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DC Frederick Douglass Bridge Breaks Ground

Friday, February 16, 2018

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Despite criticism of its design from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts late last year, the new Frederick Douglass Bridge is on its way to becoming a reality in Washington, D.C., after a groundbreaking event Tuesday.

Frederick Douglass Bridge rendering
Renderings courtesy of DDOT

The new Frederick Douglass Bridge will feature three steel arches and will span the Anacostia River.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a number of Congressional representatives, along with D.C. Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian and the Federal Highway Administration’s Christopher Lawson, held the ceremony, which kicked off construction for the $441 million project, the largest in DDOT history.

About the Project

The project will involve the construction of a new steel arch bridge on concrete piers, replacing the 68-year-old steel swing Frederick Douglass Bridge, which spans the Anacostia River between I-295 and Nationals Park, home of D.C.’s Major League Baseball team. South Capitol Bridgebuilders—a joint venture involving Archer Western Construction LLC (Walsh Group) and Granite Construction Co., with AECOM serving as designer.

The contractor did not immediately respond to a request for information about painting subcontracts, but the project website indicates that subcontracting opportunities related to the painting of both steel and concrete elements of the structure still exist.

Design Controversy

The new bridge’s current design was unveiled last August, four years after an initial design came under harsh criticism for its appearance. The CFA, a federal agency that oversees D.C.’s aesthetics, called the original simple arch design “uninspired.”

The revised design, with its more dramatic through-arch approach, was submitted to the agency for its input last fall, and CFA chair Thomas E. Luebke responded with a letter questioning the “appropriateness” of the design “within the context of this city, whose bridges are typically supported from below, allowing expansive views of the urban context from the roadway above.”

Frederick Douglass Bridge rendering

The Commission on Fine Arts initially questioned the revised design but ultimately approved it.

While that October letter suggested possibly changing the design from three sets of arches to five, in November, the CFA ultimately approved the three-arch design, suggesting, however, that the proportions of the arches be changed.

The seven-member CFA does not have the power to officially approve or deny the structure’s construction, but its response to the design could have had implications for federal funding, which makes up nearly half of the total cost of the project.

The current Frederick Douglass Bridge, considered to be functionally obsolete, has suffered considerable corrosion over the years, and rarely opens for oversized river traffic. It underwent a $27 million rehab in 2007 in order to extend its life until a replacement bridge could be designed and built.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Contractors; Design; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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