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Start Planning Now For Potomac Bridge Congestion

northbound span.jpg
The northbound span, seen from East Potomac Park, needs some serious work. (Thomson)

We need to talk more about this 14th Street Bridge project and how you can deal with it.

In one sense, it doesn't sound like a high-impact program. How bad can this be? It's still four lanes open at rush. They're not shutting the entire roadway, as the District did during the summer of 2007 when it made over the Douglass Bridge at South Capitol Street. Plus, vacation season is coming on, and traffic should lighten.

The best visual representation of why drivers need to focus on this project appears on the District's new Web page for bridge drivers. Look at the overview map, showing the phases of the project and their impact on the lanes. Click through the phases and see what happens to the roadway. Suddenly, it becomes much more difficult to imagine a smooth trip on the northbound span, or south of it.

Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, was thinking of the 20-mile backup on I-95/395 after the April 23 accident in the Third Street Tunnel when she told me yesterday that her department will need to carefully monitor what's happening at the 14th Street Bridge and south of it.

There's no date announced yet for the start of the work and the first phase of lane shifts, other than that it will happen in the next couple of weeks. But history tells us that the first few weeks are likely to be difficult, as drivers confront the construction, see what they're up against and look for ways of dealing with it. Only some of this work is going to occur during the really heavy vacation season of July and August.

While you're looking at the project's Web page, take the opportunity to sign up for the e-mail alerts about the construction. Another source of information will be the DDOT Twitter page 14thStBrdgGuru. There's also going to be a Facebook page. (Many transportation agencies are reaching out to travelers in these new ways.)

The bottom line for bridge users: Southbound, you're fine. HOV, you're fine. Northbound, not so much. That's the deck that must be made over in this project.

DDOT made these suggestions: Carpool, take VRE, Metro or a commuter bus, adjust your work schedule, telecommute, consider an alternative route.

Several good resources for online help in organizing your local travels: Commuter Connections and We'll also be using the resources of our site, including Get There and the Traffic page, to get and share information about the delays and what you can do about them.

For alternatives, DDOT suggested the Wilson Bridge, a much improved passage now that the two new spans are open. But there's the bottleneck at Telegraph Road on the outer loop to deal with. Plus, many drivers won't want to go that far out of their way if they can find another option, but what's realistic?

To get in and out of DC across the Potomac, there are the Key, Roosevelt and Memorial Bridges to the northwest of the 14th Street Bridge. But after that, it's all the way down to the Wilson Bridge. And then if you're not bound for the District, if you're going from Northern Virginia to Southern Maryland, for example, what options do you have, besides a Beltway trip?

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  May 1, 2009; 7:43 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion , Construction , Driving  
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What's an alternative to get from Arlington to Navy Yard? It's a 10 to 20 minute drive but at least an hour via Metro.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | May 1, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Bike takes maybe 30 minutes, depending on starting point in Arlington -- Mt. Vernon trail, 14th St Bridge, around the tidal basin, Maine Ave to Water St, down to P St, over to the stadium/Navy Yard area. It's a nice ride, give it a try on Bike to Work Day, May 15th.

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | May 1, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

From Arlington to Navy Yard, I'd say go over Memorial Bridge and then via the streets instead of the highway. Bear right as you come off Memorial Bridge, then stay left (i.e., don't take the loop-around ramp towards the Kennedy Center). Turn left onto Independence Avenue, then bear right onto Maine Avenue after you cross the Kutz Bridge over the Tidal Basin. Stay to the right after you pass under 14th Street so as to stay on Maine Avenue instead of getting on the Freeway. You'll go past the fish market and the Southwest Waterfront and hook left onto M Street, which goes straight across to the ballpark area and the Navy Yard.

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 1, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

TheBoreaucrat, I don't have the knees to bike anymore. 1995hoo, I'll have to look into this option. Memorial Bridge certainly wouldn't be a 10 minute drive when traffic is light, but I have a feeling my Friday 10 minute drives are over for the next year or so. Is there a way to get to the highway if I get off the parkway at Memorial Bridge? I know there are left-side on ramps after the bridge, but I have no idea where they come from.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | May 1, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Arlington, I'm not sure I follow your question, but the ramps around Memorial Bridge are all a bit screwy (what do expect, you're in the District there since the island belongs to DC). What do you mean by "is there a way to get to the highway if I get off the parkway at Memorial Bridge"? If you mean the Southwest-Southeast Freeway, then the answer is yes. You go over Memorial Bridge, then bear right at the Lincoln Memorial. Then stay left, i.e., don't take the loop-around ramp to the Kennedy Center. The road curves right and you hit a light at Independence Avenue. Go left. Cross the bridge over the Tidal Basin and then bear right onto Maine Avenue. After you pass under the 14th Street overpass (this is the first overpass you hit), stay left onto the newly-resurfaced ramp and it will put you into the Freeway. But be careful--it's a dangerous merge, and it's even worse now that DC is using that merge as a mobile speed camera spot (meaning people who know about the camera do the 40-mph speed limit, while others who don't know or don't care do 65 to 70).

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 3, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

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