Ma­jor de­lays from N.Y. Ave. Bridge work

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY ROBERT THOM­SON dr­grid­lock@wash­post.com

The District’s New York Av­enue Bridge is just a brief rise and de­cline along a route that car­ries about 65,000 ve­hi­cles a day. But its re­con­struc­tion is about to have a big im­pact on com­muters. The bridge is old and needs to be re­built, and there’s fed­eral stim­u­lus money avail­able to do it. Here’s a look at what’s go­ing to hap­pen and what com­muters can do to re­duce their pain.

New York Av­enue cor­ri­dor

The bridge re­con­struc­tion is one of five trans­porta­tion projects along the cor­ri­dor through North­east Washington that were an­nounced in 2009. Un­der the orig­i­nal plan drafted by the District Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, the bridge project would have been well un­der­way by now.

In the mean­time, the District has fin­ished its re­con­struc­tion project on Brent­wood Road NE and post­poned the rehabilitation of First Street NE to 2012. A safety im­prove­ment pro­gram turned the triangle at New York and Florida av­enues into what plan­ners call a “ vir­tual cir­cle.” That was a ma­jor dis­rup­tion for driv­ers, and trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials are still mon­i­tor­ing the traf­fic flow and sig­nal tim­ing.

Ali Shak­eri, the District’s pro­gram man­ager for the New York Av­enue projects, said that there is ex­tra con­ges­tion in that area and that traf­fic has slowed down a lit­tle. At the same time, pedes­trian safety has been im­proved, par­tic­u­larly for stu­dents head­ing to and from McKin­ley High School across those wide and heav­ily used streets.

To the east, the re­place­ment of the Ninth Street Bridge is about 90 per­cent com­plete. The bridge it­self is done, and the old one will be down by May. The ramps that will form the fi­nal con­nec­tions to the new bridge still must be com­pleted. The en­tire project is sched­uled to be done by au­tumn.

The next bridge

Now comes the New York Av­enue Bridge, lo­cated just east of the vir­tual traf­fic cir­cle that ishometo a Wendy’s res­tau­rant and west of the Ninth Street Bridge. Plan­ners are hop­ing that the over­all im­pact of the re­con­struc­tion on traf­fic may be some­what di­min­ished by the progress made on other projects. But that wasn’t the rea­son be­hind the de­lay.

The New York Av­enue Bridge rises not so ma­jes­ti­cally above the tracks north of Union Sta­tion that are used by Am­trak, MARC, VRE, CSX and Metro. The im­por­tance of those rail links cre­ated dif­fi­cul­ties with the orig­i­nal en­gi­neer­ing plan to re­place the bridge, Shak­eri said. There are plenty of wires and ca­bles for the rail sys­tems right un­der the bridge, and there is al­most no time when the tracks are in­ac­tive. The bridge re­place­ment was re­designed as the im­pact of those con­struc­tion re­al­i­ties be­came clearer.

The goal now is to re­ha­bil­i­tate and re­in­force the ex­ist­ing struc­ture while im­prov­ing the ap­proach roads and side­walks.

Traf­fic im­pact

The re­build­ing of the bridge is sched­uled to con­tinue into early 2014. The side­walks on both sides have been closed. In the first phase, through the win­ter and spring and into the sum­mer, one lane along this half-mile stretch of New York Av­enue may be closed at times, but so far, three lanes re­main open in each di­rec­tion. This is po­ten­tially less bur­den­some for driv­ers than the orig­i­nal plan, which called for a full-time clos­ing of one lane in this phase.

But start­ing in the sum­mer, driv­ers will feel the full im­pact of the re­con­struc­tion. The lanes cur­rently used for west­bound travel will close. Bridge traf­fic will be re­con­fig­ured so that there are two lanes avail­able for each di­rec­tion. In fall 2012, the lanes cur­rently used for west­bound travel will re­open, and the east­bound side will be closed for the re­con­struc­tion. The over­all pat­tern will re­main with two lanes open in each di­rec­tion. Then for the fi­nal phase, start­ing in late 2013, three lanes will be open in the peak di­rec­tion and two in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

Bot­tom line: For two years start­ing in mid-to late sum­mer, one of the District’s main com­muter routes will be nar­rowed from six lanes to four lanes, even at rush hours. Project man­agers think this will de­lay traf­fic 15 to 30 min­utes in the work zone.

De­tours

The im­pact of the bridge project ex­tends to pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists. De­tour signs at Florida Av­enue on the west side and Penn Street on the east side point them south to­ward Fourth Street NE to get around the work zone and back onto New York Av­enue. I walked the de­tour in about 10 min­utes in the day­time past the shops and food whole­sale cen­ters on Fourth Street. I’d be less in­clined to do it at night.

For driv­ers who might con­sider al­ter­na­tive routes, the District Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has these sug­ges­tions:

• Take West Vir­ginia Av­enue NE to Florida Av­enue NE.

• Take South Dakota Av­enue NE to Rhode Is­land Av­enue NE to Lin­coln Road to North Capi­tol Street.

• Take Bladens­burg Road to Florida Av­enue.

• Take Ke­nil­worth Av­enue to three po­ten­tial ex­its: Ben­ning Road, East Capi­tol Street or Howard Road.

ROBERT THOM­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

The New York Av­enue Bridge is old and needs to be re­built, but the con­struc­tion— to last till early 2014— will cause headaches for driv­ers.

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