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Will bridge gum up D.C. traffic?

Cross section.jpg
Cross section of new 11th Street Bridges, looking west toward downtown. (DDOT)

In my Sunday column, I published a letter from D.C. resident Christopher Herman critical of the reconstruction plan for the 11th Street Bridge, the biggest road project that the District Department of Transportation has undertaken. I'll continue that conversation this week, including a response from the District. Here's a letter from another city resident also concerned about the impact of commuter traffic on D.C. neighborhoods.

[My question for commuters: If you have a new, seamless connection between highways, how bad would traffic have to be to get you to bail out onto local streets?]

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
What's the reality of the new 11th Street Bridge for local traffic? The District Department of Transportation asserts that this bridge will be used by "local drivers," by which I understand DDOT to mean residents of East of the River and Capitol Hill.

After 22 years of living in the east end of Capitol Hill, through which many thousands of commuter vehicles weave each work day on residential streets, I challenge this assertion. Why? Because when the other bridges across the Anacostia fill up, commuters will surely "find" this "local traffic bridge," just as they now find their way through our residential streets. And these other bridges will fill up, as Christopher Herman explained.

In the many DDOT planning meetings on the 11th Street Bridges held for Capitol Hill and Anacostia residents, which I attended over several years, DDOT engineers and planners were repeatedly asked how they would prevent commuters from using the local bridge. Time and again these DDOT experts admitted in these public meetings that once the bridge was opened, DDOT would have no way to prevent commuters from using it.

Most likely Capitol Hill/historic Anacostia scenario during weekday afternoon rush hours: Gridlock on the Southeast/Southwest Freeway. Two new "freeway" 11th Street Bridges are bumper to bumper traffic. Many commuters heading for Maryland suburbs were continue to drive east on Pennsylvania Ave to cross the Anacostia, and traffic will continue to move very slowly on Pennsylvania Avenue eastbound.

Now these eastbound commuters will have another bridge for getting across the Anacostia. From Pennsylvania Avenue, they can turn south on residential Capitol Hill streets to access the new so-called "local traffic bridge," which will dump them out in the largely residential section of historic Anacostia. From there, the commuters will drive on local streets until they can find unblocked larger streets.

The morning traffic scenario in historic Anacostia and Capitol Hill will be just the reverse.
-- Pat Taylor, the District

DDOT summary: Traffic is going to grow, no matter what. When the three new bridges are done in 2013, the District believes they will provide the best way to organize travel by adding two freeway bridges and a separate bridge for local traffic, including streetcars, bikes and pedestrians. Watch on Get There for a letter from Greer Johnson Gillis, the District's deputy chief engineer, elaborating on the DDOT view.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 27, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Congestion , Construction , Driving , highways  | Tags: 11th Street Bridge construction, Dr. Gridlock  
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Comments

What do these "local" advocates think happens right now? People frustrated by the traffic on the 11th street bridge in the afternoon take the MLK Avenue exits and weave their way down to Howard Road and onto I-295 south.

Anyone who thinks they can claim private use of a roadway built with public funds needs to have a reality check. The local 11th street bridge is not a handout to the local residents of Anacostia and the Navy Yard, it's a bridge for EVERYONE that will help link two areas that are currently underserved, and if the local residents don't like it, they're more than welcome to move!

Posted by: Russtinator | April 27, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock: Yes, Russtinator, this is definitely what happens now. The Suitland Parkway traffic spillover into Anacostia is another example, don't you think? We could amass many examples of cut-through traffic from all across the DC region.

But I think what the project's critics are saying is that if DC is going to spend $300 million on building three bridges, it might as well get something significant out of it for DC residents. Instead, they're saying, it will fail to please commuters and make local traffic worse than it is now.

In fact, there will still be congestion. The long-distance commuters will get a seamless connection, which I think is a great benefit. But that doesn't mean they'll get a fast trip. Meanwhile, you won't have to prove residence to use the local bridge. Long-distance commuters are free will be free to use it. I just don't see why many of them would. If I have a choice of congestion on the freeways vs. congestion on local streets, I figure I might as well stick with the freeways.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | April 27, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I for one welcome the link from DC/I 295 S to the SE/SW Freeway. I hate having to drive further south, get off at Howard, get back on to get onto SE/SW. I dislike it because it adds unnecessary miles to a trip. To those in Arlington, this is the best route from the NE.

Posted by: member8 | April 27, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

The dual new 11 Street Bridges (for local and thru traffic)is a great idea. Its unfortunate that it will do NOTHING to relieve traffic congestion in Capital Hill and Anacostia. If anything, it will make traffic worse.

Let me explain......

In the afternoon, Eastbound traffic on the SE-SW Freeway routinely backs up from the 11 Street Bridge/Pennsylvania Avenue split, all the way back to the 14th Street Bridge, and sometimes into Virginia. The problem is that everyone squeezes to the right to take the narrow, two lane flyover ramp onto the 11 Street Bridge to I-295 South and Anacostia. Meanwhile straight ahead on the SE-SW Freeway, traffic remains backed up for at least a mile to exit onto Pennsylvania Avenue to take DC-295 North.

I have seen plans for the connections from the current SE-SW Freeway Eastbound to the new 11 Street Bridges. While they are adding new ramps on the Anacostia side of the bridge to go Northbound on DC-295, there are no plans to replace or even widen the current flyover ramp from the SE-SW Freeway Eastbound to the new 11 Street Bridge. If the ramps backs up now, what to you think is gonna happen when you add an additional 50-75,000 vehicles a day on that ramp to go north on DC-295???

So what are commuters going to do when the SE-SW Freeway is at a standstill? They are gonna drive on M Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, Independence Avenue, 8th Street, 11 Street and any side street they can find in Capitol Hill to avoid the SE-SW Freeway to cross the Anacostia River.

Posted by: eyendis | April 27, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

The way I understand this project, it will eliminate two choke points: (1) the squeeze to one lane merging from 11th St southbound onto 295 south; and (2) with a new ramp onto 295 northbound, there will be no need to make that difficult left turn from Pennsylvania Av onto 295 north. So mainly this will relieve (somewhat) Pennsylvania Ave and Barney circle.

But the far larger problem of not having enough road capacity elsewhere will persist. Evening traffic will continue to back up 295, both north and southbound. On some days it will back up the new 11th St bridges, and up 395 all the way to the 14th St bridge.

Posted by: DCwavesDad | April 27, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

"But I think what the project's critics are saying is that if DC is going to spend $300 million on building three bridges, it might as well get something significant out of it for DC residents."

Why? They're building an interstate roadway. Do Alexandria or Oxon Hill residents get benefit from the local lanes on the Wilson Bridge? Do Montgomery County residents get benefit from the local lanes on I-270? Do residents of Landover get benefits from the ridiculous lane reconfiguration by Fed Ex Field? No!

In fact, in all of those cases, the benefit is supposed to be for the thru travelers that have miles of exit-free roadway that eliminates the merging vehicles from busy interchanges that can bring freeways to a screeching halt. The separation of traffic on the 11th Street bridges will provide the same benefit for thru travelers. If this were a local road being built without federal tax dollars, I could understand the complaint, but this is an Interstate project that is being built with federal funds, and should be designed to provide the most benefits to the largest majority of drivers, which in this particular area is commuters, NOT neighborhood drivers.

The criticism of the project is from the same whiners and advocates that feel that DC should levy a commuter tax, yet without commuters and their fat wallets going out to lunch every day, the DC government wouldn't have enough money to operate a parking meter. It's this NIMBY thinking and pandering by local governments to the vocal few that has turned this region into one of the worst areas in the world to drive around.

Posted by: Russtinator | April 27, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

"The criticism of the project is from the same whiners and advocates that feel that DC should levy a commuter tax, yet without commuters and their fat wallets going out to lunch every day, the DC government wouldn't have enough money to operate a parking meter."

Correct.

And they still want to make commuters feel unwelcome bt making driving as difficult as possible for commuters.

"It's this NIMBY thinking and pandering by local governments to the vocal few that has turned this region into one of the worst areas in the world to drive around."

correct again.

I'm willing to wager these self-proclaimed "local advocates" are the same
people who in the late 1990's fought and eventually blocked the Barney Circle bridge which would have connected 395 and 295, taken commuter traffic off local streets, and made the 11th St Bridge project unnecessary.

Moral: Oppose roads if you want, but don't whine when a bigger and more expensive road gets built in its place later on in spite of your whining.

Can we all say "Intercounty Connector?

Posted by: ceefer66 | April 27, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

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