Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Bridge That Takes Forever

Two weeks ago , I joined my colleagues on a boat tour of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project which is currently one the major highway projects in the State of Maryland. The original bridge over the Potomac river, completed in 1961 was supposed to reach its design capacity of 75, 000 vehicles per day over the next twenty years. However it surpassed its design capacity in just eight years and now carries 195, 000 vehicles per day and is expected to carry about 295, 000 vehicles per day by 2020. Part of the problem is the fact that the southbound section of I-95 merges into this part of the Capital Beltway, adding way more traffic than originally envisioned. So, you regular commuters in the Washington Metropolitan Area, the next time you hear "the Inner Loop of the Beltway is slow from St. Barnabas Road to the Telegraph Road Interchange" over the airwaves, remember these numbers.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project is supposed to alleviate some of this congestion by:
  • Widening the bridge - more lanes
  • Increasing the height of the bridge - decreasing the number of bridge openings (for high masted boats/ships) from 250 to 65 a year.
  • Reconstruction of the interchanges at US Route 1, I-295, MD 210 and Telegraph Road
In addition to the congestion relief, this project will also provide a pedestrian and bicycle facility to connect to parks on both sides of the Potomac River. Now, we all know that the daily commuter is not going to get out his/her car and traipse down the pedestrian walkway into DC, but it is a good start. Given the amount of development in the National Harbour region one can only hope that the pedestrian and bicycle path gets as much, if not more, use than the vehicle travelway.
You can find a lot of this information here, if like me, you are interested in the facts, figures and general construction type trivia. However the best part of this trip was not about the numbers, it was in seeing the George - the resident bald eagle, soar above the construction site. That little dark patch in the "crotch of the tree"* is his nest. You can read more about George and his family here. It just goes to prove that all development need not be ecologically destructive and that we can forge relationships with others in our ecosystem and create new balances.

Here's another little tit bit of information. The Potomac River, you see is rather shallow, infact during our one hour trip, our tour boat struck sandbars on three separate occassions. So in order to get the floating construction equipment to safely access locations where the bridge foundations were to be built, a significant amount of dredging was required. Now, what do you do with this muck (an estimated 600,000 cubic yards of it) that you have dredged? Well, remember your history class and all that stuff about the Nile River Delta being so fertile and becoming the cradle of, there's your answer. You dump close to 345, 000 cubic yards of fertile river muck onto the grounds of the historic Shirley Plantation at Weanack in Charles City, VA. With this new uber fertile top soil, the site is reclaimed for its historic use - agriculture and the site produces bumper corn and bean crops. As Michael Scott would say, its a win-win-win.

*the tour guide's choice of words, not mine.


Cacophoenix said...

Wow! That sounded totally geeky and absolutely fun. There is some similar trouble brewing with one of the bridges here in NY across the Hudson. The bridge is at the widest portion of the hudson and is posing quite the problem. Tappan Zee Bridge in case you were wondering. Maybe you can sail in for a look huh? ;-)

M (tread softly upon) said...

"the Inner Loop of the Beltway is slow from St. Barnabas Road to the Telegraph Road Interchange"
Now I'm going to scream...........

PS BTW congrats to "the boy" for graduating and getting the awesomest job :) I know i'm about 6 months late but I just found out.