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D.C. Bridge To Shut at Midnight

We're about to find out how many of you are on vacation. The Douglass Bridge, which takes South Capitol Street across the Anacostia River, will close at midnight tonight for two months of reconstruction. On summer days, the District Department of Transportation estimates, at least one of every 10 commuters is on vacation, providing some extra space for the rest of you.

Under Douglass.jpg What lies beneath: The work zone under the Douglass Bridge, where the elevated road will be lowered. (Robert Thomson)

We'll get our first look at that on Friday morning. The first few days of this should be the worst, as commuters get used to their new routes and schedules. Traffic on Friday should be lighter than normal, since many people used July 4 to launch a long holiday weekend. Next week will provide a better test of the commuting difficulties.

We'll talk a lot more about that in coming days, but here are my answers to some of your frequently asked questions about commuting during this project. I'll use the blog repeatedly to tell you what I'm learning from experience, and I hope you'll share your advice as well.

Will this be a hassle?
Yes. The District estimates that morning commutes for drivers used to traveling across the Douglass Bridge will take an extra 20 minutes while the afternoon trip could take 20 to 30 minutes longer. Your results may vary.

What detours can you recommend?

Detour Map.jpg Click for District Department of Transportation map of main detours around Douglass Bridge.

None. All the alternative driving routes toward downtown Washington from the southeastern part of the region are likely to experience extra congestion. The prime detour route set up by the District is the 11th Street Bridge, which takes Interstate 295 across the Anacostia River. The heaviest congestion is likely to be near the junction of I-295 and the Suitland Parkway. About 72,000 drivers used the Douglass Bridge each day. About 97,000 use the 11th Street Bridge. (Here's a map of the District's suggested detours.)

Will new bus schedules be published so we can plan what time we need to leave home?
Yes. Metro and the Maryland Transit Administration have new schedules for the times and routes of buses affected by the bridge closing. Metro has lowered the bus fares on affected routes, because commuters will have to pay the rail fare as well, but MTA bus fares remain the same. The Metro routes will terminate at Green Line stations east of the Anacostia River. Some of the MTA routes have added stops at Green Line stations to give passengers the option of completing their commute by train.

Is anything being done to ease congestion?
Yes. First, the project was scheduled to coincide with the summertime decline in traffic. Also, about 1,500 drivers are participating in the "Bridge Bucks" program, which will subsidze their commute by transit during July and August. The Distict says it will monitor traffic conditions and deploy motorist assistance patrols as needed. An extra lane has been paved on a stretch of northbound 295 to help traffic approaching the 11th Street Bridge.

How long?
Two months. The message boards on the highways say the bridge will reopen by Sept. 7, but District officials are hoping to get the project done during August and have offered incentives to the contractor to finish early.

Can I park and ride transit?

Bridge and Stadium.jpg Elevated road near new Nationals stadium will be lowered. (Robert Thomson)

Yes. The District notes there is extra capacity at Anacostia Metro station and at the RFK Stadium commuter parking lot. But consider this: The entrance to the Anacostia Station parking garage is on Howard Road SE, putting you in the heart of what I think will turn out to be the worst traffic. (See map of station.) Once you reach the lot, parking will cost $3.50 a day, and you'll pay $1.35 to $1.70 to reach a Metrorail stop in the central city. Once you reach the RFK lot, just before the intersection of East Capitol and 19th streets, you will already have gotten through what's likely to be the worst of the traffic spawned by the bridge shutdown. You'll pay $7 to park, plus the Metrorail fare from Stadium-Armory Station.

But in both cases, it's cheaper than paying for downtown parking, even with the Metro ride thrown in, and you'll get some relief from the normal traffic congestion on the west side of the Anacostia.

How are hundreds of extra passengers going to fit onto already-crowded Metro trains? Will more trains be added?
No. Metro added more cars to all lines, including the Green Line, around Cherry Blossom time. No additional cars were allocated because of the Douglass Bridge shutdown. It remains to be seen whether the already crowded Green Line can handle more passengers.

What's the overall parking situation at the Metro stations?
Limited. This advice comes from Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel: There is parking available at Anacostia, both in the garage and 12-hour metered parking in the Kiss and Ride. There is no excess parking at the remaining lower Green Line stations, east of the Anacostia. All stations along the lower Green Line (Southern Avenue to Branch Avenue) fill to capacity early.

On the Orange Line, there is some excess parking at Landover. But Largo Town Center, Morgan Boulevard and and Addison Road-Seat Pleasant all fill to capacity early.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 5, 2007; 5:34 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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Next: Dealing With Douglass Bridge Shutdown

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