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11th Street bridges, part 1: The plan

DDOT plans to rebuild the 11th Street bridges, which cross the Anacostia River from the Southeast Freeway to the Anacostia Freeway (295). DC will spend $500 million on the project, with the vast majority coming from local rather than federal coffers. The aging bridges need replacing, but the project does much more than repair the bridges.

Instead of four lanes in each direction, the bridges will have six. Four lanes in each direction will connect the freeways directly, with the connecting ramps from the freeway portion of the bridge widening from two lanes to three. DDOT will also add the "missing ramps" between 295 east of the bridges and the bridges themselves, allowing travelers on 295 westbound to cross the river and continue west on the Southwest-Southeast Freeway, and vice versa.

An additional two lanes each way will create a local bridge, directly connecting local streets in Anacostia to streets in Capitol Hill without forcing drivers to merge on and off the freeway to cross the river. Transit, including possibly future streetcar, will use one of the two local lanes in each direction. In the meantime, that lane might be reserved for buses, or might simply be shared between buses and cars.

To partially balance the added capacity, DDOT proposes to remove the Southeast Freeway east of the bridges to Barney Circle, where Pennsylvania Ave crosses the river. Instead, the roadway would become a boulevard with two lanes in each direction. DDOT has already closed little-used ramps from the 11th Street bridges to that freeway segment.

Left: Existing freeways in the area. Right: Proposed configuration after the project.
Black lines are freeways, gray roads with traffic lights, red "missing" connections, orange
are removed roadways. Click on an image for a larger version covering a wider area.

There are some very good elements of this plan. The local bridge is a good idea. It will connect communities on either side of the river, and facilitate transit connections including a future extension of the Anacostia streetcar to Eastern Market and points north. Also, it's good to turn the Barney Circle freeway segment into a boulevard. Traffic backs up there to merge onto Pennsylvania, and perhaps in the future DC will be able to move or bury the CSX tracks, connecting the waterfront to the neighborhood.

On the other hand, this adds significantly more road capacity in an area that currently represents the bottleneck in the system. As any systems engineer can tell you, reducing bottlenecks increases the total system capacity. That will induce more traffic into and through DC. DDOT has never satisfactorily explained the reason to enlarge the ramps and build these bridges as four lanes instead of two or three. Also, connecting 295 to the 11th Street Bridges will draw some traffic off local roads, but it'll also draw some traffic off the Beltway and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Increasing traffic through DC and lightening the load on the Beltway is definitely not how DC should spend $500 million of its own money.

Upcoming parts will dig into each of the objections and DDOT's response, and analyze some other ways to mitigate the traffic-inducing effects of this project.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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If nothing else there will finally be a WB295 to SE-SW freeway link. That always should have been done, and there's no reason to force traffic around in bizarre ways and surface streets (or S. Capitol Street).

by ah on Feb 9, 2009 11:03 am • linkreport

A few points:

- The concern about induced traffic within the bridge area may be valid, but considering that there is no change in capacity to the SE/SW Fwy or Kenilworth, I don't think there will be induced traffic THROUGH DC, as you'll still have the bottlenecks outside of the 11th St Bridge area as traffic regulators.

- I never fully understood the complaints about "increased capacity" on the bridge. The major focal point...the freeway already 8 lanes and will continue to be 8 lanes. At the north end, it's mitigated by the connector to Barney Circle being downgraded (you're effectively switching the lane balance on the ramps at the split to 11th St and PA Ave). At the south end, sure you're adding direct ramps to 295 North, but that's more of a traffic switch, as that traffic would otherwise be using Barney Circle and the Sousa Bridge...and as noted the connector to Barney Circle is being downgraded as part of this project.

- If anything, your "capacity increase" is in the form of LOCAL lanes, as you'll have 4 local lanes connecting MLK Ave to 11th St. Improves local circulation and provides an avenue for transit.

- As for why the freeway part will have 8 lanes, consider that you'll have a major shift of traffic from the Barney Circle connector onto the freeway bridge...enough to where the existing 4 lanes (which are already inadequate) would be overwhelmed. So the 6 through lanes at the north end of the project is mostly for lane continuity. The extra 2 lanes across the bridge are auxiliary lanes between adjacent ramps (M St and 295).

As a side note, I'd like to see the numbers/facts behind the theory that this project will siphon traffic off the Beltway and WWB.

by Froggie on Feb 9, 2009 12:24 pm • linkreport

I'd be very interested in hearing more about the boulevardization of the end of the SE Freeway. A few questions:

1. Will it become a true, at-grade boulevard with pedestrian crossings? Right now, it's elevated.

2. I know they're not going to "move or bury the CSX tracks", but will pedestrians be able to cross the tracks?

3. What will the new boulevard's name be? Virginia Ave SE, perhaps?

4. Why have a new boulevard at all -- why not widen L St SE and M St SE, and let the land in between either be developed, or turned into a park?

5. Does the plan call for restoring the street grid, specifically, by reconnecting Virginia, L, 12, 13, and 14th Sts SE?

And thank you for what I've learned from your research already!

by tom veil on Feb 9, 2009 12:25 pm • linkreport

Boulevarding that portion of the freeway (between 11th St and Pennsylvania) isn't worth much. That portion of the freeway runs well below the grade of the urban fabric to the north - L St SE is elevated a good 20-25 feet above the traffic lanes by a retaining wall. The southern side of the street is bounded by the CSX tracks that see heavy rail traffic on a daily basis.

Tom, the massive grade issue is why you can't just revert M and L streets there. For one, M is on the wrong side of the tracks to make it work, and L Street has major grade issues.

For what it's worth, those streets never connected that much further south. L Street had houses on the other side of the street originally, but those were torn down for the freeway. Beyond that, however, the railroad tracks were always there and always a barrier.

by Alex B. on Feb 9, 2009 12:31 pm • linkreport

I think there will be induced demand, mostly by shifting traffic from both the north and south sides of the Beltway. I know folks in Arlington headed up north toward Baltimore would find SE/SW Freeway and 295 a more viable option without the Sousa Bridge or Howard Road workarounds. Whether this shift of traffic is a good or bad thing is another question.

by Adam F on Feb 9, 2009 1:36 pm • linkreport

Alex B. -- Thank you! I didn't realize that it is L St that is elevated; all I knew was that when I walked around that neighborhood, there's this street floating 25 feet in the air. :)

If they're not fixing L St's grading, though, then it seems that they're not in fact turning the end of the SE Freeway into a boulevard, either. If you can't walk from it to any other streets, then it's not a boulevard, it's a limited-access road, right?

by tom veil on Feb 9, 2009 2:24 pm • linkreport

Another advantage of the new bridge is better, wider bicycle/pedestrian lanes on both sides of the local bridge; which will connect to Anacostia in addition to the river's edge.

tom veil, your idea about removing the freeway and making it a park is compelling. Who does DDOT foresee using this connection?

by David C on Feb 9, 2009 2:31 pm • linkreport

Ohhh, if they remove the SE/SW freeway, they won't have to build a bridge over the railroad tracks for the Anacostia Riverwalk. They could just run the trail under Barney circle and along the new park all the way to 11th Street. In fact, they could do that even if they boulevard the road.

by washcycle on Feb 9, 2009 2:34 pm • linkreport

The additional ramps that will be added (from southbound DC-295 to northbound (westbound) I-295 will allow freeway traffic that currently uses US-50 (New York Ave) to be detoured off of NY Ave and instead use the new ramps. The 395 tunnel will be obsolete.

For example, westbound US-50 traffic from Annapolis will use southbound DC-295 to the Southeast-Southwest Fwy to reach downtown and Arlington/the Pentagon instead of cutting thru on New York Ave to the 395 tunnel.

Once this bridge project is complete DDOT should put NY Ave/US-50 west of DC-295 on a MAJOR road diet as it will no longer be needed to handle the thru traffic.

Normally I do not like spending funds on freeway expansion but the new bridges in this case have the potential to improve neighborhoods, especially the areas along New York Ave. and connections between Anacostia and Capitol Hill.

by Transport on Feb 9, 2009 3:20 pm • linkreport


There's no way to really 'fix' L Street's grading. L Street is where it's supposed to be. The freeway is well below the natural grade of the area (which would be a nice downhill slope from L Street to the river). So, by boulevarding this stretch, all they'll accomplish is removal of a lane of traffic on a road that's not all that busy anyway. It will still be grade separated, disconnected from the neighborhood, and serving as one barrier amongst many (the train tracks being the other).

Bringing that land back up to grade is a non-starter - that would require a lot of fill. Decking over it is a more intriguing idea, but these all get far more intensive than anything that's suggested in the 11th St Bridges scope.

Basically, until I see some designs of what this will look like, I'm highly skeptical of how it will function. There are some serious design challenges to deal with.

by Alex B. on Feb 9, 2009 3:47 pm • linkreport

I'll just say this is long overdue and I'm happy to finally see a fix on the horizon. It is an enormous headache to get to Pentagon City and north Alexandria from southbound 295 right now, and the new stadium has only made that bottleneck worse.

by DancerInDC on Feb 9, 2009 3:48 pm • linkreport


Alex already mentioned about the grade difference. I'd like to add that the grade difference between L and M existed there LONG before there was a SE Freeway...topo maps from the mid-40s show the grade difference, with a small rail yard along the now-CSX tracks where the SE Freeway spur to Barney Circle now exists.

by Froggie on Feb 9, 2009 3:56 pm • linkreport

Good point, Froggie.

JDLand has a great old aerial photo from 1949 of the area:

You can see where the tracks enter the Virginia Ave tunnel, and you can see that there was development on both sides of L St SE, as the whole southern half of that block was erased and excavated for the SE/SW Freeway.

You can also see how the freeway's construction butchered the nice intersection of Virginia and Potomac Aves, a place that's a cluster of highway flyovers now.

by Alex B. on Feb 9, 2009 4:00 pm • linkreport

Oh yeah, you could turn Barney Circle back into a Circle again too.

by David C on Feb 9, 2009 6:55 pm • linkreport

I'd like to hear how Barney Circle residents feel about this. They've been pretty nimby for lo this past half century to ANY changes to Barney Circle traffic patterns.

by monkeyrotica on Feb 10, 2009 7:24 am • linkreport

The 11th St bridge looks like it takes away the bridge at 13th St SE and Good Hope Rd? Does this mean people who live in Anacostia get on and off the freeway at Good Hope Rd and Martin Luther King? If it does mean that then all the designers including DDOT, Chief Engineer and other officials should be made to move to Anacostia for 2-3 years so that they can see what this means to residents of Anacostia. Also not only is DDOT taking access away at 13th St SE and Good Hope Rd but they also want to take Anacostia Residents access away at Firth Sterling SE and Howard Rd SE, sending the residents to Suitland Pkwy to get on 295, which is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city (Suitland Rd and Firth Sterling). Why isnt DDOT talking to the community about that closure as well? DDOT is taking away the residents entry and exits in Anacostia to make it better for who? Couldnt be the residents in Anacostia

by GF on Feb 11, 2009 6:02 pm • linkreport

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