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Dealing With Douglass Bridge Shutdown

The first commute for drivers who had been using the District's now-closed Frederick Douglass Bridge at South Capitol Street included a car accident on inbound Interstate 295, congestion on the nearby roads and highways and some very confused motorists.

Firth Sterling.jpg Cone forest at Firth Sterling Avenue, just before the I-295 overpass. (Robert Thomson)

The worst backup I saw was on I-295, behind that early-morning accident that blocked the right lane heading north. Though the lanes were open around 7 a.m., the highway traffic never did fully recover from that. The lane blockage might have reduced congestion for a while at the crucial merge point just beyond the accident scene where traffic from the Suitland Parkway and South Capitol Street enters 295.

Here are some quick impressions:

-- That short extra lane the District paved on the right side of 295 just south of the 11th Street Bridge is a big help if you're trying to get from Suitland Parkway to 295 and 395 southbound over the 11th Street Bridge. Be sure to stay to the right if you're heading for the bridge. If you move left one lane, you'll face a difficult merge with 295 traffic also trying to get onto the bridge. Plus, some drivers in that lane will be trying to merge left so they can head north beyond the bridge.

-- A District traffic control officer stationed in the middle of Firth Sterling Avenue and Howard Road made life a lot easier for many of us. That intersection is a hot spot for this big detour.

-- Traffic heading outbound and south toward the Beltway flowed freely, but watch out for potential backups at the exit for Howard Road. It's probably best to stay to the left until you're past that exit.

-- At the foot of the Howard Road ramp from outbound 295, the right lane is blocked off, moving traffic into a lane with a white left turn arrow on the pavement, but you still can make a right to enter the Anacostia Metro parking garage. Many drivers who do turn left there are making a loop under the highway so they can get back to the northbound side of 295.

Bridge Sign.jpg To reach 11th Street Bridge from inbound 295, take the lane to right. (Robert Thomson)

-- In all our reports, we talk about the 11th Street Bridge as the main detour, but I didn't see any green and white signs on 295 that actually say "11th Street Bridge." The ones I saw point you to 395 and the Navy Yard. That's what you want if your following the main detour across the 11th Street Bridge toward downtown Washington.

-- The worst jam I was in: Suitland Parkway in the mile before drivers reach the junction with I-295. We crawled from 6:56 a.m. to 7:20 before making the right turn toward 295 at Firth Sterling. (Before reaching that point, plenty of drivers were bailing out onto Sheridan Road toward Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.)

-- Once you get to the 11th Street Bridge, you should be fine. The bridge is the same two lanes it was before. It's slow, but it was moving pretty well the two times I crossed it this morning.

-- I saw plenty of MTA commuter buses that were stuck in the same inbound traffic as everyone else on 295. (The MTA says adjustments to the schedules on Routes 902, 904, 905 and 913 take effect on Monday. The buses that have added stops at a Metrorail station will have a lime green and black Metro sign in their windows.)

Lane Blocked.jpg Rescue work after accident blocked right lane on I-295 inbound. (Robert Thomson)

-- The Green Line train I boarded at Branch Avenue was jammed full by the time it reached Southern Avenue. Then it got more crowded. There was no relief till the train reached L'Enfant Plaza and about half the passengers got out. Still, the next inbound train that passed had about a dozen standees per car. So if the train pulling into your platform is jammed, you might have better luck waiting for the next one.

-- The Anacostia Metro station had plenty of parking remaining at 9 a.m. You'll have to pass through some traffic congestion to get there, though.

-- Next week is the real test: There was the accident today and plenty of drivers were confused by the new patterns, but the weather was fine and the traffic extra light because of the July 4 holiday week.

Erik Linden, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, gave this report on today's activities:

Workers started milling the bridge, did some demolition work and started putting jacks on the bridge supports to prepare for lowering the northern portion of the elevated roadway later this month.

"We're going to redouble our efforts to keep truck traffic off the residential streets in the Southeast neighborhood," he said. "We are also going to step up signage along South Capitol Street on the cross streets like N and Eye so motorists crossing understand the bridge is closed."

Also, DDOT plans to put a traffic control officer at South Capitol and M streets. "We noticed this was a hotspot for traffic gathering," Linden said.

Other adjustments may follow as DDOT monitors the impact of the shutdown. "The project will undoubtedly evolve as it moves forward," he said.

Tell us what your commute was like. You can post here, of course, or write to me at drgridlock@washpost.com. (If you e-mail me with questions or comments for my newspaper column, please include your name, home community and a contact phone number. The bridge congestion is a priority, and I'll try to get in many letters.)

By Robert Thomson  |  July 6, 2007; 9:43 AM ET
Categories:  Construction  
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