New Potomac bridge: Officials take first steps on project to double passenger rail capacity between Va. and DC

A proposed rendering of the Long Bridge project — adding a fourth rail track across the Potomac River and doubling passenger rail capacity. (Courtesy Virginia Passenger Rail Authority)

Preliminary soil testing will soon begin before construction of a passenger rail bridge that aims to untangle daily passenger rail service between Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The long-term goal of the Long Bridge Project is “to double the capacity of passenger rail between Washington, D.C. south, into Virginia,” said DJ Stadtler, executive director of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority.

Currently, all passenger and freight trains crossing the Potomac River share the Long Bridge — a two-track bridge which is owned by CSX, located east of the 14th Street Bridge. “That bridge is 100 years old or so, and it’s currently at about 98% capacity during peak hours.”

With the bridge carrying both freight and passenger lines, VPRA is tasked with expanding the availability of passenger and commuter rail service in Virginia. Improving and increasing passenger rail service, would make it feasible for drivers to leave their cars at home.

“When we in Virginia looked at the congestion on the highways between D.C. and Manassas and D.C. and Richmond, looking for a way to move folks from their cars onto the train, we knew we had to add more capacity,” said Stadtler. “So, that’s what this Long Bridge is going to do — it’s going to break that bottleneck that currently exists crossing the Potomac from the northeast to the south.”

Building a new passenger-only bridge between the existing Long Bridge and the WMATA Yellow Line Bridge will allow for an increase in Amtrak and VRE train frequencies.

The estimated $2.3 billion cost is not currently fully funded, but officials have applied for federal grants for the project that would create a four-track corridor to smooth rail traffic up and down the East Coast.

Preliminary soil testing will begin in the next few weeks, said Stadtler.

“We’re doing tests of the land to see how firm the soil is, and to give everyone a sense of how solid that ground is,” Stadtler said.

Later this fall, a piling project will test the soil at the bottom of the Potomac River.

The south portion of the bridge will run from the Long Bridge Aquatic Center, on the Virginia side of the river, across to the D.C. side. The north portion of the bridge project will extend from the edge of the Potomac River, “over Ohio Drive, Maine Avenue, through that area, meet up at the Salamander Hotel, then go around the corner toward L’Enfant Plaza.”

The project will also include a bicycle and pedestrian crossing that will connect Long Bridge Park and the Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington to the East and West Potomac Parks in Washington.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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