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Roosevelt Bridge rehab expected to bring new paint job and wider sidewalks

Traffic on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge at the exits for Route 50 and the GW Parkway in 2021 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated on 6/2) Wider sidewalks may be coming to a major Potomac River crossing.

The long-awaited rehabbing of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, one of the main thoroughfares connecting Arlington to D.C., will result in a new paint job, updated overhead lights, and significant widening of sidewalks, a new D.C. Department of Transportation report says.

Later this week, the National Capital Planning Commission will meet to approve a new report that focuses on much-needed repairs and rehabilitation of 58-year-old bridge that carries I-66 traffic over the river.

Plan for expanded sidewalks on the Roosevelt Bridge (via National Capital Planning Commission)

The report calls for the bridge to be repainted to its original white color, as well as for updating the overhead lighting and doubling the sidewalk width for pedestrians on both sides of the bridge. It notes that the current sidewalk widths, varying between four and six feet, “do not meet safety standards.”

Neither do the current barriers separating pedestrians from traffic, which are steel columns that are only a few feet high.

“The existing traffic barriers between the sidewalk and traffic lanes provide minimal protection from pedestrians and do not meet current safety standards,” says the report.

While the bridge is owned, operated, and maintained by DDOT, Arlington County has a significant stake in this rehab project considering that it’s one of the main connectors to D.C.

“TR Bridge has been a subject of discussion between our staff and DDOT for over a decade. Arlington has always strongly advocated for improving pedestrian and bicycle facilities on the TR Bridge,” Arlington County Director of Transportation Dennis Leach told ARLnow. “The existing conditions, both on the north side and south side, are pretty meager and really not up to current standards.”

There are also “long term goals” to further connect the sidewalks to more pedestrian-friendly thoroughfares.

On the north side, the walkway connects the Mount Vernon trail in Rosslyn to the Kennedy Center Reach ramp. However, on the south side, the sidewalk currently does not connect to any trail or pedestrian-accessible walkway. Leach acknowledges that taking the south side walkway from D.C. to Rosslyn the entire way currently ends in a dangerous place.

You end up in the middle of the ramp system between Arlington Boulevard, Route 50, 110, and the Parkway,” he says.

The National Park Service, Arlington County, and the Virginia Department of Transportation are working together to look into the possibility of connecting the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge sidewalk to the Marine Corps War Memorial near Rosslyn, Leach notes.

He also brought up that beyond day-to-day traffic, the Roosevelt Bridge is a particularly important connection between Rosslyn and the National Mall, be it for emergency response or for special events like the Fourth of July. The entire bridge length is about 3,200 feet or about .7 miles, so it is short enough to walk and bike across.

“Currently, the sidewalk infrastructure is insufficient to provide good, safe connections between the National Mall and Rosslyn,” Leach says.

Despite it being unsafe, DDOT tells ARLnow that they are “not aware”of any pedestrian-related incidents or accidents within the bridge sidewalk.

In terms of repainting work that also will be done, that has more to do with “a cohesive aesthetic” than safety.

“Staff recommends that the Commission note that DDOT would repaint all structural steel on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to match its original white color designed to create a cohesive aesthetic between the bridge and nearby monuments and the Arlington Memorial Bridge,” reads the report.

Work isn’t expected to start for awhile, though. The project’s final design phase won’t completed for another year, a DDOT spokesperson writes to ARLnow in an email, until early summer 2023.  At this point, it’s anticipated that construction will begin at the end of 2023 or early 2024 and will take four to five years to complete, the spokesperson said.

However, the sidewalk widening will be among the first elements of the project to be completed and could happen by the end of 2024.

Currently, DDOT is in the midst of “emergency repairs” that has shut down three lanes of traffic through at least June.

Nonetheless, Leach is confident that when the project does happen, the widening of sidewalks and adding better barriers separating pedestrians from traffic on the Roosevelt Bridge will make Arlington a more pedestrian-friendly place.

“We’ve talked about this project for over a decade,” he says. “These long term collaborations actually yield results. And I think this bridge rehab will bring a really good result for the District, Arlington and the region.”

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