DDOT had a press event to announce the start of work on the new 11th Street Bridges. You would be hard pressed to have missed it since it was covered by WTOP, Dr. Gridlock, ABC7, WAMU, JDLand and the City Paper. Dr. Gridlock, JDLand and Erika Niewdowksi of City Paper have the best coverage.
The $300 million project started yesterday and we got to see them cutting some cables on the protective bridge piers (the bumpers that keep boats from crashing into the bridge) that will have to be removed to make room for the bridge. Basically they'll completely build three new bridges, two highway and one local, without having to touch the existing ones. It's the first design-build-to-budget bridge for the District. Work will finish in late summer/early fall of 2013.
The whole thing was a bit targeted at drivers. They said, for example, that "There will be about a year and a half of work on the bridges before traffic patterns would need to be interrupted" but then they mentioned that they were tearing down the bike/pedestrian bridge over 295 soon, which I suspect will interrupt traffic patterns for some people. A lot of the material also mentions minimizing impact to motorists. But they were pretty proud of the new active transportation lane on the bridge - and rightfully so, as it will be much larger than what is on the existing bridge.
As I mentioned in August, there will be one lane for cyclists and pedestrians on the downstream side of the local bridge (which is the most downstream bridge of the three) it will be 16'8" wide, but with the curb and light poles it will leave 13'8" (not 13'9" as reported earlier) of space. And cyclists will also be allowed to use the travel lanes on the local bridge. Cyclists will get on the new bridge at O Street on the west side, instead of N as is the case now, which should make for a smoother transition to the ART. On the east side, cyclists will be able to access Good Hope Road at either the current location west of 295 or at the intersection of Good Hope and MLK. The bike/ped bridge over 295 will be torn down in January and the replacement will be finished by Memorial Day, we were told. During construction, one of the staging areas will be near the west side path, but it should not interfere with use of the bridge by cyclists and pedestrians.
I'm not sure when cyclists would shift to the new bridge or if there will be any interruption in use. It may be that project managers don't know either, as the design-build nature of the project means that some questions are still to be resolved.
One last thing to be resolved is what to do with the existing bridges. The existing bridges were built in the 1960's for the Inner Beltway that was never built. Though they may not be desirable anymore, they don't really have to tear them down. The ideas they presented were to remove the spans and build catwalks with scenic overlooks along the center piers on the downstream side that would allow pedestrians to walk out and see the river; and on the upstream side they would build osprey nests. The piers close to land were listed as "for future use." One idea for them is to build piers out to those four pylon sets for fishing etc...
When I asked about the upstream span and the possibility of repurposing it, I was told that DDOT had not ruled that out yet. That would be a great idea. DC would save the cost of demolition and could put that towards maintenance - which would be less without car traffic. Then they could give it the High Line treatment, creating a space with plantings, art etc.. And cyclists could use that part too.