The construction island in the middle of the 14th Street Bridge’s northbound span is scheduled to shift to a new spot next week. That will be the final phase of the reconstruction project on the bridge deck that began two years ago.
Plans call for the shift to be made overnight Tuesday, so that it’s in place for the morning commute on Wednesday. That will place the construction island one lane over to the right, on the northern part of the span.
The current phase, less than a month old, involved an adjustment period that was very challenging for many drivers, although they seem to be dealing with it pretty well now.
Although rush-hour drivers still had four lanes open, some who were in the left center lane became confused and veered right at the last moment before the construction island. They didn’t realize that they could have continued in the left-center lane and still made it onto the Southeast-Southwest Freeway on the far side of the work zone. The sudden decisions to change lanes contributed to lengthy backups for bridge commuters.
The rapid conclusion of the current phase is most welcome. It does mean that drivers who just learned the pattern will have to adjust again, but the new one should not be as difficult for most.
At least it will be easier for drivers coming up I-395 from Virginia and either staying left for 14th Street or bearing right to continue on I-395 via the Southeast-Southwest Freeway. They’ll pretty much be able to set up for the split the way they always have.
I’m a little more concerned about the many drivers coming off the northbound George Washington Parkway onto the bridge. That includes traffic coming from Reagan National Airport and heading for downtown Washington. In the upcoming phase, they won’t have much time or distance to merge left on the bridge to reach 14th Street from the two left lanes.
The more dramatic their efforts to do that, the more congested the bridge will become for all drivers. Drivers coming off the parkway into heavy congestion might find that their best option is to stay to the right, bypass the 14th Street split and instead use the upcoming exit on the right for 12th Street. That shouldn’t add much time, if any, and could be a lot safer.
All the surface work on the northbound span is scheduled to be done this fall, though I wonder if the rapid progress during the last few phases might advance that timetable somewhat.