The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded $2.8 million for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study for the long-term replacement of the Long Bridge over the Potomac River.

The century-old bridge, which runs parallel to the 14th Street Bridge used by motorists, is the only direct rail connection between the District and Virginia. The two-track bridge is used by CSX, Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express.

Owned by CSX, the bridge is old and inadequate, and D.C. transportation officials have been working with the Federal Railroad Administration on a study to determine alternatives for reconstruction. The NEPA study would be the next step.

The bridge handles 56 passenger and 23 freight trains daily and is at 98 percent capacity during peak hours, according to a DOT report. A new bridge would improve capacity and could handle high-speed, intercity passenger rail; commuter rail; transit; bikes and pedestrians; and freight.

The bridge reconstruction is viewed as another key project to improve the region’s rail network, and increase capacity in anticipation of the Panama Canal expansion that would open opportunities to move more goods from East Coast ports.  As part of efforts to expand rail capacity in the region, CSX has also proposed to rebuild the  Virginia Avenue rail tunnel in the District.  Improvements to the Long Bridge also would be necessary for any expansion of commuter rail service.

The funding was announced last week as part of the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) 2014 program. This year DOT announced $600 million in grants to help pay for 72 transportation projects across the country.