By Leslie Green
Partially completed V-piers with rebar; Courtesy of Norman Jones

For nearly seven decades, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge has connected neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River with the U.S. Capitol and downtown corridor. Also known as the South Capitol Street Bridge, this iconic bridge, named after abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass, carries more than 70,000 commuters daily. Now past its useful lifespan, a reconstruction project is underway to replace the aging structure and further support the ongoing revitalization of the Anacostia Waterfront.

The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge project, which will include reconstruction of the Suitland Parkway/I-295 interchange, is the largest public infrastructure project in the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) history. For more than a decade, planning efforts have been underway to transform the South Capitol Street corridor into a grand urban boulevard that meets the needs of residents and visitors, while redefining its function as one of the prominent gateways into the District.

The bridge’s iconic new design will feature four pedestrian overlooks, three above-deck arches, and two piers designed to appear as if they are floating on the river. The new bridge will have six vehicle lanes as well as improved infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians. Traffic ovals will bookend the signature bridge and complete the sense of traveling along a grand urban boulevard, interconnecting with their surroundings through urban open spaces and walkways. These modifications are expected to allow traffic to circulate seamlessly to and from either side of the Anacostia River.

“The modern, one-of-a-kind design of the bridge is reflective of other existing arch bridges in the District of Columbia and will provide waterfront visitors with unobstructed views of the river,” stated Joseph Dorsey, DDOT Project Manager.

Partially completed V-piers with construction crane; Courtesy of Norman Jones

The reconstruction effort includes construction of several new features that include: 

  • a new traffic oval west of the bridge connecting South Capitol Street, Potomac Avenue SE/SW, and Q Street SW;
  • a new traffic oval east of the bridge connecting South Capitol Street, Suitland Parkway, Anacostia Drive access road, and Howard Road SE; 
  • realignment of South Capitol Street from Firth Sterling Avenue SE to the east oval; and
  • reconfiguration of Interstate I-295 Interchange with Firth Sterling Avenue SE, Suitland Parkway, and Howard Road SE.

As part of the reconstruction effort, DDOT will also introduce green infrastructure improvements that include implementing stormwater management systems, which will provide water quality treatment and runoff retention along all roadways currently untreated prior to reaching the Anacostia River. Additionally, green areas on each side of the bridge will provide space for community activities.

“The project has implemented measures to treat all stormwater runoff to improve water quality and more than 55 acres of landscaping to beautify and improve the environment. Additionally, we are adding approximately 3.2 miles of bike trails and pedestrian paths within the project limits, which are all intended to enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors to the District of Columbia,” stated Errol Williams, DDOT Project Engineer.

Valued at approximately $440 million, this project is creating new jobs for District residents and new opportunities for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs). Since the design phase of the project was initiated, 45 DBEs have been awarded contracts to work on the project and nearly a third of those businesses are based in the District. Further, more than 100 District residents, 63 of whom reside in Wards 7 and 8, have been hired to work on the project, and nearly 20 more District residents have participated in the project’s On-The-Job Training Program. Construction on the new bridge began in early spring of 2018 and will continue through 2021. At this time, construction is approximately 25% complete, with the first arches expected to be erected this fall—a major milestone for the project.

“The entire project team and DDOT are looking forward to the erection of the first arches. This will give the community a reason to take notice and get a better understanding of the project’s impact on the District,” stated Joseph Dorsey.The existing bridge will sit 20 feet away from the new bridge and will remain in operation until the new bridge is completed in late 2021. For more information on construction progress and how you can better plan your commute during construction, visit for more information.

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