Days may be numbered for Frederick Douglass Bridge

John Aaron,

WASHINGTON – Standing on a narrow, suspended metal walkway below the surface of the Frederick Douglass Bridge, D.C. Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Ronaldo Nicholson explains the structure is both “functionally obsolete and structurally obsolete.”

It’s not a reassuring statement to hear in an area where hard hats are required and gaping holes are visible in steel support beams.

But those designations alone don’t make the bridge, which carries drivers across the Anacostia River on South Capitol Street, unsafe, says Nicholson. They do, however, make it a prime candidate for replacement.

“The longer we keep this existing bridge in service … maintenance and inspection costs are only going to go up,” Nicholson says, shouting to be heard as cars rumble by just a few feet overhead.

Making the bridge especially costly to maintain is its swing span, or drawbridge, feature. The city says while the swing span must be tested regularly, it’s only been used to accommodate tall vessels twice since 2006. City leaders are currently working with the Navy and Coast Guard to see whether a fixed bridge, to be built next to the current Douglass Bridge, would be acceptable as a cost-saving measure.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is touting a plan to build the new bridge, at a cost of $660 million. In a statement, Gray said in the long run, a new bridge would be cheaper than maintaining the current one, built in 1950.

He also said the new bridge, which would likely feature traffic circles on each end, would serve “as an anchor for the revival of the Anacostia waterfront.”

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