Confronted with a fast-deteriorating bridge that has spanned the Anacostia River for decades, District officials say they are planning a new $660 million structure that will be a pivotal entryway to the city's core.

Mayor Vincent Gray said his administration's plan to replace the existing Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, which allows South Capitol Street Southeast to run from near Buzzard Point into Anacostia (see embedded map below), would ultimately save taxpayers millions, but he acknowledged the steep price upfront.

Artist's rendering of the proposed new bridge

"The time has now come to replace this 63-year-old bridge," Gray said in a statement. "While the new bridge and necessary improvements to adjacent areas on land will be expensive, in the long run it's cheaper and safer than continuing to make ever-more-costly and ever-more-frequent repairs to the old bridge."

Gray's administration calculated that the bridge, which more than 70,000 commuters cross daily, would need up to $120 million in repairs within 15 years.

Instead, the District opted for a completely new bridge, a project that will begin in 2015 and will include the redevelopment of the interchange at Interstate 295 and the Suitland Parkway. The city will also construct traffic circles and ovals on both sides of the new bridge.

And although the existing structure is a drawbridge, the new bridge will be of fixed height, a design decision Gray said will shave about $140 million off the project's price, as well as saving about $100,000 for every year the bridge is in operation.

The District said the existing drawbridge has only been raised twice since 2006, and the city is discussing with federal officials whether Coast Guard or naval ships in the area would be too tall to pass under a fixed bridge.

"We look forward to working with our federal partners to ensure the project meets the reasonable needs of navigation," Gray said.

Gray's announcement came less than six years after the District spent $27 million in improvements intended to keep the structure open for another two decades.

District transportation planners said at the time that the upgrades were stopgaps and that the city would likely need to replace the bridge within 20 years, a timeline D.C. is maintaining.

John Lisle, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, said the city expected to pay about one-third of the project's costs -- about $220 million -- with the federal government chipping in the remaining $440 million.

Alan Blinder covers D.C. for The Washington Examiner. Contact him at