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Long Bridge Rail Project: An Overview of Plans for New Potomac Bridges

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Virginia is advancing a $2 billion plan to expand freight and passenger train traffic on the Potomac River, hoping to ease a growing bottleneck at a bridge that connects south and north- is from the United States for more than a century.

The plan calls for a new two-track span parallel to the Long Bridge, which serves as the main track for trains traveling south of the nation’s capital. The new span between Washington and Arlington would double train capacity to support commerce and increased demand for passenger rail travel along the busy East Coast Corridor.

The project will also add a pedestrian and bicycle bridge between Long Bridge Park in Arlington and East Potomac Park in the district, creating a pedestrian connection between the growing Crystal City neighborhood and the southwest waterfront area. Plans call for the project to be completed by 2030.

Virginia this month unveiled design concepts for the project, the state’s latest initiative to expand rail options across the state. It’s part of a $3.7 billion deal Virginia struck last year with Amtrak and CSX that would boost capacity, expand routes to new cities and ease rail connections to the nation’s capital.

Virginia is advancing a plan to build a new two-lane railroad bridge over the Potomac River connecting Arlington and the district. (Video: Virginia Passenger Rail Authority)

The new rail bridge will be built with many features of the existing span, including its structure, material and shape, with steel girders and similar pier spacing, according to preliminary site plans approved this month by the National Capital Planning Commission. Plans also call for the use of Ashlar stone revetment for the bridge’s piers, as well as the abutments and walls near the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which officials say will make it consistent with the character of the bridge. highway.

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The bridge will be constructed 40 feet north of the existing crossing. Michael Weil, an urban planner with CNPC, who has authority over the project, said the design will complement the existing long bridge “without overwhelming its historic character”.

The project is in the early design stage, with construction expected to begin in 2026. The commission’s approval gives an important green light to keep the project on an eight-year completion schedule. The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, created two years ago to administer rail expansion programs, oversees the Long Bridge project with financial commitments from the state and Amtrak. The authority also leads efforts to secure federal infrastructure grants.

“All of these things come together to show that this project is real and happening,” said Michael McLaughlin, the authority’s chief operating officer.

The project in the 1.8-mile corridor comes with other elements of Virginia’s multibillion-dollar rail deal, including construction of a fourth track south of Washington; acquisition of hundreds of miles of track and rights-of-way; and many other improvements in the I-95 corridor and across the state. Adding capacity on the Potomac is critical to the state’s ambitions to double passenger rail operations in the Washington-Richmond corridor this decade.

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Adding two tracks to create a four-lane crossing over the Potomac will allow the state to handle more commuter and intercity rail service, as well as increasing freight traffic over the decades, officials said. . The expansion will allow Virginia to significantly increase Amtrak and VRE commuter service while separating passenger and freight trains, which officials say will improve service reliability.

Along with the design of the Long Bridge project, Virginia is advancing the design of a $185 million project to add a fourth lane to the approach to the bridge from Alexandria, which officials say is being funded. Further south, plans call for the addition of a third track from Franconia to Occoquan and a rail bypass at Franconia-Springfield, which will allow trains to run when other trains serve the VRE station.

Approval of the preliminary plans for Long Bridge came the same month. Virginia added more Amtrak services between DC and the eastern and western portions of the state. With additions, Amtrak operates eight publicly funded round trips daily from Washington. Plans call for more intercity and commuter services in 2026, after the completion of the fourth track in Alexandria, with more trains in 2030 following the expansion of Long Bridge.

“Not only will we have more trains, but we will have more trains at different times of the day,” McLaughlin said, adding that overnight and two-way trains outside of standard travel times will give Virginians the option to go. to DC for a sports night or dinner.

For more than a century, the Long Bridge carried freight and passenger trains over the Potomac River between Crystal City and the district’s southwest waterfront. The bridge’s two-track configuration creates a bottleneck as trains change from three tracks to two, slowing the movement of goods and passengers.

As NCPC reviewed the preliminary design this month, planners praised the design of the bridge. Commissioners and some residents and leaders have requested changes to the design of the pedestrian and bicycle bridge, which would line up about 25 feet north of the new long bridge, saying the planned 14-foot bridge would be too narrow to accommodate the expected number of users.

Some proponents have suggested expanding the span to 20 feet to allow more space between passing traffic in either direction, in keeping with other facilities such as the recently constructed W&OD Trail Bridge over Langston Boulevard in Arlington.

Shirlene Cleveland, senior manager of the Long Bridge project at the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, said at a July 7 commission meeting that the authority would review comments and recommendations before assessing whether to widen the bridge. pedestrian.

“Obviously the hallway is very narrow,” she said. “We need to install two bridges between an existing rail bridge and the existing WMATA Yellow Line bridge. So we will see what is possible.

NCPC President Elizabeth A. White said she was generally happy with the project as planned, but urged the authority to consider requests for the pedestrian bridge from a safety point of view to “get it right”.

“It looks like the comprehensive approach is going in the right direction,” she said.