A proposal to expand the Long Bridge over the Potomac River, which officials say is key to the region’s growing rail needs, appears to be moving forward.
The District Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration have released a draft environmental impact statement on the project, laying out a preferred construction process that the agencies say addresses the need to expand the 115-year-old double-track bridge while keeping costs and impacts to a minimum.
The project would double capacity on the bridge to handle more commuter and intercity rail service, as well as expected increases in freight transportation over the coming decades. Officials in the District and Virginia say the investment would address a bottleneck in the system as trains funnel from three tracks to the two-track bridge, and make possible the growth of passenger and commuter rail service across the Potomac.
The bridge is used by CSX, Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak.
The plan favored by DDOT and FRA would keep the Long Bridge and build a second two-track bridge next to it to create a four-track crossing. Construction would take five years and cost about $1.9 billion. Earlier estimates had put the cost at $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.
The preferred alternative, however, is the most cost-effective of those under consideration. It also lessens the impact on the environment, historic property and parkland in the area, according to the agencies.
As part of the project, a stand-alone bike and pedestrian bridge would be built upstream from the new rail bridge, allowing people to walk or bike across the Potomac River between the D.C. waterfront and Crystal City in Arlington.
A second option still under consideration is to build a pair of two-track bridges to replace the Long Bridge. That option would cost up to $2.8 billion — and would take up to eight years and three months of construction, according to government estimates. Officials say there is no need to replace the existing bridge.
CSX, which owns the bridge, inspects it annually and completed a rehabilitation three years ago. Railroad officials say the bridge is sound and can handle freight traffic for some time to come. Efforts to increase capacity over the Potomac are mainly to address growth in passenger rail.
The Long Bridge carries 76 trains on a typical weekday. Nearly half carry Northern Virginia commuters into the District. By 2040, volume on the bridge is projected to increase by 150 percent, according to the project report. The number of VRE trains is expected to grow to 92 from 34. Amtrak’s daily trips could grow to 44 trains from 24, and Maryland’s MARC could add eight trains.
The FRA and DDOT are expected to release a final recommendation next year. If the project wins federal approval, design could take another two years before construction begins, officials said. Funding for the project has yet to be identified. Officials in the District and Virginia say they are working as a region to secure grants and will have a funding plan in place by the time the study is completed. Virginia rail officials say $30 million has been budgeted for design and engineering — $15 million from state rail funding and a $15 million pledge from CSX.
A public comment period is open through Oct. 28 for anyone who wants to comment on the draft environmental impact statement. Public comments can be provided by mail to Anna Chamberlin, AICP, Long Bridge Project, 55 M St. SE, Suite 400, Washington, D.C., 20003-3515; by email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by using the online comment form available at https://longbridgeproject.com/contact/.
A public hearing is planned for 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at 1100 Fourth St. SW, Room E200, in the District.