Streams

D.C. Moves Forward On Transformative Frederick Douglass Bridge Project

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 11:09 AM

WAMU
A rendering of the proposed Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge across the Anacostia River (D.C. Department of Transportation)

A $900 million vision to transform two D.C. neighborhoods by turning a freeway into a grand boulevard is taking shape.

On Tuesday evening, the District Department of Transportation and the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative will present plans for the replacement of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge as well as the construction of two traffic ovals at each end of the new span, a new South Capitol Street SE, and new Suitland Parkway/I-295 and Martin Luther King Jr. Ave./Suitland Parkway interchanges.

The new span will be significantly wider so it can accommodate not only vehicular traffic, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well.

“It's going to be a gateway into the city instead of a thoroughfare out of the city,” said Nick Nicholson, DDOT’s chief engineer, who envisions turning South Capitol Street from a thoroughfare to a destination road as economic development takes place on both sides of the river, including plans for a new soccer stadium a few blocks from Nationals Park.

The centerpiece of the project is the replacement of the 63-year-old bridge, an iconic span that is now designated by DDOT as both functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. Building a new bridge and then demolishing the old one will cost $600 million, and Nicholson hopes construction can start in late 2014 or early 2015. The new bridge may be ready for traffic in early 2018, he said.

“We want to design and construct a new bridge that can accommodate not only the increase in vehicular capacity but also the pedestrian and multi-modal use,” he said.

Bicycling and walking advocates have applauded the bridge design -- but have their doubts about the planned traffic ovals.

“The challenge for cyclists and pedestrians is once you get off the bridge you are stuck in the middle of these two giant traffic ovals trying to cross the street to the baseball stadium and downtown Anacostia,” said Greg Billing, advocacy coordinator at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). “If they really want people to walk and bike on it they need to build the facilities that do that: separated cycle tracks, wide sidewalks and they need to reduce the number of lanes.”

DDOT project manager Jim Moorcroft, whose design teams have met with WABA, said the traffic ovals will be bike/walking friendly.

“The bicyclists and pedestrians have multiple ways to get through and around the ovals. They don’t have to go through the ovals if they want, but they can. They can go around the oval in a very safe manner. All the major intersections are signalized,” he said.

The public informational meeting will take place at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Southwest at 6:30 p.m., the first major public presentation in two years. Officials will update residents with the latest digital renderings of the future South Capitol Street Corridor.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter.

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