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District Cranks Down Douglass Bridge

Reuben Hunter, an operating engineer from Herndon, has spent a career of 35 or so years in construction, but he looked like he couldn't wait to get started with his latest project. He was about to work the controls that would lower 200 feet of steel a few inches per hour until one end had descended 51 inches.

Maybe for some that would be like watching paint dry. But this was a little different for Hunter. He was lowering the Frederick Douglass Bridge.

Lowering Douglass2.jpg Workers prepare to lower the elevated roadway. (Robert Thomson)

While commuters who used to cross the Anacostia River on this South Capitol Street bridge were crawling along Interstate 295, the 11th Street Bridge, Pennsylvania Avenue and their other detour routes on Thursday morning, Hunter was controlling their future.

This is, after all, what it's all about: a pivotal day in the two-month project to recreate the South Capitol Street gateway into the nation's capital. The north side of the bridge is being lowered so that it will land a lot sooner, opening up a vista of the U.S. Capitol straight ahead and the new Nationals baseball stadium on the right for inbound motorists.

Reuben Hunter.jpg Reuben Hunter, the operating engineer, checks controls on panel that guides lowering. (Robert Thomson)

"Getting to do this, this is uncommon," said Hunter, 65, who has operated cranes for years and lowered heavy equipment before -- just not a whole bridge.

And how do you lower a bridge that carries 77,000 vehicles a day? Very, very carefully. Hunter was checking the manifolds, pumps and power plants that would control the jacks positioned to lower the old roadway to a point where workers could connect it to a concrete-encased dirt ramp built since the bridge was shut July 6.

The job was completed about 6:30 p.m.

The District Department of Transportation says the complex project is on schedule. The contractor has until the first week of September to complete the job, and that's the message you see on the electronic boards flashing along the sides of the detour routes. But DDOT is hoping the job will be done during August, and has offered the contractor incentives of up to $1 million to fulfill that hope.

Lowering Douglass4.jpg Hunter discusses the bridge lowering project with City Administrator Dan Tangherlini. (Robert Thomson)

Hunter wasn't the only one anxious to see the crank down get started Thursday. As City Administrator Dan Tangherlini and John Deatrick, the District's chief engineer, studied the setup, they recalled a helicopter flight over Washington back when Tangherlini was trying to get Deatrick to join DDOT. Above the Anacostia, Tangherlini had explained the District's vision for a new gateway and the plan to rebuild the aging bridge.

"That was a key sound bite," Deatrick recalled. His response to Tangherlini was, "We can fix that."

By Robert Thomson  |  July 20, 2007; 5:32 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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