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 Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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 lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.