- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The roughly 200,000 commuters, tourists and other motorists who each day make the frequent bumper-to-bumper trip into and out of the District of Columbia on New York Avenue Northeast can soon expect their ride to take an extra 30 minutes.

D.C. road crews for the next two years will be working on a $40 million renovation to the New York Avenue Bridge, which spans freight, Amtrak and other commuter and commercial rails using Union Station.

“New York Avenue will look like New York,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Crews started the project in fall 2010 but will begin a full-scale operation next month on the 800-yard stretch of New York Avenue Northeast from Florida Avenue to Penn Street, according to the D.C. Department of Transportation.

New York Avenue is the major gateway from Interstate 95, which connects the District to the suburban homes of thousands of commuters as well as Baltimore, Philadelphia and other East Coast cities.

City officials said motorists can expect additional delays of 15 to 30 minutes as traffic squeezes through four lanes instead of six.

The renovation project will be paid through the Obama administration’s taxpayer-funded American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The roadwork is scheduled to begin April 25 on the eastbound lanes, cutting the number of inbound lanes from three to two. In the next phase, the westbound lanes will be cut from three to two. In the final work phase, east and westbound routes will be cut to two lanes.

“There’s no other way to do it,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “I don’t want to understate the impact. … There will be backups and it will take you significantly longer.”

Mr. Townsend winced at the thought of more gridlock but seemed resigned to the situation, considering the bridge desperately needs repairs.

The bridge is on the federal government’s fractured critical list, which means the whole structure could topple if its underpinnings were seriously damaged. Crews will fix the road surface, underside and sidewalks.

“We knew it was coming,” Mr. Townsend said Wednesday. “But smack dab in the middle of the worst gridlock of the nation? That’s regrettable.”

The District is listed annually among U.S. cities with the worst traffic — and 2010 was no exception. Traffic information provider INRIX this month ranked D.C. traffic as the fourth worst, behind Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The worst time to travel D.C. roads is during the Thursday evening commute, according to the group’s National Traffic Scoreboard.

“You are going to have some real headaches,” said WTOP Radio traffic reporter Adam Tuss. “All you have to do is drive down New York Avenue once during rush hour to get a feel for how congested it really is. Add this project in the mix, and it’s going to get even uglier.”

City officials have suggested several alternate routes, but more vehicles on smaller or more residential streets creates other potential problems.

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