District residents are jubilant over the opening of the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge over the Anacostia River that will serve as a direct link between Wards 6 and 8.
“This is a beautiful day for our city,” D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), said in front of a crowd of dozens of people that included D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, members of the D.C. Council, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and descendants of Frederick Douglass, in the middle of the bridge at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 7.
“We knew Frederick Douglass. We know he was from Maryland but he came here to D.C. and chose to stay in D.C. As Wanda Lockridge would say, he was a ‘Ward8onian’. As this being a bridge, Frederick Douglass was known as a connector.”
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) joined in the praise of the opening of the bridge, saying “rivers divide but bridges unite” and “great cities have great bridges.”
The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge operates as a swing bridge — with a center span that pivots to allow ship traffic — that carries South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River. Originally built in 1950, it was named after Douglass in 1965. At the time, it stood as one of the only bridges in the country named for an African American.
Over time, the original bridge withstood increased traffic patterns from the residents east of the Anacostia and the Maryland suburbs as well as the wear-and-tear of the rainstorms, snowstorms and heatwaves, plus constant repair and expansion.
In 2007, 77,000 commuters used the bridge daily. The effort to build the replacement bridge started in 2012. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser provided funding in the city’s budget for six years. The overall cost of the bridge comes to $440 million, according to acting Director of the Department of Transportation Everett Lott. The original bridge will be deconstructed, with that process finalized in March 2022, Lott said.
The New Bridge
The new bridge will be 1,600 feet long and is studded with three sets of parallel white arches. The bridge will have six traffic lanes and a joint bicycle-pedestrian path on either side of it. At both ends of the bridge, an esplanade runs under the bridge and along the Anacostia River adjacent to a community park.
It consisted of the reconstruction of the Suitland Parkway/I-295 Interchange. Formal construction began in the summer of 2017 and it is expected to be fully operational in Spring 2022. However, Bowser said the bridge will be open for traffic on Sept. 10. It is the biggest construction project in the District’s history, Bowser said, employing about 1,300 workers and involving minority and women-owned businesses at the level of $91 million in contracting.
New Bridge is Praised
Sandy Allen, a lifelong resident of Ward 8 who represented it on the council from 1996-2005, said the new bridge reflects some of the ward’s history.
“I remember when the first bridge was built in 1950 and we who lived east of the river were so happy to see it,” Allen said. “Before then, we had to use the 11th Street bridge to get to the other side of the city and that bridge was raggedy and run-down. We were so happy with our South Capitol Street bridge and naturally we were overjoyed when it was named after Frederick Douglass.”
Allen served on the D.C. Council with Frank Smith, who represented Ward 1 from 1983-1999. Smith works as the founding executive director of the African American Civil War Memorial in the Shaw neighborhood, but stressed the importance of coming across the city to celebrate the new bridge.
“This is a great symbol for Anacostia and the city,” Smith said. “This bridge is very appropriate for Frederick Douglass. Even though I represented Ward 1 I care about the whole city. Frederick Douglass stood up for all of us. He had two sons who fought on the Union side of the Civil War and was a true Washingtonian who believed everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.”
Troy Prestwood, an Anacostia resident who has served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner and presently chairs the Ward 8 Democrats, said the new bridge will be an economic stimulant to his neighborhood.
“The construction of the bridge has brought jobs to our community,” Prestwood said. “The bridge connects Ward 8 to the rest of the city, particularly Ward 6. The two wards are different demographically and economically. The multiple modality of the bridge where one can drive, walk and run brings the two wards together and will boost economic development on both sides of the Anacostia.”
Kevin Douglass Greene, a resident of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and a great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, applauded District residents for honoring his ancestor.
“This is a great honor for the family,” Greene said. “My great-grandfather used to come across the river to go to the U.S. Capitol and back. This bridge is a great symbol of what my great-grandfather stood for.”