Monday, February 3, 2014

University Boulevard Bridge Update

The Maryland State Highway Administration is in the process of replacing the bridge deck of the University Boulevard bridge over the Capital Beltway.  According to the SHA, the bridge was was built in 1958, and is in need of replacement.  The 1958 date is interesting to me, since the stretch of the Beltway underneath the bridge did not open until late 1963, 5 years after the bridge was supposedly built.  Anyways, the current project started last summer and is planned for completion in Fall of 2015, weather permitting.  I have noticed that not much has been done to the bridge in the last couple months, so I emailed the SHA Community Liaison to ask what was going on.

Looking east on University Blvd over the bridge.  These cones and barrels have been in place since the summer.  Photo by the author.  



Christopher Bishop, who is the SHA's community liaison for our area, explained that the project has gone into partial shutdown while Pepco contractors relocate some power poles near the bridge.  Mr. Bishop could not give me a date for when this would be completed or for when construction would resume.  However, he did send me some useful links, such as this project page and this press release.

I was walking over the bridge about a month ago and I saw the contractors at work.  I have not seen much action since then.  Hopefully this means that Pepco is finished relocating their utility poles and that the SHA can resume their side of the project soon.


Pepco contractors at work on the bridge in December.  Photo by the author.  
At this point, I think the SHA is waiting for warmer weather to resume work.  The last work the SHA did was this past summer and fall.  Their contractors removed and paved over the medians to prepare for lane shifts.  They also altered the Beltway on and off ramps slightly, which was also done to prepare for lane shifts on University Boulevard.  Mr. Bishop told me that University Blvd would be temporally reduced to 2 lanes each way during the shifts.  I asked him about potential detours and he said this:
"Drivers should be alert of changing traffic patterns within the work zone (from US 29 Colesville Road to the Beltway interchange) for the duration of the project. Drivers should expect intermittent temporary single and double lane closures on MD 193 and single, double and triple lane road and shoulder closures and work on ramps at the MD 193/I-495 exchange.
 There will be no detours of the project as traffic will simply be shifted to one side o the bridge, then the other, once demolition and construction phase for halves of the bridge begins."
There is a local example of what these lane shifts might look like.  The same type of project is currently underway on New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park.  The bridge over Sligo Creek is being replaced and the road has been reduced to 2 lanes and shifted for construction.  Lane shifts that happen on University Boulevard for this project will probably be similar to those currently in place on New Hampshire Avenue.

The University Boulevard bridge replacement project is estimated to cost $12,401,000.

I will provide further updates when work resumes.  


21 comments:

  1. Sean, you may not have an answer, but are there any mock-ups on how the bridge will look when completed? I know they are replacing the road surface and repainting, but cosmetically will it be any different. For example, will it look like the bridge at Cherry Hill and Colesville?

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    1. Not that I know of. It would be nice if they added some decorative brick/stone to it like they did to the Colesville Road bridge over the Beltway several years ago. If the SHA does make cosmetic changes, I think that decorative stone would be the extent of any improvements.

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  2. That bridge probably dates to 1958 because that was about the time that Old Bladensburg Road was reconstructed and became University Boulevard East, and the State Roads Commission (predecessor agency to the State Highway Administration) knew that the Circumferential Highway would pass under there (both SRC and SHA often built bridges "in advance" - from 1962 to 2001, there was a large bridge that carried the Beltway over nothing between Sligo Creek and Md. 97 (Georgia Avenue) - this bridge was built for the Northern Parkway, which was removed from planning maps in the early 1970's in large part thanks to efforts by the late County Councilmember Idamae Garrott, who routinely opposed any and all highway projects in Montgomery County. This section of the Circumferential Highway (later Capital Beltway) opened to traffic in 1962, over two years before the full freeway was completed. It ran from Md. 97 (Georgia Avenue) to Md. 193 (University Boulevard). Inner Loop (eastbound) traffic had to exit to University Boulevard eastbound in the direction of Franklin Avenue, and did not pass under the bridge until 1964. Outer Loop (westbound) traffic could enter by the "cloverleaf" ramp that is still there, and would thus pass under this ramp starting in 1962.

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  3. Thanks for the comment CP. I am familiar with the traffic pattern you refer to. I recently discovered some 1963 aerial images of the area, and they show the section of 495 between MD 97 and MD 193 completed before the adjacent sections of the road. In the images, the wear marks on the new concrete depict the traffic pattern you allude to. I'll share the pics on the Woodmoor/4 corners Facebook soon.

    I am familiar with the Northern Parkway plans as well (I've actually created a Google Earth file of all the unbuilt roads around DC's Maryland suburbs). It is my understanding that the route would have branched of route 29 near present-day Prelude Drive, running southwest across NW Branch, past Northwood HS, paralleling Sligo Creek on to 495 and points south. I half wish the section of the road from the 29/NH Ave interchange to 495 had been built, becuase it could have removed most Beltway-bound traffic from Colesville Road in Four Corners. However, the road also would have gone though one of my dad and I's favorite hiking spots; the NW Branch valley north of the Burnt Mills Dam. As for the large Sligo Creek bridge, I vaguely remember the large bridge over the trail before it was replaced in '01. I remember wondering why a small creek needed such a large bridge. Now I know.

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  4. In the early years of the Capital Beltway, interchanges were numbered starting with Exit 1 at U.S. 1 in Alexandria and ending at Exit 38 at I-295 in Prince George's County (near present-day National Harbor).

    Exit 21 was Md. 97 (Georgia Avenue), Exit 22 was reserved for the Northern Parkway and Exit 23 was U.S. 29. SRC installed a sign at the Northern Parkway underpass telling motorists that Exit 22 was a "future" exit.

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  5. The Northern Parkway bridge was removed when the bridge decks that carry the Beltway over Md. 97; Sligo Creek Parkway and Brunett Avenue were replaced by SHA in one massive project in 2000 and 2001. There is now a much smaller structure for the Sligo Creek bike trail.

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  6. Had the Four Corners Bypass and the Northern Parkway been constructed (especially with that interchange at the Beltway), the traffic pressure on the intersection at Four Corners would have been greatly eased - especially as eastern Montgomery County and much of Prince George's County has lagged far behind other Washington suburbs (especially Fairfax County) in terms of employment. The catastrophic 1981 Eastern Montgomery County Master Plan, and its badly misplaced emphasis on getting people to ride transit to the Silver Spring Metro station has contributed greatly to this problem (even though it was superseded in 1997) by driving away employment that was there and making it difficult and expensive for new employers to locate along U.S. 29 in White Oak and Fairland.

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    1. Thanks for all the info CP. I've learned a lot from your comments (on this blog and elsewhere). What exactly made the 1981 Master Plan so bad? I know it was terrible, but what where the reasons for it and why did it happen? Also, Is the 1981 Master Plan the one that approved all the dense housing off Briggs Cheney Road with the promise of a light rail line? I'm going to publish a post soon about a BRT line I would like to see go from Burtonsville to Fort Totten, and I'm going to mention that never-built light rail line in it.

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  7. The Northern Parkway is an interesting concept. I've never heard of this roadway before. Was this supposed to be part of North Central Highway that follows Sligo Creek into DC? It's a bummer that none of the interstate highway from Maryland to DC ever got built.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. The Northern Parkway would have branched off the North Central Freeway (planned I-270) just west of Downtown Silver Spring. It would have gone through Woodside to meet the Beltway next to Holy Cross Hospital, where it would continue north paralleling Sligo Creek. At University Blvd. it would leave Sligo Creek and continue due north through Kemp Mill and Wheaton Regional Park (much of the right-of-way is still in place through this section). It would have crossed Randolph Road and paralleled Northwest Branch before intersecting with the Outer Beltway (now the ICC) in Northwest Branch Park near the Trolley Museum. This interchange would have been where the ICC currently makes a large turn in the park. The Northwest Parkway would basically have been a bypass of Georgia Avenue from Aspen Hill and points south.

      It would have destroyed a ton of parkland along its route and dozens of homes in Woodside, but it would have made traffic on Georgia much lighter through Aspen Hill, Glentmont, Wheaton, and Silver Spring.

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  8. Thanks for the information. The connection to White Oak that you mention would detour all the RT29 traffic away from 4 corners as well. Building a highway in the flood plains of a river must have huge environmental impacts??
    Idamae Garrott must be rolling over in her graves if she knew the ICC finally got built. Hopefully, the right of way for the cancelled highways will someday be put into good use, and Montrose Parkway will be extended to ICC at the same trolley museum location that you mention if they can find the money and the stupid law from Idamae that prohibits funding for the road can be repealed, but I'll probably never live to see that day.

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