The approach to the 11th Street Bridge from D.C. 295 South was trouble free. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The traffic improvement of the year, and one that’s unlikely to be dethroned soon, is the opening of the extra lane on the 11th Street Bridge. Since the extra lane on the inbound span over the Anacostia River was added a month ago, drivers have consistently had an easier time during the morning rush. That was no small trick, because it had been one of the worst bottlenecks in the D.C. region.

On the 11th Street Bridge On the inbound span, drivers now have three lanes heading toward downtown. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The 11th Street Bridge project is a many-layered thing, consisting of three spans and numerous ramps. Each phase did some good thing, but not all at once.

Reconstruction of the bridge occurred in a tight space wedged between freeways. The engineers and workers had to remove two old spans and put in three new ones, with many additional connections to freeways and neighborhoods. Each time they pulled an old piece out, they put a new piece in. But this was still disruptive, and nowhere more so than on the new inbound span.

Because construction continued on the Navy Yard/Capitol Hill side, inbound drivers crossing the Anacostia River had to fit into two lanes to continue on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway toward downtown D.C. and the 14th Street Bridge. Many commuters approaching from D.C. 295 to the north and from Interstate 295 to the south found they had to change lanes on the bridge to line up for the freeway on the left or for the M Street exit on the right. The combination of heavy volume and weaving drivers left commuters asking, “How is this better?”

But in early March, the project on the Navy Yard/Capitol Hill side entered a new phase, allowing the opening of the third inbound lane onto the freeway. And that has made a big difference not only on the inbound span but also on the approaches from D.C. 295 and I-295.

Drivers still have cause to be grumpy. Freeway traffic on both sides of the river is no breeze. But the problem is no longer on the bridge itself.