Arlington, VA

The project has been nearly 20 years in the making, but VDOT has finally nailed down rough a construction schedule for the Washington Boulevard bridge over Columbia Pike.

At a community meeting on Tuesday, VDOT project manager Christiana Briganti-Dunn said land acquisition and construction is expected to begin this spring and will be complete by Aug. 2015. The $51.5 million project is being paid for primarily with federal and state funds, although Arlington is expected to contribute about $1 million for utility relocation and upgrades.

The project will replace the crumbling Washington Boulevard bridge, which dates back to the 1940s, and replace it with a new, wider span that will be dubbed the Freedman’s Village Bridge, in honor of the enclave of freed slaves that was established nearby in 1863 and remained until the 1890s.

The new, wider bridge will allow a turn lane to be placed in between the four existing lanes of Columbia Pike. It will also allow for a 10-foot mixed-use path next to the westbound lanes, and the possible future addition of dedicated bicycle lanes. The design of the bridge was elevated by couple of inches to accommodate the planned Columbia Pike streetcar, Briganti-Dunn added.

Another planned change is the addition of two traffic lights on Columbia Pike, at the intersection with two sets of reconfigured Washington Boulevard ramps. The intersection of S. Quinn Street and Columbia Pike will be reconfigured as a one-way only entrance into the Arlington View neighborhood, and the traffic light there will be moved to the intersection of Columbia Pike and N. Queen Street, where reconfigured ramps onto and off of eastbound Washington Boulevard will converge.

On the northwest side of the new interchange, a 15-20 foot sound wall will be installed. The size of the barrier, and the loss of trees along its path, drew some criticism at Tuesday’s meeting, though engineers argued that it was the only feasible way to keep highway noise out of a nearby condo complex. VDOT promised to preserve or replant trees, where possible, and touted the addition of two storm water management ponds next to the new ramps as a plus, environmentally.

One thing that won’t be changing is the “time of day lane use” on eastbound Columbia Pike. Briganti-Dunn said that VDOT expects to maintain the use of the righthand eastbound lane as a right-turn only lane onto Washington Boulevard during the morning rush hour. However, the agency plans to replace the current small, easy-to-miss lane restriction signs with lighted, dynamic lane signs. It’s hoped that the new signs will help make the accident-prone ramp safer.

During construction, traffic disruptions will be kept to a minimum for Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard drivers, Briganti-Dunn said. All travel lanes will be kept clear during the morning and evening rush hours, and drivers will only have to put up with intermittent lane closures during the long construction process. During certain construction and demolition stages — during off-peak hours — Columbia Pike traffic will be redirected up the existing northbound ramps to a four-way traffic signal that will be placed on Washington Boulevard. Briganti-Dunn said the traffic light, when it’s in place, is not expected to significantly reduce the capacity of either thoroughfare.

No local street detours are planned, and no homes will need to be torn down to make way for the reconfigured interchange, Briganti-Dunn said.

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