Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge

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Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge
Frederick Douglass Bridge construction 2020h.jpg
The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge under construction in 2020, with the old bridge behind it
Coordinates38°52′08″N 77°00′19″W / 38.8688°N 77.0052°W / 38.8688; -77.0052
CarriesSouth Capitol Street
CrossesAnacostia River
LocaleWashington, D.C.
Official nameFrederick Douglass Memorial Bridge
Other name(s)South Capitol Street Bridge
Construction end1950
Underside of the swing span in 2018

The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge (formerly known as the South Capitol Street Bridge) is a swing bridge that carries South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. It was built in 1950 and in 1965 named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass.[1] In 2007, the bridge was used by 77,000 daily commuters.

Original bridge[edit]

Opening day on the South Capitol Street Bridge.

The bridge opened on January 14, 1950 as the South Capitol Street Bridge, though it had previously been called the Victory Bridge by Captain H.C. Whitehurst, the District Director of Highways, because it was the first project started after the war ended.[2] At the time it was the longest bridge in the District of Columbia and one of the longest swing bridges in the world. Work on the bridge began in 1945, being advertised 2 weeks after World War II ended, but was stalled in 1947 for four months while the District asked Congress for more money.[3]

What to name the bridge had been a question since before it opened, with people all over the world sending in suggestions. The leading ideas in 1950 were FDR, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and Herbert Hoover and Frederick Douglass.[4] One idea suggested in 1950 was Walter Johnson, which would have been prescient since the baseball stadium would be built at the foot of the bridge more than 50 years later. But it was only Douglass who was the subject of an organized movement that submitted a petition with 250 names.[5] It took 14 years, but in 1964 the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations requested that the bridge be named the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge and on October 18, 1965 the District's Commissioners voted to name it so, making it both one of the first major bridges named for an African-American or a former slave.[6][7]

The bridge connects at its southern terminus with Interstate 295 and the Suitland Parkway and thus provides access to downtown from those routes as well as from South Capitol Street and roads connecting to it. As a result, the bridge carries commuter traffic from Prince George's County, Maryland, and from Southern Maryland. The bridge is part of the National Highway System, as are South Capitol Street north of the bridge and the Suitland Parkway.

The bridge provides a gateway to a former industrial part of the city that was heavily developed in the early 21st century, including the area around the new Nationals Park for the Washington Nationals, which opened March 30, 2008.

The bridge was re-decked and widened in 1975–1978 to repair damage, build new approaches and to create room for a 5th lane that would be bus-only in the rush hour direction. The work also narrowed the sidewalks.[8][9] In 1988, the swing gate was replaced and as a result of closures the bus-only lane became an all-user lane again.[10][11] In 2007, the bridge was closed from July 6 to August 29 for a $27 million renovation project meant to extend its life for 20 years.[12] The northernmost portion of the bridge was lowered to become an at‑grade roadway with a new intersection at South Capitol Street and Potomac Avenue. Nearly three blocks of elevated roadway, which blocked access across South Capitol Street, were removed and replaced with at‑grade intersections that will help knit the neighborhood together. The deck was once again replaced and resurfaced, and new street lights and guard rails were added.

Despite these repairs, the bridge continued to deteriorate faster than maintenance could keep up. Inspectors found that the bridges beams had large corrosion holes in its structural beams which necessitated complete replacement of the bridge.[13]

Replacement bridge[edit]

Map of the proposed realigned Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge and new traffic ovals.

In late 2012, officials announced a $906 million plan to replace and realign the bridge. The project will build new interchanges between the bridge and Suitland Parkway, the bridge and Potomac Avenue SW, Suitland Parkway and Interstate 295, and Suitland Parkway and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. The current four-lane bridge will be replaced with a $573.8 million six-lane bridge. A traffic circle with a large field (to be used for public gatherings, and suitable for several new memorials) will connect the north end of the bridge with Potomac Avenue SW. A second massive traffic oval on the south end of the bridge will help connect it to Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, and help expand the city's "monumental core" into Anacostia. Reconstruction of the two interchanges was estimated to cost $209.2 million. The remainder of the budgeted funds will help renovate New Jersey Avenue SE and turn South Capitol Street from an industrial corridor into an urban boulevard. The two-year project was to begin in 2013.[14]

An initial bridge design was submitted to the National Capital Planning Commission and the United States Commission of Fine Arts in summer 2013. The CFA rejected the design in September, called it "uninspired". The agency asked for a design with a more "contemporary approach" and "bolder look".[15]

On January 29, 2014, the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced the four construction teams that will be asked to solicit final bids on the bridge demolition and construction:

The cost of the bridge (which included demolition and construction of the bridge and traffic ovals, but not the Suitland Parkway interchange) was now pegged at $608 million.[15] The new bridge also required the removal of USS Barry (DD-933), the Washington Navy Yard's deteriorating museum ship, which would have been landlocked by construction of the new span.[16] Mayor Muriel Bowser budgeted $512.7 million over six years, beginning in fiscal 2016, to begin building the bridge.[17]

Artist's Impression of the replacement Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge


Beginnings of new bridge construction in 2019
Construction of the arch spans in June 2020

On August 7, 2017, DDOT chose South Capitol Bridge Builders as the contractor team to design and build the new bridge and ovals. The bridge will have six lanes as well as bicycle and pedestrian access. Anacostia Drive was permanently closed under the bridge and access to it from South Capitol Street and Suitland Parkway was curtailed.[18] In 2017, South Capitol Bridge Builders estimated that, if all went well, construction should be finished in December 2021.[19]

DDOT unveiled the new design for the bridge on August 10, 2017. The design is for a 1,600-foot (490 m) long[20] suspension bridge consisting of three sets of parallel white arches. The bridge will have six traffic lanes, and a joint bicycle-pedestrian path on either side of the bridge deck. At both ends of the bridge there will be an esplanade run under the bridge and along the Anacostia River as well as a community park.[13]


The bridge is the biggest public works project in the history of the District of Columbia,[20][21] and employed more than 1,300 workers at the height of construction.[13] The federal government contributed more than $200 million towards the bridge's cost.[20] In 2019 cost of just the bridge was estimated at $480 million.[21]

Work began on the bridge in 2018, in sync with the commemoration of the bicentennial of Fredrick Douglass' birth.[13] It was half finished in 2019, with completion expected in 2021.[21] In a news release in February 2021, Mayor Bowser announced an opening date on October 1st.[22]


  1. ^ "S. Capitol Span Honors Douglass". The Washington Post. 19 October 1965.
  2. ^ "Work to Begin in 60 Days On $4,500,000 Anacostia Span". The Washington Post. 26 August 1945.
  3. ^ Lyons, Richard (15 January 1950). "South Capitol Bridge Opens; Can Carry 50,000 Cars Daily". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ "'Roosevelt' Leading as Bridge Name". The Washington Post. 12 January 1950.
  5. ^ Lyons, Richard (21 April 1950). "53 Names Suggested For Bridge". The Washington Post.
  6. ^ "City Weighs Naming Span For Douglass". The Washington Post. 18 July 1964.
  7. ^ "City Weighs Naming Span For Douglass". The Washington Post. 18 October 1965.
  8. ^ "Douglass Bridge Widening To Bring One-Way Traffic". The Washington Post. 15 September 1975.
  9. ^ "At Last - South Capitol Street Bridge Operating Both Ways". The Evening Star. 4 July 1978.
  10. ^ "Bridgework". The Washington Post. 2 August 1988.
  11. ^ "Bridge Delay Either Way". The Washington Post. 8 December 1989.
  12. ^ Schrank, Delphine (August 29, 2007). "Revamped Douglass Bridge to Reopen Tomorrow". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  13. ^ a b c d Lazo, Luz (August 10, 2017). "D.C. unveils plans for new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  14. ^ Halsey III, Ashley. "Decaying D.C. Bridge Reflects State of Thousands of Such Structures Nationwide." Washington Post. December 31, 2012, accessed 2013-01-27; "Rebuilding Bridges in the District." Washington Post. December 31, 2012, accessed 2013-01-27.
  15. ^ a b Neibauer, Michael. "Four Teams Shortlisted for $608M D.C. Bridge Project." Washington Business Journal. January 30, 2014. Accessed 2014-01-30.
  16. ^ Eckstein, Megan (19 October 2015). "Washington Navy Yard Says Goodbye to Display Ship Barry". United States Naval Institute. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  17. ^ Neibauer, Michael (April 7, 2015). "New building, new debt and crazy housing prices: A dive into D.C.'s 2016 budget proposal". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  18. ^ "Detoured Access to Anacostia Park". National Park Service. 2019. Archived from the original on June 15, 2019.
  19. ^ Clabaugh, Jeff (July 31, 2017). "DC chooses contractors for new Douglass Memorial Bridge project". WTOP. Retrieved August 7, 2017.
  20. ^ a b c Neibauer, Michael (August 10, 2017). "The biggest public works project in D.C. history has a new design, set timeline and a team to build it". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  21. ^ a b c Lazo, Luz (May 20, 2019). "New Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge is midway to completion". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ ""Mayor Bowser Celebrates Frederick Douglass' Birthday by Announcing October 1 as Opening Date for His Namesake Bridge"". Archived from the original on February 22, 2021.

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