At a public hearing this week, officials from the Federal Rail Administration and DDOT presented design alternatives for an improved and expanded crossing of the Potomac River along the existing Long Bridge. Both designs feature a separate bike/pedestrian bridge North of the rail tracks that connects Virginia’s Long Bridge Park with the Mount Vernon Trail, then crosses to Ohio Drive in East Potomac Park. The next step for the Long Bridge Project is an environmental study through 2019, delivered in 2020. Funding has not been secured for construction.
Design Options for the New Long Bridge
“The plan is to expand the number of rail lines crossing the Potomac from two to four, and the options were to build two new bridges or build one new and rehabilitate the other. They chose the latter.”
During the presentation, project officials described the two new bridge option as more expensive with longer construction time (eight vs. five years), and more significant environmental impact.
Bike Commuters and Pedestrians Get a New Bridge Regardless
“In addition, they’re [project officials are] proposing to include a separate multi-use trail bridge connecting Long Bridge Park, the Mt. Vernon Trail and East Potomac Park as a potential Section 4(f) Mitigation. While DDOT wouldn’t say how likely it was that the MUT would be built, they noted that there was support from everyone relevant and no opposition. All they need is the money (and a project sponsor which will likely be DDOT).”
In short, the mixed-use bridge is an offset for the environmental damage done by re-constructing the existing Long Bridge. The bridge for human-powered transportation won’t extend across the Washington Channel toward The Wharf/Waterfront. DDOT’s presenters mentioned that the airspace above that channel is too cramped with other bridges and rights of way. However, the project offers decent connectivity as a consolation prize:
“The trail bridge would be a separate bridge north of the railroad bridge, between it and the Metro Bridge. Separating it from the railroad bridge will reduce the costs by about 20%, reduce security needs, simplify inspection and maintenance, reduce the footprint and is what the railroads prefer. It will be on the upstream side to allow for an easy connection to the Long Bridge Park. It will have three connections, one at Long Bridge Park, one at the Mt. Vernon Trail and one at Ohio Drive, SW in East Potomac Park. In that way it’s really doing the work of two separate bridges.”
Another Bad News/Good News Aspect for DC Cyclists:
“the project will require the demolition of the current pedestrian bridge across Maine [Ave] from the Mandarin [Hotel] to the Anacostia Riverwalk, which I think was named the Rosa Parks Bridge during a contest after it opened ... The current bridge, which opened in 2004, has stairs on the Washington Channel side and isn’t particularly useful.”
A New Bridge Is Necessary Because More Trains Are Coming to DC Soon
The current Long Bridge with its two tracks is inadequate to carry present-day rail traffic. Without improvements to the bridge, like doubling the tracks as proposed, leaves the existing bottleneck to get much worse as more trains approach and leave DC via the crossing. From WTOP:
“Today, there are 34 one-way trips over the bridge each weekday by VRE trains, 24 by Amtrak trains and 18 by CSX freight trains. ... The study projects there could be 92 VRE trips, 8 MARC tips, 44 Amtrak trips and 48 freight trips each day by 2040, which would take significant pressure off traffic-clogged roads such as I-95 and U.S. 1.”
“The additional tracks, which could at least partially be dedicated to passenger rail traffic, would contribute to a long-planned expansion of Amtrak service in Virginia, allow for increased VRE commuter rail service, and potentially smooth discussions about extending some MARC train service that currently ends at Union Station through to Arlington or Alexandria.”
Put another way: the bigger Long Bridge will allow greater goods shipping through DC via rail, as opposed to 18-wheel haulers. That would mean less traffic across the existing auto crossings of the Potomac. Also, increased regional rail for commuters—an important goal of local business and policy groups—is possible because of the two extra tracks.
The Long Bridge Project Has Environmental Funding and Needs Construction Funding
Again, from WTOP:
“The study is funded in part by a federal grant, but it is not yet clear how bridge construction would be paid for or whether the bridge would be publicly or privately owned. More precise cost estimates for construction are still being developed. CSX owns and controls the current bridge. Virginia, D.C. and the rail operators that use the bridge would likely foot parts of the construction bill. They hope federal funding is available to cover at least part of construction, too.”
“The new bridge is projected to take five years to build once construction starts. Final federal approvals for the project are currently expected in early 2020, which would allow for contracting to begin then if funding is available.”
CLICK for Presentation Slides and Poster Boards
CLICK for Long Bridge Project Website