In the early winter of 2010, as construction was getting underway on the District’s new 11th Street Bridge, the effort reminded me of the work plan for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge: Put up a new span, take down an old span. Divert traffic and repeat.
That was back when the 11th Street project amounted to a few workers floating around on barges in the middle of the Anacostia River so they could pull out old wooden pilings. Then things got serious.
Now, with three new spans in place and crews working on making the final connections with highways and streets on both sides of the river, the 11th Street project looks a lot more complicated.
This is a tight work space on a narrow river, and engineers must link the new spans with routes that come in at sharp angles, requiring long ramps or creatively designed intersections.
And that’s just the map view. Drivers see weird combinations of new and old as they travel through the work zone. Nice, smooth stretches of concrete link to rough, old asphalt. Open ramps curve past the steel frames of unopened ramps that end in midair.
Those pieces will gradually be connected in a put-this-down-pick-this-up construction program from late spring through fall. The D.C. Department of Transportation’s biggest road project will be substantially done by the end of the year, and construction manager Peter McDonough promises the puzzle pieces will fit together before the job is finished next year.
Commuters who use the bridge just went through a big week. Here’s what happened and what’s ahead.
Few of the project’s pieces are in their final configuration, and there are some temporary but annoying detours. This month, a route opened to take traffic from M Street SE, near the Navy Yard, across the river to southbound Interstate 295, and the old ramp closed.
McDonough describes this construction process of “stop, move traffic, continue.” Yet there was a significant step this past week: The third and final span, designed to handle local traffic between neighborhoods across the river, was opened. The two other spans, designed to carry freeway traffic, opened in December and January.
For now, the new span has two lanes for inbound traffic, one for outbound traffic and a temporary walkway. One lane on the outbound side and the permanent pedestrian/bike path remain under construction in this tight work space.
The opening of the local bridge also marked the permanent closing of the 13th Street SE ramp, an important access point to the bridge on the Anacostia side. This begins a difficult time for many drivers, who will be using detours and enduring extra congestion.
Inbound traffic from Anacostia will be directed to the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE to reach the new local span. As drivers cross the river, they will arrive at the O Street SE intersection, where the Navy Yard entrance is to the left. If they turn right on O Street, then left onto 12th Street SE, they can reach M Street SE.
As yet, drivers using the local bridge don’t have a direct connection to the westbound Southeast-Southwest Freeway. To reach the freeway from M Street SE, they can make a right on 11th Street and go north to I Street, where they turn left. I Street leads into Virginia Avenue SE and, eventually, to the Third Street SE ramp to the westbound freeway. Or they could continue on M Street and make a right on Third Street to reach the freeway ramp.
Another option from the Anacostia side is to drive south on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, make a right on Howard Road SE and get onto I-295, which leads to the inbound freeway bridge. But if enough drivers do that, it will lead to some additional traffic congestion south of the bridge.
If work continues as planned, July 4 will have an extra reason for celebration — if you’re one of the thousands of commuters who bemoan the missing links between the freeways on either side of the Anacostia.
By Independence Day, a new ramp will connect southbound D.C. 295 to the inbound 11th Street Bridge, leading to the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and the 14th Street bridge over the Potomac River. This means no more driving down to Howard Road or Suitland Parkway and looking around to get back on the freeway approaching the inbound bridge.
Several months later, those commuters will have a new link from the outbound bridge to northbound D.C. 295. That means many drivers can abandon the slow, congested routes that take them over the Sousa Bridge on Pennsylvania Avenue to the left at the light to the northbound D.C. 295 ramp.
By July 4, project managers also hope to open a new ramp from 11th Street SE to the westbound Southeast-Southwest Freeway. That will establish a connection to the freeway for local traffic.