either span could be closed overnights during the deliveries, which will continue into the winter.

Also in the months ahead, expect off-peak lane closings along 295 and on the east-bank bridge ramps for steel placement. Work will start to pick up on the west bank, where ramp pier construction will require a traffic shift on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

The road ahead

Gillis said that when she talks to community groups and other interested parties, their most frequently asked question is, "When are we going to finish?" Placement of the steel will have a big impact on perceptions of the bridge. In the spring, she said, it "will really be coming to life" and starting to look like a reality.

Here's what to watch for in the long term:

Spring 2011: new southbound 295 opens.

Fall 2011: freeway bridges open.

Winter 2012/2013: local bridge opens.

Summer 2013: project completed.

The bridge is "big for us in terms of construction and results," Gillis said. It will be the first time in four decades the District has built a new bridge, rather than rehabilitating an old one. And it is a key element in the continuing effort to revive and redevelop the Anacostia riverfront. Coming in the next decade: Replacement of the Frederick Douglass Bridge, which takes South Capitol Street over the Anacostia.

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