District of Columbia officials are completing preliminary plans for a new bridge across the Anacostia River that would create a stoplight-free route into downtown from the north and the northeast free Capitol Hill from much of its rush-hour congestion and eliminate five of the city's 10 worst accident locations.
The bridge would connect the Anacostia and Southwest-Southeast freeways, linking major city highways that now are accessible only with difficulty over existing bridges, and provide a new route for those who now reach downtown via New York and Pennsylvania avenues and East Capitol Street.
In a preferred alternative being recommended by the city, it also would improve access to RFK Stadium by extending I-395 to the East Capitol Street Bridge and the stadium parking lots.
A consultant to the D.C. Department of Transportation is completing an environmental study of alternative bridge and ramp locations for the $100-200 million project. The final draft study is expected to be published in January, and the department hopes to hold public hearings on the project a month or two later.
The bridge project would result in no residential or commercial displacement and already appears to have strong citizen, city and federal government support.
It is being proposed just as the federal government is eliminating its interstate highway construction program and more than five years after the city dropped its ambitious and controversial Inner Beltway and freeway program and turned most of its allotted federal interstate funds -- $1.9 billion -- to construction of the Metro subway system.
The Anacostia crossing is expected to be Washington's last federal highway project and is being rushed in order to meet next summer's federal deadline for interstate road projects.
"This is a missing link in the city's freeway system, for which we still have some allotted federal funds. And the deadline is what really spurred us into action," said Bart Cima, who heads neighborhood transportation planning for the transportation department.
The city also is currently studying whether to rebuild or replace the Whitehurst Freeway on the Georgetown waterfront, another study pegged for completion before the Sept. 30 interstate funding deadline.
But the Whitehurst may not qualify for federal funds if the city decides not to build it to interstate road standards and instead constructs a waterfront-level boulevard to replace it, as many key Georgetown neighborhood groups would prefer.
The proposed Anacostia River crossing would in effect complete part of the once proposed Inner Beltway. But it would do so without taking homes or private property, which may explain why the citizen and government agency steering committees that have been working on the project are virtually all in favor of it, Cima said.
The original plans for the Inner Beltway -- the Southwest-Southeast Freeway was the only part built -- called for extending the freeways north past RFK Stadium to New York Avenue, passing through residential neighborhoods, Langston Golf Course and the National Arboretum.
The link-up now being proposed would be constructed entirely on government land, crossing the river and connecting with the existing Anacostia Freeway. This would take as much as 30 acres of the National Park Service's Anacostia Park. But Park Service officials so far have not opposed the freeway plans.
"It's a lot better than the original plans to extend the freeways through Langston Golf Course and the Arboretum . . . and this could provide a scenic gateway to Washington," said John Parsons, associate regional director of the Park Service.
D.C. officials said preliminary plans call for giving the Park Service "millions of dollars" in exchange for the parkland, which could permit the money-strapped Park Service to do extensive landscaping along the Anacostia or buy additional parkland elsewhere in the area.
The District and its consultants originally considered a dozen different ways of connecting the freeways on opposite sides of the Anacostia River, including several tunnel options and bridges in various locations.
Only this summer did city officials choose a "preferred alternative," which calls for both a bridge linking the freeways across the river and extending the existing Southwest-Southeast Freeway from Pennsylvania Avenue at Barney Circle to RFK Stadium and the East Capitol Street Bridge.
The extension here would be no more than a long, low-speed ramp to the stadium and bridge, with several entrances to stadium parking lots.