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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A Proposed Bridge Across the Anacostia: Impacts, Pros and Cons

When we are dealing with just one part of a very complicated project, it is important to keep the other pieces in mind and not to get too far ahead of them.

A good example is the new bridge that will cross the Anacostia from Kenilworth Park to the National Arboretum. How and when it is built will impact any number of other projects and issues that will affect other parts of the Anacostia River’s restoration.

We are getting into this a bit late, since the National Capitol Planning Commission, which has authority over such actions on Federal lands scheduled a meeting on the bridge project for November 2, which is in the past for nearly all our readers.

But the Commission is giving 30 days past the meeting date to receive comments; and they should be able to make the minutes of the November 2 meeting available for you to use.

The bridge will be part of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and at least for now will be the only safe river crossing for walkers between Benning Road and Bladensburg. The trails at the other side could go no farther than the Arboretum entrance, or they could turn south to join up with the trail from the south which currently crosses the Benning Road bridge to existing trails on east side of the River.

New trails could also continue north to a potential crossing below the railroad and New York Avenue to connect the Arboretum with the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a trail many have dreamed about for years.   Or the trail could continue under the railroad and Route 50 and run up the west side of the valley to Bladensburg.  The capacity of our new bridge should reflect the likely trail construction for the next few years.

Another set of issues with the new bridge relates to access by official and contract vehicles of the National Park Service.  Providing for such access would mean a design to handle much more weight on the bridge and provide roadways on both sides.  Aside from the visual impact of such roadways next to natural trails near the water, this would require the bridge to be heavier and larger.  If bridge supports are then required in the water, this would add danger for boaters learning how to steer while heading downstream and learning how to avoid obstacles.  It is not clear why vehicle access is required when the Arboretum has vehicular access down to near the water through woods on hidden trails.

Overall, the issues with the bridge are related to the existing  “atmosphere” of the areas on both sides of the Anacostia.  The Arboretum side is essentially a narrow strip of Park Service property along the River which is mostly wild with a dock and a picnic table.

The Kenilworth Park side will be managed by the City with Park Service oversight. The fields will need to undergo some upgrading to become safe athletic areas; augmenting the thin layer of soil used to cover the remnants of the previous trash and chemical disposals.

The potential issues on both sides of the river  are great, so stay abreast of plans for the bridge when they are announced so you can respond to the effects those plans can have in the surrounding areas.

Bill Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River, and the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  He also serves on the board of Friends of the National Arboretum.

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