Bridge of the Year: 2021 Brings Completion of D.C.’s Biggest Project

The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, built to connect.

By Camille Manaloto

In September, after three years of construction, Washington D.C. celebrated the opening of the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, D.C.’s biggest public works project ever. 

The bridge connects southern Maryland to Washington D.C. across the Anacostia River and includes three above-deck arches, four pedestrian overlooks and two piers that seem to float in the Anacostia waterfront. The bridge was designed to better control the flow of traffic. It was also designed with better safety measures for pedestrians and bikers.

The new bridge, which is located twenty feet away from the original, replaced the 71-year-old Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. Built in 1950 and originally named the South Capitol Street Bridge, the old bridge served almost 80,000 drivers a day, and underwent multiple repairs and renovations over the years, such as multiple deck repairs and replacements, and adding lanes and other upgrades. 

“This project was never just about getting people from Point A to Point B, it was about building a more connected DC – connecting Ward 8 and Ward 6, connecting residents to jobs and prosperity and connecting our entire community to the future of multi-modal transportation.” – Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington D.C.

In the summer of 2007, the bridge underwent a $27 million repair meant to extend the bridge’s life for 20 years, but despite the efforts the work could not be maintained fast enough to keep up with the amount of deterioration and corrosion the bridge was experiencing. At the time of replacement, the old Frederick Douglass Bridge was years past its lifetime and classified as functionally obsolete by the city. 

In 2012, city officials announced a project to replace the original bridge as well as repair the surrounding area including a roundabout on either side of the bridge. The project would expand the bridge from its current four lanes to six lanes, add bike lanes and wider sidewalks for pedestrians. The estimated cost for the entire project was $906 million. The bridge alone totaled $480 million at its completion. 

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The project was set to start in 2013 and take two years to complete, but was stalled after the first submission of the blueprint design for the bridge was denied by the National Capital Planning Commission and the United States Commission of Fine Arts. The CFA asked for a more contemporary approach.

In 2017, the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) chose South Capitol Bridge Builders as the contractor team to design and build the new bridge and roundabouts and shortly after released the final design for the bridge. A 1,600-foot long through arch bridge consisting of three sets of parallel white arches.

Federal grants made up over $200 million combined with more than $250 million in local taxpayer dollars paid the cost of the bridge. At the height of construction, more than 1,300 jobs were created, including at least 200 D.C. citizens

Mayor Muriel Bowser was the first to break ground on the project in February 2018, the bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’ birth. Finally, after almost 10 years of planning and construction, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge was completed and Washington D.C. had a two-day celebration for its opening on Memorial Day weekend including a 5k across the bridge and a ribbon cutting ceremony. 

“This project was never just about getting people from Point A to Point B, it was about building a more connected DC – connecting Ward 8 and Ward 6, connecting residents to jobs and prosperity and connecting our entire community to the future of multi-modal transportation,” said Mayor Bowser at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Frederick Douglass’ great-great-great-grandson, Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. was in attendance at the ceremony and gave a speech representing his family.

“Washington, DC has been a very special place for the Douglass family since Frederick Douglass moved his family here nearly 150 years ago,” said Morris, Jr., Co-Founder & President of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. “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.”

Project Info:

Project Name: South Capitol Street Corridor Project

Location: Washington D.C.

Type of Product: Bridge reconstruction

Month/Year Started/Completed: February 2018/September 2021

Project Cost: $480 million

Camille Manaloto is the Assistant Editor at American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at


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