- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

The D.C. Department of Transportation this week will begin rebuilding the city’s oldest bridge — the 173-year-old Wisconsin Avenue span over the C&O; Canal in Georgetown.

Traffic around the site — near the almost-completed road construction on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW — will be “substantially restricted” during the 12-month rebuilding project, said Bill Rice, spokesman for the Transportation Department.

Northbound traffic will be limited to one lane, and southbound vehicles will be detoured to 29th, 30th and 31st streets NW.

Work will be ongoing from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Signs will be posted throughout Georgetown to direct motorists around the construction.

The rebuilding project is needed to improve the bridge’s structural soundness to allow heavy trucks to cross while preserving its historic integrity, Mr. Rice said.

The Wisconsin Avenue Bridge, once called the High Street Bridge, is the only surviving structure of five stone spans in Georgetown built by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company, circa 1831. It crosses the C&O; Canal on the southeast corner of Georgetown.

The other four bridges were replaced after 1867 to allow large boats to pass under them.

A 4-foot-high stone obelisk, dated 1850, stands on the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge’s north end, marking the “completion monument” for the canal.

The bridges were considered works of art by canal designers and likely were designed by Benjamin Wright, chief engineer for the C&O; Canal Company and hailed the “father” of American civil engineering, according to the Transportation Department.

The historic Wisconsin Avenue Bridge was constructed with rocks from the same quarry used for the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

“It is my impression that we are not replacing any of the stones. We are just strengthening them,” Mr. Rice said.

Contractors will use a new technique, called the architect method, to buttress the bridge. The technique involves the accurate placement of stainless-steel anchors in cored holes within the masonry arch, according to the Transportation Department.

The bridge’s original wrought-iron railings, as well as the retaining walls, also will be rehabilitated and restored.

“We are very proud of the work we are doing,” Mr. Rice said.

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