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DC Left Commuters In Lurch, VA Congressmen Say

Right Lane Closed.jpg
Lane closure at Chain Bridge this week took many drivers by surprise. (Thomson)

Three Virginia congressmen sent a letter today to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on behalf of the Commonwealth's commuters who got caught up in the city's bridge repair projects.

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"Together, the 14th Street Bridge and the Chain Bridge carry more than a quarter of a million regional commuters a day to and from the nation's capital," says the letter signed by Reps. Gerald E. Connolly, James P. Moran and Frank R. Wolf. "Construction on any one bridge causes substantial slowdowns during rush hour periods and beyond -- and work on two bridges at the same time already is seriously compounding logjams."

For such big projects, the congressmen say, the District didn't give people much warning.

"Communication between the DC Department of Transportation, Northern Virginia commuters and the Virginia Department of Transportation has left a lot to be desired," the congressmen wrote. "For example, VDOT learned of the 14th Street Bridge work just a few weeks ago. The Chain Bridge project came with even less notice, and, compounding the situation, the contractor was allowed to proceed with work two days ahead of the announced schedule with no prior notice to the public. This left little time for people to adjust their commuting patterns."

Keep Left.jpg Sign near 14th Street Bridge. (Thomson)

The letter goes on to say that: "Initiating construction on two of the five bridge connections between Northern Virginia and the District without such communication is unacceptable and unfair to those trying to reach employment, recreation and retail centers on both sides of the Potomac River."

Besides better communication, the congressmen are asking that the District "take swift action to better mitigate the disruptions."

The letter concludes by saying: "The clock cannot be turned back on these two projects, yet it is still early enough in the process for adjustments to be made in the mitigation plans to improve conditions for commuters."

Both the 14th Street Bridge and Chain Bridge rehabilitation projects got underway at the start of this week. Fenty announced the 14th Street Bridge project, which involves the resurfacing of the northbound span, at a press conference on April 30. The Chain Bridge project, which required the shutdown of one of the bridge's three lanes for eight months, was announced by the District Department of Transportation on May 7.

At the time of the 14th Street Bridge announcement, Lon Anderson and John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic were among those who raised concerns about the relatively short notice on such a big project, comparing it to the lengthy period of preparation and communication before the start of the Wilson Bridge and Springfield Interchange projects.

DDOT officials said they thought they had enough time to get the word out so drivers would either be alert to the changed traffic pattern or consider other commuting options. In fact, the project did get off to a good start this week. I drove the bridge several times and found traffic flowing pretty well. But more tests are ahead. While four lanes are open at rush hours, On weekdays, drivers may find single lanes closed from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays. On weekends, there may be several lanes closed from 5 a.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Monday.

The Chain Bridge was the real surprise this week. DDOT officials said Monday that the lane closure was scheduled to begin on Wednesday, but it started early and caught drivers in far-ranging traffic jams on both sides of the river. The signal light timing on the Virginia side of the bridge has been adjusted and more warning signs posted across the area.

One of the three lanes is taken away at all times now. But there may be additional closures on weekends between 10 p.m. Fridays and 6 a.m. Mondays. DDOT said that notices will be posted 72 hours in advance at the approaches to the bridge. But the public communications did not get off to a good start this week.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 5, 2009; 2:42 PM ET
Categories:  14th street bridge , Congestion , Construction , Driving , Transportation Politics  | Tags: 14th Street Bridge, Chain Bridge, Connolly, Fenty, Moran, Wolf  
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Comments

Fenty doesn't give a rat's you-know-what about North Virginia commuters, and these Congressmen know that. It's just his way of sticking a finger into Virginia's eye.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | June 5, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame

Come on, do you think VA gives a rats asss about DC? The point is if VA residence dont like it they can always work in their own state. No one is forcing them to work in DC or live in VA. But the truth is fenty does not give a rats asss about anything but giving all these contractors avenues to milk the DC taxpayer. You think you got it bad, try traveling up and down Benning Rd the last three years to get to work.

Posted by: ged0386 | June 5, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I think it's obviously the congressmen's own fault. Congress has exclusive legislative control over the District. What more power do they want? The District can't do a thing without Congressional approval.

Posted by: TJ1743 | June 5, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

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