The heavily used Independence Avenue bridge across the Tidal Basin is scheduled to start undergoing a year-long overhaul this month, raising prospects of delays and traffic backups for motorists.
Many eastbound commuters use the 778-foot bridge, officially named Kutz Bridge, during the morning to reach federal buildings along the Mall and Capitol Hill, and homebound commuters in the afternoon use it to get to the 14th Street Potomac River crossing. The National Park Service, which owns Kutz Bridge, said yesterday that preliminary work would start May 23, with major repairs expected to begin June 1.
An estimated 32,000 cars cross the bridge on a typical weekday. Traffic is expected to be disrupted on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of Independence Avenue and on the intersecting southbound lanes of 17th Street SW.
"Possibly at times it will be backed up," said George Walvoort, a park service engineer.
Kutz Bridge, built in the early 1940s and named for the late Brig. Gen. Charles W. Kutz, a former District of Columbia commissioner, needs extensive repairs, officials said, because its asphalt-covered concrete deck is crumbling. The $1.6 million overhaul by Cormac Corp., a Silver Spring construction firm, is to be completed in July of next year.
Kutz Bridge gained some notoriety as the site from which a nightclub stripper known as Fanne Fox plunged into the Tidal Basin in 1974. Fox, whose real name was Annabella Battistella, was accompanied at the time of the incident by former Rep. Wilbur D. Mills (D-Ark.), now a Washington lawyer.
While reconstruction work is under way, the three-lane bridge at times will be restricted to a single lane. In the Tidal Basin area, one westbound lane of Independence Avenue also will be closed, and a portion of 17th Street SW south of Constitution Avenue will be limited to a single southbound lane.
In addition, a heavily used turnaround that allows southbound 17th Street traffic and westbound Independence Avenue drivers to turn onto Kutz Bridge will be closed. A smaller single-lane turnaround will be temporarily opened farther west on Independence.
The park service said it also plans to close off a second turnaround that permits eastbound Independence traffic to head north on 17th Street. Officials said drivers should seek another route, such as traveling north from Independence onto 15th Street.
The traffic flow across the bridge each day includes Maryland and Northwest commuters who travel along Rock Creek Parkway toward Southwest. Some Virginia commuters who cross into the District on Memorial Bridge also traverse Kutz Bridge on their way to Southwest. In the afternoon, Kutz Bridge is used by southbound 17th Street commuters heading for Southwest or Virginia.
Another 37,000 weekday drivers who travel west on Independence might also encounter delays because of the lane closings on westbound Independence and southbound 17th Street SW. The restrictions are aimed at easing traffic congestion stemming from the closing of the turnaround onto Kutz Bridge.