Best Construction Project

11th Street Bridge Project

Road construction projects take a ghastly amount of time, cost a ghastly amount of money, and often, after making your commute worse for the duration, hardly seem to make it any better at the end.

But those 63 concrete piles that the D.C. Department of Transportation is driving deep into the Anacostia riverbed as part of the 11th Street Bridge Project are the start of a beautiful thing. Yes, the project will drag on and on (anticipated finish date: mid-2013). And the price tag is steep ($300 million, making it the largest project in DDOT history). But there’s something in it for everyone—an on-ramp, an interchange, bike lanes, a bridge exclusively for local trips—and if you don’t notice the improvements at the end, you don’t deserve to use them.

Say you’re a commuter. You live in lovely Greenbelt. You work in northern Virginia. You drive south down the Anacostia Freeway from Maryland into the District. You need to get yourself to the Southeast/Southwest Freeway and I-395, but there’s no direct connection. So you jury-rig one—maybe you use Howard Road SE to hook up with South Capitol Street. Maybe you exit at Pennsylvania Avenue going east, then loop around on Minnesota Avenue to eventually cross the river going back west. Whatever your solution, it very possibly includes making an annoying, time consuming, and sometimes even illegal series of local-street maneuvers that people in the neighborhood hate as much as you do.

Say you’re a local. You live in Anacostia and you’re headed to the Navy Yard or Eastern Market—or anywhere in that vicinity. You have to merge onto the freeway via the 13th Street ramp before you can pick up local streets. If you’re trying to get easy access to the Anacostia Freeway in either direction, that’s a problem, too.

After the 11th Street Bridge Project, no more. There will be new road-to-road and neighborhood-to-neighborhood connections galore. The details: Three new bridges are being built in between the footprint of the two existing ones, which are considered “functionally obsolete” and are being torn down. The southernmost of the new spans will be devoted to local traffic—a “city street that just happens to go over a river,” as project manager Bart Clark puts it. The two others will carry highway traffic in both directions, connecting the Anacostia and Southeast/Southwest Freeways.

Not traveling by car? The local span will serve bikers and pedestrians and include rail for the future Anacostia streetcar line. It also should improve access to the trails at Anacostia Park—though one casualty of the project is the Anacostia Boathouse, which is being forced to relocate.

There is one ugly truth in all of this: Traffic is still traffic, and there will be plenty of it no matter where you’re going. The new bridges are expected to carry nearly 180,000 vehicles a day by 2030, most using the freeway. So the bad news is you’ll probably be sitting in a logjam on your way to or from work, just like you used to be. The good news is it’ll be one that makes more sense.