The National Park Service recently released the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Arlington Memorial Bridge Rehabilitation Project. The good news is that all of the alternatives, including the preferred alternative, will keep the bridge open for another 75 to 100 years (so go ahead and commit to that bike ride in 2091). The bad news is that the bridge will be closed a lot during the 2-3 year repair project and there won't be much done beyond fixing the structural problems.
Memorial Bridge is an important connection for cyclists travelling between Virginia and DC.
A high volume of pedestrians and bicyclists use the Arlington Memorial Bridge and connecting pathways. Pedestrian and bicycle counts obtained in October and November 2012 indicate that approximately 2,000 bicyclists and pedestrians used the sidewalks on the Arlington Memorial Bridge each day. The bridge and its connections support both commuter and recreational uses. Sidewalks and crossings at both ends of the bridge connect with regional trail networks. On the west side of the bridge, access is provided to the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT), and on the east side of the bridge, access is provided to the Rock Creek Trail.
But it has some well documented issues - mostly on the western Columbia Island side, where the north sidewalk doesn't connect well to the MVT and trail-users are expected to make numerous at-grade crossings of the GW Parkway, and Washington Boulevard.
Highly visible road markings and signs are in place to enhance safety at road crossings. However, based on a 2011 road safety audit conducted by the National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration, collisions between pedestrians and vehicles are a concern on the west side of the bridge (NPS 2011b). Observations described in the road safety audit involved driver aggressiveness and driver confusion at the approaches to Memorial Circle. To reduce the likelihood of collisions, a range of recommendations were presented including additional warning signs, restriping, and realignment of the existing ramps.
There was a spate of car-trail user crashes at these crosswalks that prompted NPS to make some of those recommended changes - and they appear to have made it safer, but it still doesn't create an appealing experience for more cautious cyclists; and no work on this safety issue is expected as part of the rehabilitation.
Unfortunately the two previous bicycle-relevant plans called out in the EA don't offer any strong guidance. The 2005 DC Bicycle Master Plan recommends "access improvements" from both sides of the Potomac River (or more accurately from one side of the Potomac to the island in the Potomac, but let's not quibble) and the MoveDC update reiterates that without any detail. Meanwhile, NPS's Memorial Circle Transportation Plan doesn't seem to have progressed beyond a bunch of photos of charrette drawings. [I recall a document, created by Toole Design, used as input to the 2005 plan in which they listed the specific problems and recommendations for each bridge in DC, but I can't track it down. That would be a good place to start to identify the known issues.] It may be a missed opportunity, not having some specific improvements identified. The bike plan has been successfully used before to force the federal government to build good bike facilities.
Anyway, instead, trail users can count on the bridge not falling into the river and a slight modification of the sidewalk surface. The current exposed aggregate sidewalks would be replaced, which I think is good because I find exposed aggregate gets slippery when wet. But it's being replaced with an exposed aggregate concrete/polymer concrete sidewalk, and I don't know how that's different.
Also Arlington County requested that the bridge rehabilitation include permanent bicycle and pedestrian counting equipment and DDOT requested permanent traffic counting equipment. Those requests were noted, but there is no indication they will be included.
It's a choice of catastrophes here for bridge users. There are four alternatives, which are basically choices about the kind of bridge that will replace the Bascule Span, although alternative 3 is to repair the existing span. There is also a no-build option, which involves maintenance and further weight restrictions until such time as the bridge has to be closed. The preferred alternative is to replace the span with a new span comprised of variable depth steel girders. This is due to reasons of cost, safety, ease of painting, and the opportunity to preserve things like the guard’s cabin, the overseer’s cabin, and the machinery rooms.
Then, there are two construction methods. Construction Method A is called "Temporary Full Closure of the Bridge, Sidewalks and All Vehicular Travel Lanes." It involves complete closure of the bridge for 70 consecutive days and then closing half the bridge, including either one sidewalk of the other, for 245 days each. Construction Method B is not much better. Entitled "Partial Bridge Closure with Closure of Three Vehicular Travel Lanes."It would close one half of the bridge for 280 days and then the other half for another 280 days. They don't appear to have a preference on the construction method. Other alternatives involve similar combinations of temporary partial and full closures of the bridge.
During periods of full closure, the pedestrian/bicycle detour would add approximately 2.5 miles to the normal 1.1 mile trip
but that's from Memorial Circle to the Lincoln Memorial, and most people will be able to find a shorter detour.
In addition to the closures, they might build one or two barge staging areas along the river north and south of the bridge. To access the barge staging areas, they'd need to construct access roads from the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which would mean cars crossing the Mount Vernon Trail at times and that those parts of the trail would have to be changed to handle the traffic.. These areas would be restored following completion of construction.
NPS is accepting comments until May 16th although the EA itself says May 9th, so don't dilly dally. Personally, I'm going to ask them to look at a material other than exposed aggregate for the sidewalks, and to consider taking the opportunity to make access and safety improvements on the west side of the bridge. Perhaps they could finish their Transportation Plan as a precursor to this project and incorporate those recommendations into it.