The commission on Thursday approved preliminary site plans for the project, offering a first look at the proposal and giving the district Department of Transportation a quick green light to extend the life of the bridge by at least 25 years. The structure has exceeded its 50-year lifespan and was classified as ‘poor’ condition in 2018 – a designation that does not necessarily mean it is unsafe to use.
Construction is not expected to begin until 2024 at the earliest and would cost around $150 million, according to DDOT. The bridge, which carries Interstate 66 over the Potomac River, is a major commuter route that carried a daily average of around 150,000 vehicles before the pandemic.
The condition of the Roosevelt Bridge has deteriorated in recent years, leading to emergency repairs and the closure of three traffic lanes since February after an inspection found the steel support beams had deteriorated. Traffic is restricted on part of the bridge to two lanes in each direction, while vehicles weighing more than 10 tons are restricted, sending buses and heavy-duty vehicles to various Potomac crossings.
DC transport Officials said the emergency work, which is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, will allow the bridge to support normal operations at least until the full rehabilitation is complete. DDOT Director Everett Lott said Thursday that crews are continuing to install temporary beams and are on track for completion by the end of August. In April, DDOT officials said much of the bridge could reopen as early as this month.
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The 3,200-foot-long bridge was built in two units: one between the District and Theodore Roosevelt Island on the Potomac, and the second between Theodore Roosevelt Island and Arlington County on the Little River .
The Federal Highway Administration’s most recent records, from a 2020 inspection, indicate that several features of the bridge, including its guardrails, do not meet current standards. They note that the condition of the bridge is rated “poor”.
The DDOT plans, released this week and approved Thursday, include major structural improvements, including deck replacement, concrete and stone repairs, and upgrades to the bridge’s pin and suspension assembly.
Road signs and lighting will be replaced. And the bridge will be painted in its original white “to create a cohesive aesthetic between the bridge and nearby landmarks and the Arlington Memorial Bridge,” according to the DDOT.
The road configuration will change to create 10 foot sidewalks, although the details of these changes will be developed in the plans. The existing sidewalks on both sides of the bridge vary in width between four and six feet and, according to the DDOT, do not meet safety standards.
Officials say a wider sidewalk will improve the experience for pedestrians and cyclists on the shared path. Replacing the 36-inch guardrails with 42-inch guardrails and existing traffic barriers that DDOT says “provide minimal protection” will make the way safer, officials said.
The improvements will also create better connections to trails and other nearby destinations. The north sidewalk connects to the Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia and the Kennedy Center in the district. The south sidewalk does not connect to trails, but a National Park Service plan envisions better connections from the south sidewalk between DC and Arlington.
The National Capital Planning Commission urged DDOT to explore adding lighting to the pedestrian pathway, noting that DDOT’s plan does not include the option. The commission said lighting should be selected to “enhance the comfort and continuity of pedestrians (and cyclists) with the character of the adjacent streetscape, protect the night sky and surrounding natural resources, and elevate the quality of this important gateway”.
Dennis Leach, Arlington’s director of transportation, said the county welcomes progress on the plan after about a decade of discussions about the need for a full bridge upgrade. He said the county supports pedestrian and bicycle improvements, saying the crossing was “by far the worst experience” compared to other Potomac crossings.
“With these improvements, it will be used a lot more,” he said.
The Roosevelt Bridge project would be similar to the recent $227 million, two-year rehabilitation of the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which involved months of closed and relocated lanes and traffic disruptions.
According to the DDOT, the bridge will remain open to traffic during construction, but the work will require two lanes of traffic to be closed for an extended period, along with reduced lane widths and lower speed limits.
Leach said the county will work with the district to ensure disruption is minimal. He said past experiences have proven that such circulation problems are manageable.
“We lived through the reconstruction of the Memorial Bridge. It was totally rebuilt and we succeeded. And that was done before the pandemic,” Leach said. “People in the region will adapt and hopefully some of them will choose rail.”
Leach said Metro should have normal rail service with the return of its 7000-series cars by the time construction begins. The cars, which make up 60% of Metro’s fleet, were suspended in October after a federal safety investigation found a wheel defect on a small number of cars. Metro plans to return 64 cars to service this summer, with the rest of the fleet expected to follow.
The transit agency will also operate the second phase of the Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, which would be another option for commuters in the I-66 corridor.
District officials said the Roosevelt Bridge is a high priority and the city is proposing a funding plan, including the use of local and federal infrastructure money.
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Lott said the city is ready to move forward with the rehabilitation project, describing the condition of the bridge as “outdated functional.” He said this year the city will work on the design of the project and plans to launch a bidding process next year.
The planning commission, which has the power to review the project, is expected to review final site development plans next year. Stephen Staudigl, a commission spokesman, said those plans are expected to be presented to council next spring.