When officials announced last spring that the New York Avenue Bridge would undergo two years of major reconstruction, people on both sides of the orange barrels braced for traffic disaster.
One year later, with the rehabilitation of the Northeast bridge about to reach a scheduling milestone and skeptical critics gone silent, transportation officials are hopeful the worry was nothing more than an exercise in overpreparedness.
“The disaster people expected didn’t happen,” said Ali Shakeri, D.C. Department of Transportation program manager for projects in wards 5 and 6. “We advertised really wide and provided alternate routes for people. We marked traffic really good, and we tried educating people ahead of time.”
Crews this month are expected to complete the backbone of the structure’s northern side, after which the driving surface can be laid and the westbound lanes reopened. The northern section of bridge is scheduled to be finished by late September and officials hope to finish the entire $40 million project by 2013.
DDOT began advertising potential effects of the project - including a projected 30 minutes of extra commuting time - weeks before full-scale construction began.
The Great Mount Calvary Baptist Church, blocks from a designated detour on Rhode Island Avenue, was one of many organizations that learned it would likely see more traffic.
Last year, church elder Ron Allen said he worried about the pedestrians attempting to cross at a nearby intersection with added traffic.
“New York Avenue didn’t turn to be as bad as everyone anticipated,” Mr. Allen said recently. “I didn’t notice on our street any substantial change in traffic.”
Even AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II, who called the plan “regrettable,” changed his mind.
“This was not the troll under the bridge we were dreading,” Mr. Townsend said. “Despite the serpentine lane changes and the nighttime construction work, the project did not live up to all the hype about a nightmarish scenario.”
Drivers might have seen little hardship during their commutes, but for project workers, it’s been a lot of hard work.
As a part of a D.C. commuter artery, the century-old structure not only supports about 75,000 vehicles each day, it also spans nine train tracks and anchors high-voltage wires for Metro’s subway lines.
On a recent weekday, Mr. Shakeri surveyed the bridge from a small, wooden platform built alongside the bridge that overlooks the construction.
Behind him, midday traffic hummed past, while below, Metro trains sped in and out of downtown.
The New York Avenue Bridge’s substructure was built in 1906. In the mid-1960s, workers widened the bridge, and about 10 years ago DDOT decided the bridge needed an overhaul so it could safely support the growing number of vehicles traversing it.
Originally the plan had been to replace the bridge, but that idea was scrapped when planners realized it would take an extra $1 million and another year of construction to remove all of the electrical wires associated with Metrorail.
Mr. Shakeri said the plan was modified to focus on the bridge’s substructure, “make it better than the original,” and build a new superstructure using existing parts of the bridge to help lower costs and construction time.
The superstructure, Mr. Shakeri said, is “what’s underneath your tires.”
Full-scale construction began in April 2011, and workers are on the job 24 hours a day. At any given time, between 20 and 25 people are working on the bridge. They regularly pause their work to allow trains to go by.
“It’s like building a house working only a few hours a day,” Mr. Shakeri said.