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D.C. to replace collapsed pedestrian bridge over Route 295, Bowser says

The previous bridge, which was 65 years old, was deemed to be in poor condition in its most recent inspection

A pedestrian bridge collapsed last month along Route 295 in Northeast Washington. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
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The District will replace a pedestrian bridge over Route 295 that collapsed last month after it was struck by a truck, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced ahead of a D.C. Council meeting Friday in which lawmakers questioned the city’s response and the condition of the corridor’s infrastructure.

Bowser (D) said she has ordered the use of $1.5 million to expedite design work to replace the Lane Place Bridge within three years with a bridge that will meet accessibility requirements and standards for height clearance. Construction would cost $25 million, according to city estimates.

The collapse separated residents from the businesses, schools and churches on the other side of the six-lane highway in Northeast Washington.

“We are committed to working with the community and making the necessary investments to increase connectivity, improve safety and build a multimodal transportation network that works better for the residents of Ward 7,” Bowser said in a late Thursday statement.

The previous bridge, which was 65 years old, was deemed to be in poor condition in its most recent inspection. At a height of about 14 feet and 4 inches, it fell short of the 17½ feet the city seeks for structures over roadways.

Collapsed D.C. pedestrian bridge was in poor condition before hit by truck, didn’t meet height standards

During Friday’s meeting, residents and elected leaders welcomed Bowser’s plan to replace the bridge. Some were critical of what they said was her “slow” response in addressing the incident’s effects on nearby neighborhoods.

“It shouldn’t have taken two weeks of back-and-forth with our government to do the reasonable and sensible thing of replacing the bridge and listening to the voices from our community elevating the calls of the historic transgression that has never been resolved,” said Anthony L. Green, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member from Ward 7.

Some residents said children are trying to cross the highway, adding that asking people — including the elderly and pregnant women — to cross via the next-closest pedestrian bridge is unacceptable.

District Department of Transportation officials previously had indicated no commitment to reconstructing the bridge, saying that only about 11 people used it daily while referring residents to two other bridges within walking distance. That usage data, critics said, was from a 2014 survey.

The collapse left the majority-Black community increasingly isolated from the other side of the highway, shining a light on equity concerns. D.C. Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Christina Henderson (I-At Large) called on the city to conduct a broader study about how to better connect the two sides. Among the possibilities, they said, is slowing traffic through the corridor.

“We have to reimagine how that area will function as a transportation artery,” said Cheh, who chairs the council’s transportation committee and led Friday’s meeting. “I don’t know whether it will mean picking up 295 and making it a boulevard for the people or even something like maybe we should think more broadly, especially if we get money from the federal government about covering over 295 entirely and so that you would have completely seamless access across, not just these little bridges.”

Green said the highway splitting neighborhoods “is a prime example of the historic racial inequities that must be addressed in our transportation infrastructure.”

“Many folks have been speaking out for years,” he said. “They’ve been telling you that they live on an island, that they’re trapped behind a highway. And the only way that you really can get over there is drive over there or, you know, roll the dice apparently to get over one of the pedestrian bridges.”

Bowser’s plan also includes construction on two other pedestrian bridges over Route 295: the Parkside pedestrian bridge about a mile south of Lane Place near the Minnesota Avenue Metro station and the Douglas Street NE bridge, which provides a connection to the Deanwood Metro station.

“These three bridges, to be built over the next three years, are a critical component of this work and part of our overall effort to build a more connected D.C.,” Bowser said. She added that the bridges will better connect residents in neighborhoods such as Mayfair, Parkside and Eastland Gardens.

The Lane Place Bridge, connecting the Kenilworth and Eastland Gardens neighborhoods to Deanwood, collapsed June 23 after a Mack truck traveling southbound with its subframe raised struck the footbridge, causing the structure to come loose, according to authorities. The collapse left the truck trapped beneath and led to a chain of crashes involving three other vehicles. Four of the five people treated were taken to hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

DDOT Director Everett Lott said Friday that “the ultimate cause of the incident was the truck’s collision with the bridge deck.” When asked if the bridge’s condition contributed to the collapse, Lott said any bridge would have collapsed due to the force of the collision.

A routine inspection earlier this year rated the bridge as “poor,” or a “four″ on a zero-to-nine national scale — citing the condition of the two concrete T-beams — and noted that “consideration should be given to replacing the bridge.”

Lott said that after the May inspection, DDOT implemented safety recommendations at the bridge. Still, he emphasized Friday that it was safe for use.

“I want to be clear in this regard: A bridge receiving a four during its regular inspection is still safe for pedestrians and for vehicles to traverse,” he said.

He said four of 238 vehicle and pedestrian bridges under the city’s jurisdiction have such a rating and no bridge scores lower. The city has plans to replace those four bridges, he said, which include the old Frederick Douglass bridge that carries South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River. A new bridge is near completion.

Bowser said the city will apply for federal emergency funds to cover the Lane Place Bridge replacement.

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The Douglas Street NE bridge already was in the queue to be replaced over the next two years. DDOT is in the process of bidding the contract, and construction is expected to begin this year, with completion next year.

Officials said the Parkside bridge already is under construction. Bowser said the city plans to spend $250,000 to expedite the construction and open the bridge in September, two months ahead of schedule. That structure will more directly connect the Mayfair neighborhood and Parkside development with the Minnesota Avenue Metro station and the Deanwood community to the east.