The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge (DC Bridge #0053), which carries South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River, is a monument to the nation’s foremost 19th-century African American spokesman. Its freeway design, however, provides no special architectural merit to the structure. It has a central swing span—one of the longest in the world—that rotates on a large central pier to allow access for ships to the Washington Navy Yard, located farther east along the Anacostia River. Built in 1949, it was the first bridge to span the Anacostia River at this location.
The eight-span, two-girder bridge is composed of the central swing span connected by additional spans to abutments at each end. The superstructure is steel girders, supported by reinforced concrete piers covered with stone façade. Originally built with two traffic lanes in each direction, the bridge was widened in 1975 to allow for three lanes inbound toward downtown Washington and two lanes outbound. Sidewalks run along each side of the bridge. The extra width for this configuration was gained by lengthening the cantilever support brackets on the outside edges of the bridge and replacing the concrete bridge deck with lightweight concrete. The open-steel-deck portion of the swing span and the supporting stringers were replaced again in 1986. In the late 1990s, the electrical and mechanical systems in the pivot pier were rehabilitated.
A bridge inspection conducted by the D.C. Department of Public Works in 1999 and 2000 found that, in general, the bridge condition ranges from fair to poor. Major structural improvements and repairs are needed for the bridge to continue operating under heavy traffic, including the strengthening and repair of deteriorating steel elements. The bridge is in dire need of painting, which is made difficult by existing layers of lead-based paint. DDOT is planning repairs that will allow the structure to remain in service for approximately 15 years.
In addition to the bridge’s poor structural condition, the bridge poses several safety concerns for both pedestrians and vehicles. The concrete barriers between the roadway and sidewalks and the pedestrian rails do not meet AASHTO standards. These features pose risks to pedestrians. The horizontal and vertical alignment at the bridge approaches limits sight distances for motorists.