Authorities reverse course, reopen some DC bridges to local traffic

Authorities reversed course Tuesday morning and reopened bridges over the Anacostia River into D.C. ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The closure of some D.C. bridges had little impact on morning traffic, but not for drivers during the afternoon rush.

The closures strained traffic on the south side of the Capital Beltway in Alexandria in Virginia, heading for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

“Traffic was backed up for more than six miles from Springfield to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge for most of the afternoon. There is also significant congestion and near gridlock conditions reported in parts of Old Town because of the congestion on the Capital Beltway,” WTOP Traffic reporter Dave Dildine said.

About 8 p.m., the congestion started to diminish quickly.

On the Inner Loop from the American Legion Bridge and through Montgomery County, delays were less intense. But for some drivers on the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge, it took more than 40 minutes to get into Georgetown on Tuesday afternoon.

Traffic on Route 123 is downhill onto Chain Bridge and onto Canal Road, where traffic is limited to a single lane because of the afternoon rush-hour traffic pattern.

Officials decided to keep the Anacostia River bridges open to local vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

As of 10 a.m., the following bridges were closed:

  • Arlington Memorial Bridge (closed in both directions)
  • Interstate 66/Theodore Roosevelt Bridge
  • Interstate 395/14th Street Bridge

According to D.C. police, the following bridges will have commercial vehicle restrictions until 6 a.m. Thursday, but remain open to local vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists:

  • South Capitol Street/Frederick Douglas Memorial Bridge — North bound lanes will have commercial vehicle restrictions but remain open to local traffic. South bound traffic will flow normally, toward Maryland.
  • 11th Street Bridge — Travel lanes into the Navy Yard area will have commercial vehicle restrictions but remain open to local traffic.
  • John Philip Sousa (Pennsylvania Avenue) Bridge — Travel lanes west toward downtown will have commercial vehicle restrictions but open to local traffic. South bound traffic will flow normally, toward Maryland.
  • Key Bridge — will remain open, but access to Whitehurst Freeway will be closed. Traffic from the Key Bridge will make a left turn onto Canal Road/MacArthur Boulevard and local traffic may go right on M Street. East bound on M Street will have commercial vehicle restrictions.

Some drivers were still caught off guard by backups, but WTOP’s traffic experts said backups were less extensive than anticipated.

“I am surprised it was not worse. People are not going downtown,” said WTOP Traffic reporter Mary DePompa.

More Inauguration News

Multiple major bridges across the Potomac and Anacostia rivers were supposed to close their citybound lanes at 6 a.m. Tuesday amid enhanced security through Wednesday’s inauguration, according to a plan detailed last weekend by the U.S. Secret Service.

Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee explained at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that District officials wanted to lessen the impact of bridge closures on residents.

“The original release that was put out by the Secret Service … it was very restrictive, especially impacting residents in the District of Columbia,” Contee said. “So what we really tried to work out in an effort to make things more accessible for our D.C. residents is to at least pare down those bridges to one single lane of traffic coming in so that residents could traverse across the city.”

He added that authorities “still have the ability to shut those bridges off if we need to.”

Despite several days’ notice about the impending closings, traffic patterns were still disrupted, as some bridges were sealed off.

The closing of the 14th Street Bridge resulted in standstill traffic Tuesday morning on northbound Interstate 395, stretching back to the Pentagon, as people merged onto the interstate from Virginia Route 110:

Making matters worse was a crashed tractor-trailer limiting the turnoff to a single lane only:

Only the bridges over the Potomac River closed as scheduled at 6 a.m.

The Southeast/Southwest Freeway and 3rd Street Tunnel were expected to close Tuesday morning — but callers to the WTOP Traffic Center said it was still open.

WTOP has calls out to the Secret Service to find out if — and when — it plans to close the freeway and tunnel.

All inbound access to the Whitehurst Freeway was blocked shortly before 11 a.m.

Some turn restrictions were in place on the Georgetown side of Key Bridge but they differed from those that were expected, according to WTOP Traffic reporter Dave Dildine.

Inbound traffic on Canal Road must turn outbound on Key Bridge and cannot continue onto M Street in Georgetown. Inbound traffic on the bridge was able to turn right onto M Street but only in a single lane.

The Key Bridge definitely took the brunt of the workaround Tuesday morning, and it was not an original idea by any means. It was the most obvious alternate route being the first upriver bridge open to inbound traffic.

The backup at Key Bridge stretched deep into Rosslyn on Lynn Street and Route 50 for a time, Dildine said.

The Chain Bridge held up well for most of the morning.

Delays on the Key Bridge were “heavier than normal,” WTOP Traffic reporter Reada Kessler said.

But WTOP’s morning traffic team noted that pandemic-era teleworking likely dampened the effects from what would be expected with a shutdown of this magnitude. There were snarls on the Potomac side, but the Anacostia bridge closings went smoothly traffic-wide despite the delay.

“People are staying away from the District,” said Kessler.

Since afternoon rush hour yields different traffic patterns, things could turn out differently later, they said. Plan accordingly.

For the latest road and traffic conditions, see WTOP’s traffic page or listen to updates every 10 minutes online or on the air at 103.5 FM. Submit traffic tips by calling 866-304-WTOP or tagging @WTOPtraffic on Twitter.

WTOP’s Dave Dildine and Mary de Pompa contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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