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Douglass Bridge: Why Call it Rush Hour?

Drivers this morning experienced the full, daunting impact of closing a major commuter route into Washington. Though the two-month shutdown of the Douglass Bridge at South Capitol Street began Friday, that commute seems like a mere tune up now.

SP Bridge Closed.jpg Click on image to see DDOT map of bridge detours. (Robert Thomson)

Inbound traffic on Interstate 295 was backed up from the 11th Street Bridge down to the Beltway. Traffic also was heavy on Suitland Parkway, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Branch Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and East Capitol Street over the Anacostia River. The only inbound route I saw between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. that was not heavy, was Benning Road, and that was the last track I followed, at crossing the river at about 8:45 a.m.

It's difficult to say if today's experience is going to be typical. Many drivers were off last week, so they were dealing with this for the first time, and some appeared to have no idea what was happening, despite six months of warnings from the District Department of Transportation.

But if it is typical, my advice is leave a half hour early and don't take I-295 coming in. The trip on I-295 has been slowed by accidents, but the key problem is that traffic on the interstate heading for the 11th Street bridge and points west must merge to the right, where it meets traffic coming up from the Suitland Parkway and South Capitol Street. And the sun is likely to be in drivers' eyes.

If you're on the interstate and heading farther north, stay as far to the left as you can. If you're using the Firth Sterling Avenue SE approach to I-295 and heading for the 11th Street Bridge, stay in the far right lane.

Once you're past this merge area, travel improves dramatically. The two lanes of 295 heading north along the Anacostia seemed empty by comparison. Even the 11th Street Bridge lanes moved easily after the cars had blended together.

For drivers stuck in traffic on the Suitland Parkway for that last mile before I-295: It's frustrating, but I'm not sure there's an alternate route that will work better. Drivers were pretty good about merging toward the right for the turn onto Firth Sterling. And that new paving on the right side of the I-295 ramp means that if you stay to the right, you have a relatively unfettered course to the 11th Street Bridge.

As an alternative, I tried Branch Avenue and turned left onto the three inbound lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue. Traffic on both Branch and Pennsylvania was heavy and sluggish, but it did move. It certainly would beat I-295 traffic, but didn't offer a significant advantage over the Suitland Parkway. If you're on Pennsylvania trying to reach I-395, you'll want to stay to the right across the Sousa Bridge.

If you're coming up Branch Avenue and you want to continue on to Pennsylvania, stay in the left lane as you approach the Suitland Parkway interchange. The right lane becomes an on ramp for the parkway. If you want to get onto the parkway, be careful at the top of the ramp. There's not much of a merge area onto the inbound parkway.

Suitland morning.jpg

Last mile on Suitland Parkway before 11th Street Bridge. (Robert Thomson)

Later in the morning rush, but well before 9 a.m., I found Central Avenue and East Capitol Street pretty clear almost up to the Whitney Young Bridge, but there it jammed up. I peeled off and headed north on Minnesota Avenue NE, before heading west across the river on Benning Road NE. That wasn't bad, with all the lanes open. I didn't hit significant traffic heading downtown until I turned onto H Street NE.

I didn't have time to take Metro this morning, so I can't comment on today's Green Line conditions. On Friday morning, I was on a jam packed train from Branch Avenue to L'Enfant Plaza. Later, watching trains pass through the Anacostia Station, there was some variety: One train would be jammed, but the next one would have about a dozen standees per car.

Today was the first day the MTA commuter buses shifted their schedules and included some stops at Metro stations. The buses get stuck in the same traffic as everyone else, though the drivers do have some flexibility about where they cross the river.

The District notes that the Anacostia Station and the RFK Stadium park and ride lot have extra capacity -- and that was certainly true on Friday -- but you still have to get through traffic congestion to reach them.

Share your adventures with the new commute. You can post a comment here, of course. Or you can send an e-mail to me at Or join me at 1 p.m. today for our regular Live Online discussion of local transportation issues.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 9, 2007; 10:03 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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So my commute this morning from Van Dorn St and up 295 was pretty bad, and I only have to go up 2 miles on 295. Any chance the bridge closure will create such a backup north of me that my commute home will be a breeze? I guess I can always hope...

Posted by: John | July 9, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I breezed all the way in - don't know where everyone was this morning -- they must have all slept in!!!!

Posted by: CJ | July 9, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Those that have only used 295 to the bridge or Suitland Parkway to the bridge have finally had to find another way. I am so tired of these people never finding an alternative method of getting into the District.

I have noticed that the parking lots at Branch Avenue have been completely full by 7:20 am when it's normally around 7:30-7:45 and in the summer sometimes later. If you don't find one at Branch Avenue just hop on over to Suitland Metro Station via Branch Avenue to St. Barnabas Road. There are always parking spots there until like 8AM.

I have a few suggestions however. If you were one of those that traveled exclusively on Suitland Parkway across the Sousa Bridge, how about you get off at Stanton Road and go down to MLK and through SE. (Don't worry no one will rob you) and then go across the 11th Street bridge from 13 th Street.

Get off at Branch Avenue and make a left onto Alabama Avenue and head down Good Hope Road, SE and then Across the Sousa Bridge. I would never take Pennsylvania Avenue the traffic is Crazy.

If you are one of the ones coming from 295 coming from the 495 simply get off at MLK and head down SE by St. Elizabeths and then across the 11th Street Bridge. Also note that they have changed the One Way traffic on MLK to 2-Way traffic. Remember you would have to turn down W Street and couldn't keep straight. But now you can giving you another option although when you turn on Good Hope you would be turning left in front of the people headed right onto the 11th Street Bridge.

Also for you Ft. Washington people who used 295, how about going through SE off of Livingston Road and finding your way to Southern Avenue and Wheeler Road and head over to MLK that way.

You have several other options. Everyone please stop using Branch Avenue Metro Station, you have Suitland Metro Station with parking, Southern Avenue Station with parking, Naylor Road with parking and a parking lot that charges just $4.00 across at the Legend Nightclub, you can park at Anacostia Station. I mean you don't have to use the same station as everyone else you have several options here people.

Posted by: BTBS | July 10, 2007 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Correction from Good Hope Road you would cross the 11th Street bridge. Didn't want to confuse anybody.

Posted by: BTBS | July 10, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Good Hope road is not a good alternate route! Traffic has already been cutting through there for awhile and it can take 25-30 min. just getting to the 13th street bridge. My suggestion is to take the bus in the opposite direction to one of the green line trains if you can to the metro stations. If you can avoid Good Hope or Penn. Ave. you will do well. The parking at the train stations fill up very fast.

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