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Ribbon Cut on District’s Biggest Modern Infrastructure Project

September 7, 2021 by Dan McCue
Photo by Jonathan Williams.

WASHINGTON — District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton were among the dignitaries who joined descendants of civil rights icon Frederick Douglass for the opening of the new bridge named in his honor.

A two-day celebration of the new bridge kicked off Monday with a 5k run/walk attended by an estimated 4,000 people. The event was immediately followed by a “community day” on the bridge deck featuring music, food and even a pop-up vaccination site.

Tuesday’s events featured musical performances by the Duke Ellington Marching Band and soloist Bonnie Burnett; a blessing by Rev. William H. Lamar, IV, pastor of Metropolitan AME Church which Douglass attended, and opening remarks by Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., a descendent of Douglass.

“Washington, D.C. has been a very special place for the Douglass family since Frederick Douglass moved his family here nearly 150 years ago,” said Morris, who is Douglass’s great-great-great-grandson and co-founder and president of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. 

The moment before the ribbon cutting.

“We are thrilled that this magnificent bridge will serve to educate the public about his legacy, connect DC to the neighborhoods where he worked and lived, and inspire future generations to agitate for change,” he said. “My mother, Nettie Washington Douglass, represented the family when the original South Capitol Street Bridge was renamed for our great ancestor in 1965, and I’m honored to carry on that tradition and represent her and the entire Douglass family at the dedication of the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge.”

Mayor Bowser broke ground on the project to replace a more than 70-year-old bridge in February 2018 on the 200th anniversary of Douglass’ birth. 

On Tuesday, she reflected on how the project was an example of what can be achieved through a strong local and federal partnership.

A majority of the  $440 million funding for the new span came from federal grants, while more than $250 million was contributed from local taxpayer dollars. 

At least 200 district residents were hired to build this bridge; and at least 45 minority and women-owned businesses were part of the project, representing $91 million in contracting opportunities.

“The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge is a fitting tribute to an iconic Washingtonian, a forefather of Black excellence who we continue to emulate and who helped build Washington, D.C. into the city we are today,” Mayor Bowser said. 

“This project was never just about getting people from Point A to Point B, it was about building a more connected D.C. – connecting Ward 8 and Ward 6, connecting residents to jobs and prosperity, and connecting our entire community to the future of multi-modal transportation,” she continued. “Today, we celebrate all the federal, regional, and local partners who helped get us here, including our champions in Congress, Rep. Norton and Majority Leader Hoyer, the Douglass family, and the teams at the District Department of Transportation and South Capitol Bridge Builders.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Norton noted that as a senior member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, she worked with Hoyer for more than a decade to “piece together funds in each appropriations bill until we got the 60% federal funding for [the bridge].”

When Hoyer stepped to the podium, he marvelled at Norton’s tenacity.

“Let’s think about how Eleanor Norton does not have a vote in Congress, and yet … she got this done,” he said.

“This bridge represents how important it is to invest in infrastructure that not only connects communities but also creates new opportunities for local economic growth and good-paying jobs. Today is a wonderful day for our families and workers in the National Capital Region who will use and enjoy this multi-functional bridge for generations to come,” Hoyer added.

After the ceremony, a luncheon was held by the construction team to recognize workers.

The bridge design includes three above-deck arches that capture the District’s arch history, two piers that will appear to float in the river, and four pedestrian overlooks. 

The bridge is part of the South Capitol Street Corridor Project. DDOT, in partnership with South Capitol Bridge Builders, will begin phase two of that project, which is expected to be completed in Spring 2022. Major remaining elements of phase two include:

  • deconstruction of the original Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge;
  • completion of the traffic oval west of the river that connects South Capitol Street, Potomac Avenue and Q Street SW;
  • completion of the east traffic oval that connects South Capitol Street, Suitland Parkway and Howard Road SE; and
  • reconstruction of the Suitland Parkway/Interstate 295 interchange.

DDOT Director Everett Lott said the new span will significantly improve the mobility of the more than 70,000 vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians who cross the bridge daily. 

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