- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2010

What moves almost as slowly as motorists caught in the Washington rush hour on the George Washington Memorial Parkway?

A rebuilding project on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The Humpback Bridge reconstruction will take more than three years at least, longer than it took to build the enormous Delaware Memorial Bridge suspension span using technologies of the 1950s.

An AAA spokesman said the Federal Highway Administration is taking far too long to rebuild the tiny bridge on the picturesque road.

The Humpback Bridge work “is taking an inordinate amount of time to complete, and certainly every day that they’re working on it is another inconvenient day for a lot of motorists,” AAA spokesman Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson said.

But a highway administration spokesman said that while the Humpback Bridge is small, the reconstruction project is more complex than it might appear because of the need to preserve the stone facade seen from the Potomac River.

“This is an extremely complicated bridge project,” spokesman Doug Hecox said.

“Balancing historical requirements, maintaining traffic flow in a confined space, and unforeseen complications - such as hiring a special contractor to remove World War II-era ammunition, difficulties relocating Pepco power lines, and this winter’s unusually heavy snows - caused the delays,” Mr. Hecox said.

Mr. Anderson said he speaks not just as an advocate for the public, but as a motorist who has been caught several times in huge traffic backups approaching the Humpback Bridge, just north of Interstate 395 near the 14th Street Bridge.

The slow pace of progress on the bridge project is intensified by what Mr. Anderson sees as a failure to maintain reasonable traffic flow at the work site, measured against other major regional highway projects that involved traffic delays.

“I’m no engineer, but the Humpback Bridge doesn’t seem to be a major engineering challenge,” he said. One would hope the construction team “would get in and out and try to minimize traffic disruption.”

Efforts to maintain traffic flow were far more successful for the immense and complex Springfield Interchange and Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement projects, Mr. Anderson said.

“Are we seeing the same kind of concern about traffic disruption here [on the Humpback Bridge project] and haste to complete the project?” he asked rhetorically. “It certainly doesn’t appear to be that way.”

From the highway administration’s perspective, however, those other projects are not comparable to the Humpback Bridge work because contractors don’t have the large spaces needed to build traffic detours, as existed at the Springfield Interchange and the Wilson Bridge. Instead, they have to work in a constrained area between the Potomac River and a marina.

The Humpback Bridge reconstruction has been a long slog for parkway motorists.

Work began the week of Jan. 7, 2008, and isn’t expected to be completed until perhaps mid-June. The modernization work on the little stone-facade bridge, built in 1932, earlier was scheduled to be finished late this year.

Work on the original Delaware Memorial Bridge began Feb. 1, 1949, and wrapped up Aug. 16, 1951, a bit more than 2 1/2 years. It connects Delaware and New Jersey. The 2,150-foot center span is high enough for oceangoing ships to pass beneath it. The Humpback Bridge spans water (Boundary Channel) only about as wide as a creek frequented by cabin cruisers and other boats docking at the Columbia Island marina.

The Humpback Bridge, originally a 100-foot span, is being lengthened to 244 feet. The original Delaware Memorial Bridge is 3,650 feet (about seven-tenths of a mile, not counting approaches that make the total facility roughly two miles long) with towers soaring 417 feet high, hooked to about 12,000 miles of wire for the immense cables supporting the crossing.

When the project is finished, the Humpback Bridge will have a merge lane for traffic exiting the southbound 14th Street Bridge onto the northbound parkway. Motorists will have more visibility ahead, reducing the chance of rear-end collisions. Also, a barrier will separate fast-moving vehicles from hikers, bikers and joggers crossing the Humpback Bridge.

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