- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

The public got an up-close progress report yesterday on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project when officials hosted boat tours of the new construction along the Potomac River.

Hundreds of curious residents lined up at Alexandria City Marina for an opportunity to see the massive bridge-replacement project, which has slowed traffic in the region to a crawl on several occasions.

“It’s like a ‘thank-you,’ to the public, because most of them live within the construction area and experience it on a daily basis,” said project spokeswoman Michelle Holland. “It’s primarily to let them learn about the construction and see it firsthand.”

On one of the four, hour-long tours, Charles Graham, 53, of Fort Washington, marveled at the new bridge while girlfriend Carolyn Watson, 47, snapped photos.

“I’m glad we came,” said Mr. Graham, who learned of the tours via a community newsletter. “From an engineering perspective, it’s amazing … just thinking about the amount of engineering they had to put into it, watching them pour the concrete, it was interesting.”

Mr. Graham said he generally avoids the area because of the frequent and lengthy backups near the bridge.

“I live right on the other side of the bridge,” he said. “Instead of coming across the bridge, we came through town because we didn’t know how bad traffic was going to be. We try to avoid that at all costs.”

Ms. Holland said motorists shouldn’t expect significant traffic-congestion relief around the bridge until at least 2008, when construction on the northbound span — the Capital Beltway’s Inner Loop — is scheduled for completion.

The southbound span is scheduled to open in mid-2006, Ms. Holland said. The existing bridge will be demolished once both spans are finished.

The new bridge is just part of a 7-mile road-and-bridge project that includes approaching highways of Route 1 and Telegraph Road in Northern Virginia and Interstate 295 and Indian Head Highway in Maryland.

The entire project is estimated to cost $2.43 billion and is scheduled to be completed by 2011.

“One thing we’re proud of is that the project is on time and on budget,” said Jim Ruddell, the project’s construction manager.

Mr. Ruddell, who was the tour guide yesterday, said traffic has woefully outgrown the capacity of the bridge.

“The operation of the bridge has become a choke point in the area,” he said.

He said the bridge also has an accident rate twice as high as other bridges crossing the Potomac River.

The new bridge will have shoulders for disabled vehicles and emergency stopping, which will help ease congestion, Mr. Ruddell said.

The new bridge will be 70 feet above water, 20 feet higher than the old bridge. Mr. Ruddell said the bridge will open about 65 times a year, instead of more than 200 as it does now, which will cut back on delays.

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