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Walking the Wilson Bridge

I just did the coolest thing. Okay, the coolest thing if you're a total transportation dork like me. (I swear I wasn't always like this.) Anyway, I was out this morning walking on the Wilson Bridges. First we took a little stroll on the new bridge -- the part where there's no traffic just yet, of course.

I had three main impressions of the bridge: 1) It's very commanding. It feels and looks like something that will be around for a long, long time; 2) It's much taller than the old bridge. You almost have to lean over the side of it to look down on the tops of trucks going along the old bridge; and 3) It's really bright. Weird, I know. But the surface is white concrete instead of black asphalt and the barriers along the middle and edges are also white. It's all new and relatively clean and even on a cloudy day you feel like you need some shades. I've been out there on sunny days and it's nearly blinding. That'll change as oil and exhaust and all the other muck that comes with driving colors the concrete, but for now I recommend wearing sunglasses.

Then we hopped over to the old Wilson Bridge, which, by comparison, felt really, reaaaaally old. The first thing you notice when you stand on that thing is that it bounces when trucks roll by. I don't mean it rocks a little or you can feel a vibration. I mean it bounces. It's a little disconcerting. The other thing you notice is that it's an old, decaying hunk of metal and asphalt. The barriers are chipping apart, the pavement is full of potholes and the drawbridge arms rarely work. Basically, it's a piece of junk.

Luckily for us, no one will have to use it after Saturday, when traffic is diverted from the old bridge to the new. Both directions of the Beltway will cross the new bridge for the next two years, while a second new span is built. Once that happens, the new one there now will become a six-lane outer loop and the second new span will become a six-lane inner loop.

By Washington Post Editors  |  July 13, 2006; 2:11 PM ET
Categories:  Wilson Bridge  
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Next: Goodbye to the Wilson Bridge

Comments

While I won't miss the old bridge, I still wish they could have used it for four lanes of inner loop traffic until the new span is built. The outer loop could have used four lanes on the new bridge and commuters on both routes would have benefited from the new bridge in 2006 instead of 2008.

Posted by: JS | July 13, 2006 4:00 PM | Report abuse

The old span cannot be used during construction because it overlaps the location of the second new span.

Posted by: GhettoBurbs | July 13, 2006 4:29 PM | Report abuse

GhettoBurbs is exactly correct. Look at the picture linked below, which shows a view of the project from the Virginia side as of last September, and you'll get a very clear view of why the old bridge is in the way of the second new bridge.

http://www.roadstothefuture.com/WWB-Sep272005-16x.jpg

Posted by: Rich | July 13, 2006 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Also, here is a view from the Maryland side, taken on April 28 of this year, which shows that the old bridge is in the way on that side of the river as well.

http://www.roadstothefuture.com/WWB-Aerial-Apr2806-42x.jpg

Posted by: Rich | July 13, 2006 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Wishful thinking on my part that it would have been designed that way from the beginning of the project.

Posted by: JS | July 13, 2006 7:25 PM | Report abuse

JS
It could not have been designed so the old bridge could have been used while the second (northern) span of the new one was built. There is barely enough room on the shoreline to fit the wider, two-span bridge. The old bridge and the new northern span had to share shore space.

There was a lot of controversy during the design phase; some of it aimed at where to put the ends of the bridges. As it is, it almost didn't get funded because of the cost. Imagine how much more it would cost if they couldn't use the existing right-of-way.

Posted by: Historian | July 14, 2006 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I like the new bridge, so far. It's not as high and daunting as it originally looked when they were building it. The engineering made it so the incline didn't feel so severe. I mean, I know it's indeed taller than the old bridge, but I didn't feel like I was climbing the stairway to heaven like you do through the Springfield flyovers. And, the bridge really does feel so much more stable, but then it ought to since it's brand new!

Posted by: MRobby | July 14, 2006 2:22 PM | Report abuse

My only beef with the new bridge is that people slow down too much on the uphill slope. Traffic ALWAYS speeds up after you reach the top of the span, and I'm sure it's due to the hill because I've observed the same phenomenon on other roads, especially I-395 between Duke Street and Seminary Road (in either direction). People need to learn how to maintain their speed on an upslope, but with the proliferation of automatic gearboxes I suppose that will never happen.

Posted by: Rich | July 14, 2006 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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