The District is about to open the first two of the three new spans that will replace the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River.
These new spans are designed to carry freeway traffic, and will provide missing connections between interstates — though not right away. The third span, connecting neighborhoods on either side of the river, is scheduled to be done next winter.
One of the freeway spans, the one that will carry drivers in the direction of downtown D.C., is scheduled to open this weekend. The outbound span will open next week. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is scheduled to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, before the first span of this D.C. megaproject opens.
There will be some immediate benefits, but drivers will still have to wait a while for the big breakthrough, the ramps that will connect the interstates. At first, the two new spans will simply replace the old ones. Traffic must be shifted to create space to complete the new ramps.
These are some of the benefits and challenges that drivers will encounter in the early going, according to John Lisle, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation.
The opening of the new inbound span this weekend should be a noticeable improvement for drivers familiar with the spot on northbound 295 where traffic heading for the bridge ramp has to cross paths with traffic entering 295 from Firth Sterling Avenue SE.
When the inbound span opens Sunday, that delicate weave will be eliminated. Traffic on northbound 295 will stay left to reach the bridge on a new alignment.
Drivers who want to stay on 295 northbound toward Kenilworth Avenue will use the center or right lanes. Drivers should still use a great deal of caution at this spot while everyone gets used to the new pattern.
But the opening of the outbound span next week probably will be much more challenging. Drivers heading east on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway will not have direct access to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue or Good Hope Road in Anacostia.
This is in accordance with one of the projects goal’s of separating through traffic from local traffic, but it’s that third span, the one scheduled to open next winter, that will provide the direct local connections.
In the meantime, Lisle said, drivers can use these routes to Anacostia:
Exit at the Sixth Street SE ramp (still on the west side of the Anacostia River), continue east on Virginia Avenue SE, then go right on Eighth Street SE, left on M Street SE and then right on 11th Street SE to the bridge.
Freeway drivers also could continue on the new outbound bridge to southbound I-295 and exit at Howard Road. Or they could exit at South Capitol Street, continue to Suitland Parkway, go left on Firth Sterling and right on Howard Road.
Now, that’s going to be a lot to get used to. Alternatively, drivers still can continue eastbound on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway to Pennsylvania Avenue and cross the Sousa Bridge over the Anacostia River to reach Minnesota Avenue.