The shutdown of DC-295 caused by a bridge collapse Wednesday morning could last through Thursday, D.C.’s deputy mayor for public safety said.
D.C. officials clarified the status of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed onto DC-295 in Northeast D.C., after a truck hit the structure, shutting down a major roadway for thousands of drivers and causing traffic delays.
Officials had said that the bridge on Kenilworth Avenue in Northeast was last inspected in February and no structural concerns were found.
However, in a news conference late Wednesday evening, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Chris Geldart said after speaking with the bridge engineers, it was given a 5 or “fair” rating on a national scale from 0 to 9 in 2019.
In its most recent inspection, it received a 4 or “poor” rating.
“A 4 means that there are some issues with the bridge that it needs to get into our capital projects,” Geldart said. “But it doesn’t mean that anything is gonna, you know, the bridge is gonna fall down with a score of a 4.”
Six other bridges in D.C. have 4 score and need to go through a capital project in order to start repairs or rehabilitations. Geldart said after an afternoon news conference, officials investigated the bridge’s inspection history “deeper” and found the correct rating, but it “doesn’t take into account a truck hitting it.”
“We are on a two-year cycle that we do inspect all our bridges,” Geldart said. “As a bridges need repair, especially as they started getting into disrepair, when we start to get below a 4, then they go into emergency repairs. But in this case, this bridge was rated at a 4 just in May, when the report was completed, so we’re starting to make its way into our capital projects for next year.”
Geldart also said after receiving the incident report from D.C. police, it concluded that a boom truck working at a nearby construction yard got on DC-295 and forgot to lower its boom, which collided with the bridge, causing it to collapse.
The bridge near Lane Place in Northeast, near the Polk Street Service Road exit over Kenilworth Avenue (D.C. 295), collapsed just before noon, the fire department said. Multiple cars were involved in the crash behind the truck; in all, five people were taken to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. Police interviewed the truck driver at the hospital, Geldart said.
Geldart said he believed the clearance of the bridge was 14 feet, and that the truck itself would have been able to pass under it; it’s not known yet whether the load it was carrying was low enough.
The truck leaked diesel fuel, Geldart said; the cleanup crew is working carefully to make sure there aren’t any more leaks. “It may leak some more; there’s only about 20 gallons left in there,” he said.
Geldart said he was confident DC-295 would be fully cleared and reopened by the morning rush, despite originally claiming clean-up would take all day . The city’s transportation department confirmed all lanes were reopened before 2 a.m. Thursday.
TRAFFIC ALERT: DDOT has reopened all lanes of traffic in both directions on DC295 following the crash and subsequent collapse of Bridge 66 over Kenilworth Avenue.
— DDOT DC (@DDOTDC) June 24, 2021
It’s not known how long it will take to rebuild. Crews will examine the area Thursday and start the rebuilding process.
“The entire length of the urban expressway is closed to northbound traffic for the inspections and investigation, while the southbound lanes are closed as far south of Burroughs Avenue,” said Dave Dildine, in the WTOP Traffic Center.
“That’s leading to major delays on New York Avenue through Northeast and Northwest D.C., as well as in the 3rd Street Tunnel,” he added.
More than 100,000 trips a day run through the road, and Northeast D.C. and parts of the Capital Beltway are carrying the load.
“All primary arterials through Northeast will likely be near capacity this afternoon, including Florida Avenue and Bladensburg Road near the Arboretum,” Dildine said. “I would expect noticeably more traffic on the Beltway, especially in Prince George’s County, but also near the American Legion Bridge.”
Plan ahead for Thursday
Traffic neared gridlock status in neighborhoods, such as Brentwood, Trinidad, Ivy City, NoMa and near the National Arboretum on Wednesday. All the more reason to plan ahead for Thursday’s commute, even after DC-295 reopened to traffic.
New York Avenue didn’t work out so well. Traffic on New York Avenue crawled at a snail’s pace for most of Wednesday afternoon between the 3rd Street Tunnel and Kenilworth Avenue.
Further, the displacement of tens of thousands of trips that would normally have taken place on DC-295 led to much heavier traffic on the Capital Beltway Wednesday.
Depending on your destination, Dildine said it may be worth trying Rhode Island Avenue or Benning Road on Thursday. From Benning Road and East Capitol Street, there is southbound access to DC-295.
Alternatively, more people than ever have the option to telework these days, and that may reduce total demand by a small margin and could curb some of the congestion. Working from home or cancelling non-essential appointments on Thursday would be the most effective way to avoid traffic in the area of the bridge collapse.
‘It’s aging infrastructure’
Siraaj Hasan, the chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7D02, told WTOP, “This happened literally at the end of my street; I could see it from my house.”
The bridge is near the Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue Metro stations, and Hasan said it’s popular.
“Many people use the bridge as a walkway to get to and from the Metro,” he said. “It is a very highly utilized bridge.”
He said that he and his neighbors “have been voicing our concerns about the bridge … I mean, it’s aging infrastructure — concrete, cracks in the concrete, rusted steel.”
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said maintenance is often a blind spot.
“Governments are very good at creating new infrastructure, but not so good at coming up with the money to maintain infrastructure after it’s been created,” Mendelson said.
Gail Thurston told WTOP she was getting ready to merge onto Kenilworth Avenue when she saw the collapse, and said the bridge on the southbound side of the road fell to the roadway below.
“I couldn’t tell if anybody was trapped or hurt,” she said. “All I know is, everybody around me who had stopped, we were trying to dial 911 and nobody could get through.”
Geldart said it was fortunate no one was more seriously hurt. “We were very lucky – all of us were today.”
See video of the scene from WTOP’s news partner NBC Washington:
WTOP’s Dave Dildine, José Umaña and Kate Ryan contributed to this report.