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Progress on Douglass Bridge

While some of you are sitting in traffic on I-295 and Pennsylvania Avenue because of the Douglass Bridge shutdown, construction crews are working two 10-hour shifts each day to get the rehabilitation job done on schedule.

Bridge Workers.jpg Bridge workers maneuver concrete form near new intersection. (Robert Thomson)

Ardeshir Nafici, the acting associate director of the District Department of Transportation, and project manager Chase Cox led a tour Wednesday morning across the top of the bridge. If you do a 360-degree turn up there, the Anacostia waterfront area looks like one continuous work zone, and that's been one of the challenges on the bridge project: Coordinating with the utility companies and developers who also are working along the South Capitol Street corridor on projects like the new Nationals stadium.

Project team.jpg Ardeshir Nafici, left, and Chase Cox discuss the project. (Robert Thomson)

Nafici says that's been going remarkably well, and the bridge reconstruction is on schedule. They say they'll be done by their deadline of Sept. 7, but are hoping to finish up before that. Since the bridge was shut on July 6, the key event was the cranking down of the elevated roadway on the north side of the bridge so that vehicles will reach street level before Potomac Avenue, where a new intersection will be controlled by a traffic signal.

[Several commenters have discussed bridge safety issues in light of yesterday's collapse in Minnesota, so I thought I'd drop in a link to Post staff writer Elissa Silverman's story headlined D.C. Region's Bridges Are Safe, Officials Say. Also, we have audio of Mayor Adrian Fenty discussing bridge safety issues today on WTWP radio. Finally, there's a Live Online discussion about bridge safety with a civil engineer from 1 to 2 p.m. today. ]

They are a few days away from the concrete pour that will connect the lowered roadway to an approach slab that will bring it down to street level. The workers also will install new lighting on the bridge, finish removing the old, ugly railing along the sides and replace it with something more decorative, and finish the deck repair and paving.

"Come back in two weeks and you'll be amazed at the changes," Nafici said.

Douglass deck3.jpg Looking east across bridge deck. (Robert Thomson)

There's plenty of paving underway farther north along South Capitol Street. But the plan is to reopen everything -- street and bridge -- at the same time, Nafici said. An earlier opening of sections of South Capitol might just generate more traffic in the congested area.

When it's all done, the project officials said, drivers will notice that the trip across the new asphalt is much smoother, the roadway markings clearer and the side railings more attractive. Though the road will reach street level more quickly on the north side, it won't create any sort of roller coaster effect for motorists. The descent to Potomac Avenue looks like it will be quite easy.

Bridge-Stadium 08-01.jpg Nationals stadium rises east of bridge. A concrete pour will soon join edge of deck to ramp leading down to new intersection at Potomac Avenue. (Robert Thomson)

In the meantime, DDOT is continuing to monitor the impact of the bridge shutdown on traffic. Most recently, the left turn signal on outbound Pennsylvania Avenue east of the Sousa Bridge was lengthened to ease the backup for drivers heading north. Metro ridership traditionally drops off in August, which should make for an easier ride on the Green Line through the detour zone.

Andrew Leyden, one of the commuters who has been advising me about the commute during the shutdown, drives in from Chesapeake Beach and often winds up using Suitland Parkway to reach downtown Washington. He said this week that flexibility has helped him:

"I've altered my schedule such that I don't notice much traffic. I'm rarely to Firth Stirling Avenue before 9:30, and often just take East Capitol or Pennsylvania Avenue if radio reports of the 11th Street Bridge are bad.

"Most people still complain about the outbound, but the Stanton Road light (the worst timed light in DC) is more to blame for that (they need an overpass -- there is no other solution).

"I think this has really affected the 295'ers more than the Suitland'ers. The 295 crowd really has no option but 295."

By Robert Thomson  |  August 2, 2007; 5:25 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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Next: MD Bridge Closing for Rehab


I'm sure my concern is unwarranted, but given what's just happened out in Minneapolis, I can't help but wonder if it's really all that good an idea to have a construction crew rush to finish a bridge, and to be given incentives to finish as soon as they can, as is the case with the Douglas bridge.
I'm sure that DDOT are monitoring the construction every step of the way, and that bridge collapses are once-in-a-lifetime events, but I just don't like that the crew are being rushed so much. Say, hypothetically, that they found a small foundation crack that could be easily "painted over" -- if reporting it meant the difference between getting or losing their bonuses, what would they do? (I'm sure they'd do the right thing, of course...)

Posted by: Wrinkle | August 2, 2007 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Fair enough comment above.

I'll just note here though that the Douglass Bridge has some big, honkin' stone supports that go down into the riverbed.

The 35W Bridge (which I take on occasion when I come into The Cities from an exurb, and was probably going to take on Friday afternoon) is an unsupported arch over the river. Honestly, the old Woodrow Wilson Bridge used to scare me more than the 35W bridge - actually, the 35W bridge never scared me at all.

They're looking into the concept that the concrete rehabilitation *combined* with a train passing under the northern/eastern edge of the bridge caused excessive vibration. Not to mention there may have been some fatigue cracking in some of the approaching, non primary support structure.

It's also been unusually and persistently hot out here for the past week or so (yesterday was about 10 degrees above average) - some TV stations were wondering last night if that had anything to do with it as well.

It's just a sad day out here - no real answers to be found just yet. I'm sure in light of yesterday, every bridge engineer in the country is going to be very busy for the next few months. Especially where new bridges are going in.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 2, 2007 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Incentives and constant oversight can make it work. Look at what happened out in Oakland back in May with the MacArthur Maze (a key link between the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and interstates 80/580/880 in the East Bay).

The contractor worked with tons of scrutiny from Caltrans and rebuilt the bridge in under a month. The bridge was certified as safe, and the contractor picked up a $5 million bonus, almost six times what it bid.

I understand what you're saying about the temptation to cut corners, but if the contractor and the transportation department are working independently to ensure things are okay -- and not taking shortcuts -- it can work.

Unfortunately, given the state of our infrastructure, we're likely to see much more of these types of repairs in the future.

I've been impressed at what I've seen on South Cap at the bridge construction site. Hope it comes together all right and on time so the commuters don't suffer much more.

Posted by: dirrtysw | August 2, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

They finally lengthened the left turn arrow on outbound Pennsylvania Avenue!! Dr. Gridlock you have no idea how much this has helped my commute. I commute from Arlington to Lanham Maryland every morning, and that left turn signal almost always caused me an extra 15 minutes to my commute. Today? I made the turn at the first light! Please tell me that they plan on keeping the timing that way, I've never understood why they haven't changed the timing sooner. Do you know if they plan on reverting back to the old timing once the bridgework is done?

Posted by: Steve (former Post Employee!) | August 2, 2007 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Good Doct,

Do you have anything on when the planned
11th Street Bridge interchange that will finally connect I-395 I-295 will be started and completed?

This would eliminate the need to be concerned about the left-turn arrows on outbound Pennsylvania Avenue at 295 and the ridiculous turn-around on Pa, Ave. to go from southbound 295 to 395 (what in the world was DC thinking? This is a classic example of DC's utter disregard for drivers).

Posted by: CEEAF | August 2, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

The nice thing is that the Douglass Bridge will be replaced by a new bridge in the next five to ten years, according to plans. So I wouldn't worry too much about a rush job this summer; if it's structurally sound in September, I see no reason it shouldn't last until the replacement is built.

On a related note -- does anyone know if the drawbridge will need to be raised more often now that the bridge will be lower?

Posted by: Andrew | August 3, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I don't think the drawbridge portion of the bridge is lower, is it? I thought it was only the 'landing' that is lower--the part over dry ground.

Posted by: Andrew | August 6, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

i've been lucky that my employer has flexed my hours to 11 am to 7 pm. i miss the mess.

Posted by: clayton | August 8, 2007 6:59 PM | Report abuse

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