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Roosevelt Bridge restrictions likely to end this month after emergency repairs

Commuters have endured lane closures and vehicle weight restriction since February, when the District abruptly closed part of the span because of deteriorated steel beams

Eastbound lanes of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge on Tuesday. Orange construction cones line much of the westbound section. (Tim Richardson/The Washington Post)

Crews have nearly completed emergency repairs on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, D.C. transportation officials said, and the span is expected to fully reopen without weight restrictions by the end of this month.

The bridge that carries Interstate 66 over the Potomac River has been an active construction zone since mid-February, when the District abruptly closed part of it to traffic after an inspection found steel support beams had continued to deteriorate.

The timing of the restrictions coincided with an increase in office work earlier this year, about two years into the pandemic. Their removal will provide a smoother crossing between Virginia and the District, probably easing backups on both sides of the river during peak travel periods.

The emergency work, estimated to cost the city $7 million, originally was expected to take between three and six months. D.C. transportation chief Everett Lott warned the schedule could be affected by delays in supply chains and targeted the end of September for completion.

The work includes fixes to the bridge deck as well as the superstructure that supports the deck. It involves repairing steel floor beams that have corroded over time from the salt mixture applied for snowstorms.

As crews began work on the bridge, Lott said, they discovered some of its stringer beams, which support the bridge deck, also were in need of repair. That additional work and challenges with the delivery of materials delayed the project, he said.

“The great news is that all the materials are in, and we were able to get most of the work done on the beams,” Lott said this week. “We’re anticipating being able to get the project finished, hopefully by the end of this month, if the weather cooperates.”

Wider sidewalks, higher railings, new lighting planned for Roosevelt Bridge

Heavyweight vehicles will be able to return when the project is complete. Vehicles weighing more than 10 tons, including buses and large trucks, have been detoured onto other Potomac River crossings during construction.

Work on the 58-year-old bridge began after an early-February inspection found worsening conditions for steel support beams, prompting the closure of three middle lanes and restrictions on heavyweight vehicles along the busy commuter route.

Most travel lanes have since reopened, at least during rush hour. In June, the city restored three lanes in each direction, saying the change made traffic backups more manageable.

A District Department of Transportation traffic analysis earlier this year found delays are worse in the eastbound lanes and during the morning rush. Smaller delays are experienced throughout the day, according to the assessment, and the effects have not expanded to surrounding streets or other bridges that cross the Potomac. The most significant backups occur on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, when more workers are commuting into the city.

Drivers report challenges at various entrance ramps onto the bridge, including from the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Commuters who take public transportation say the bus detour has meant longer commutes.

Arlington transportation officials say they have not seen significant problems on the Virginia side of the bridge, although they have urged travelers to find alternative ways to cross the Potomac during construction.

Raj Yelisetty, a federal worker who takes an express Fairfax Connector bus to downtown D.C., said his previously 45-minute commute now takes an hour and 15 minutes. The detour to avoid the Roosevelt Bridge was not as bad in February, he said, but worsened after spring as more people returned to in-person work.

His bus diverts to the Interstate 395 corridor, hitting a heavily congested 14th Street Bridge to get downtown.

“Sitting in traffic is not fun,” he said. “I cannot wait for them to open up.”

The Roosevelt Bridge is an important commuter route in the Washington region that supported an average of about 150,000 vehicles daily before the pandemic. It has not had a major rehabilitation since it opened in 1964 and was determined to be in “poor” condition in 2018 — a designation that does not necessarily mean it is unsafe to use. It is also past a bridge’s 50-year life span.

The District is planning a $150 million overhaul of the bridge within the decade that will involve significant structural repairs and upgrades. It also will add pedestrian and bike accommodations while extending the bridge’s life by at least 25 years.

The National Capital Planning Commission in June approved preliminary site plans for the project, giving DDOT an early green light to move forward. Construction, however, is not expected to begin until 2024 at the earliest.

District officials say the emergency repairs will enable the bridge to support normal operations until the full rehabilitation is completed. Lott said crews are working round-the-clock to “get this bridge back and ready to the capacity that it had before we had to shut it down.”