Washington DC Bridges: A Guide to River Crossings

Arlington Memorial Bridge
Arlington Memorial Bridge.

William Randall

Washington DC has seven major bridges across the Potomac River, six major bridges across the Anacostia River, and more than a dozen bridges scattered along the length of Rock Creek Park. Some of these structures are beautiful and provide the city’s best views, while others are functional yet indistinct. The capital region has dozens of bridges across small streams, over other streets and highways, and railroad tracks. Washington DC's bridges carry hundreds of thousands of vehicles a day and are important to the region's infrastructure.

In recent years, many bridges have been deemed to be structurally deficient and work has been planned to repair them. Proposals have been made to build new bridges to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. Planning has begun to build a new one-of-a-kind bridge-park that will provide a venue for recreation, environmental education, and the arts.

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Arlington Memorial Bridge: Washington DC to Arlington VA

Arlington Memorial Bridge Side View
Chris Pecoraro

Arlington Memorial Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, spans the Potomac River and is regarded as Washington DC’s most beautiful bridge. The bridge is a national memorial symbolizing reunification of the North and the South following the Civil War, connecting the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, at Arlington National Cemetery. The 2,100-foot-long bridge was designed by the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White. When it opened in 1932, it was the longest, heaviest and fastest opening drawbridge in the world. The drawbridge was last opened on Feb. 28, 1961.

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14th Street Bridge: Washington DC

14th Street Bridge

 Rachel Cooper

The 14th Street Bridge (I-395 and US 1) is a major gateway into Washington DC, crossing the Potomac River fromArlington, Virginia. The bridge is actually a complex of five bridges, three for automobile traffic, one for rail traffic (CSX, Amtrak,​ and VRE) and one for the Washington Metro. The first bridge on the site, built in 1809, was known as Long Bridge. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout history. In 1982, the bridge was damaged by the tragic crash of Air Florida Flight 90. Today, the bridge carries more traffic than it was ever expected to handle and it is slated for improvements.

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Francis Scott Key Bridge: Washington DC

Francis Scott Key Bridge

The Key Bridge (US 29) is a six-lane arch-style bridge that crosses the Potomac River between Rosslyn, Virginia and the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC. The bridge was built in 1923 and is the oldest bridge across the Potomac. It was named in honor of Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the Star Spangled Banner. The north end of the bridge is just east of the site of Key's home which was torn down in the 1940s. The bridge connects with M Street NW, Canal Road NW, and the Whitehurst Freeway. The Key Bridge is one of the prettiest bridges in Washington DC.

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Theodore Roosevelt Bridge in Washington DC

Theodore Roosevelt Bridge
Medioimages Photodisc

The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge (Interstate 66/US Route 50) crosses the Potomac River and Theodore Roosevelt Island from Rosslyn, Virginia to Washington DC. The bridge was built in 1932 and dedicated to the 26th President of the United States. This is the easiest bridge to cross and reach the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and the western areas of Downtown DC.

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Future 11th Street Bridge Park: Washington DC

Future 11th Street Bridge
11th Street Bridge Project

The 11th Street Bridge connects Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill,​ and Anacostia neighborhoods and is an exciting new project that will be transformed into the city’s first elevated park. The new bridge will be a unique structure that provides a venue for recreation, environmental education and the arts. 

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Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge: Washington DC

Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge
Thomas Belknap/ Flickr/CC 2.0

The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge crosses South Capitol Street over the Anacostia River in Washington DC connecting I-295 with Suitland Parkway. The bridge carries commuter traffic from Prince George's County and Southern Maryland into the nation's capital. It was built in 1950 and named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The South Capitol Street Corridor Project has set plans for building a new six-lane Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. This new bridge will intersect with the western side of the Anacostia River via a new park-like traffic circle, where South Capitol Street, R Street, Potomac Avenue, and the new bridge would come together.

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Woodrow Wilson Bridge: Washington DC

Woodrow Wilson Bridge
Rachel Cooper

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge crosses the Potomac River, connecting Alexandria, Virginia and Oxon Hill, Maryland. It is a drawbridge that connects I-95 with I-495 (the Capital Beltway). The bridge was built in 1961 and is named in honor of the 28th President of the United States. Improvements were made to increase the capacity of the bridge in 2007 with the opening of National Harbor. The northern span of the bridge includes pedestrian and bike lanes, separated from traffic by safety barriers.

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Duke Ellington Bridge: Washington DC

Ellington Bridge
Martin Ringlein

The Duke Ellington Bridge, named after the local jazz icon, carries Calvert Street NW over Rock Creek in Washington, DC between Adams Morgan and Woodley Park. The bridge was built in 1935 replacing one that was built in 1891 to carry streetcars. The Ellington Bridge is one of the few "suicide bridges" in the country that has barriers designed specifically to prevent deadly incidents.

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Chain Bridge: Washington DC

Chain Bridge
NC in DC

Chain Bridge crosses the Potomac River at Little Falls in Washington DC, connecting Arlington and Fairfax Counties in Northern Virginia. On the DC side, left turns onto the Clara Barton Parkway are prohibited, but right turns are allowed. On the Virginia side, the bridge connects with Chain Bridge Road (Route 123). A pedestrian sidewalk provides access to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. The first bridge on this site dates back to 1797and was made of wood. Several bridges replaced it over the years, with a few of them made of chains. The current structure is made of steel and was completed in 1939.

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John Philip Sousa Bridge: Washington DC

Sousa Bridge
Tim Evanson

The John Philip Sousa Bridge takes Pennsylvania Avenue SE across the Anacostia River in Washington DC interchanging with Barney Circle and the Anacostia Freeway (I-295). The bridge was built in 1939 and named for the famous United States Marine Band conductor and composer John Philip Sousa, who grew up near the bridge's northwestern terminus. The first bridge was constructed in this location in 1804. 

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Taft Bridge: Washington DC

Taft Bridge
Mr. T in DC

The Taft Bridge takes Connecticut Avenue NW over the Rock Creek Gorge in Washington DC. The Classical Revival style bridge was built in 1897 and dedicated to U.S. President William Howard Taft in 1931. The bridge has four sculptures of male lions with their eyes closed apparently sleeping. Twenty-four lampposts along the bridge are adorned with a painted iron eagle.