The Wilson Bridge: A History

17 Nov

If you happen to be stuck in traffic on the Wilson Bridge, you might feel sorry for yourself, but trust me: You have no idea how much worse life could be for you.

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge opened in 1961. (Interestingly, Woodrow Wilson’s widow Edith was supposed to be the guest of honor at the dedication ceremony, but she died that morning.) It connects Alexandria, VA to Oxon Hill, MD, carrying both Interstate 495 and Interstate 95. Only it wasn’t supposed to include 95 (long story), just 495, and so by 1999 it was carrying 200,000 vehicles a day even though it was designed to handle a max of 75,000. Eventually the highways on either side of the bridge widened from six lanes to eight, but the bridge obviously couldn’t expand, and so it created a terrible bottleneck.

Oh, and did I mention Wilson is a DRAW bridge? It would open for boats about 260 times a year, backing up traffic something awful. In fact, my first memory of the Wilson Bridge is as a child in my mom’s car, watching the bridge go up.

There are a couple famous Wilson Bridge incidents that most long-time residents will probably recall. The first was in 1987 during a snowstorm; traffic was so bad that many commuters ran out of gas and spent the night stuck on the bridge in their cars. The second was when a man jumped off the bridge, but only after a seven-hour standoff with police during rush hour (the man survived the jump).

Thankfully, in 1999 construction began on replacing the bridge with two side-by-side draw bridges (one for outer loop and one for inner loop). The new bridges are also much higher, reducing the number of times they have to open for boats to about 60 a year. The first cars drove over the bridge in 2006 and most of the project was completed in 2009, with a few odds and ends scheduled to be completed by 2013. My most favoritest part of this whole story is that there was a “Toughest Bridge Commute Contest.” Commuters wrote in to tell their harrowing Wilson Bridge tales and the winner got to blow the old bridge up.

2 Responses to “The Wilson Bridge: A History”

  1. Barb Nelson November 18, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    what about the airplane crash? wasn’t that right at the bridge?

    • marseadc November 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

      You’re absolutely right Barb! I’m going to talk about that event in a future post. Stay tuned!

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