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DC’s Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge Named Bridge of the Year

By March 28, 2024April 1st, 2024No Comments

The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington DC

In the heart of Washington D.C., a marvel of modern engineering and a tribute to historical legacy stands tall — the New Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. Recently crowned as the 2024 Bridge of the Year by the World Steel Bridge Symposium at NASCC: The Steel Conference, this accolade is a testament to the bridge’s exemplary design and the innovative spirit of all involved, including the team at R.J. Watson, Inc. 


Our role in providing 12 high-load multirotational Disktron bearings was pivotal in realizing the vision for a bridge that is “classic but not classical, dramatic but not theatrical,” as described by AECOM’s A.J. Cardini. The bridge’s design, with three arched spans reminiscent of a stone skipping across water, and a center arch rising 30 ft higher than its companions, embodies this vision perfectly. The hexagonal arch cross-section, a novel approach, plays with light and shadow to subtly reduce the visual mass of these towering structures, showcasing the potential of steel not just as a material, but as a medium for artistic expression. 


This project, significant not only for its engineering feats but also for its community impact, introduced a pioneering, federally funded on-the-job training program aimed at hiring and training women and minorities. This initiative aligns seamlessly with the spirit of Frederick Douglass, emphasizing the project’s role in fostering community development and inclusivity alongside its infrastructural achievements. 


A $441-million design-build project was awarded by the Washington, D.C. Department of Transportation in 2017 to South Capitol Bridge Builders, a joint venture consortium comprised of Archer Western Contractors, and Granite Construction, with AECOM as their design engineer. The project scope included the replacement of the South Capitol Street Bridge (renamed the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge), the demolition of the existing bridge, and the reconstruction of the nearby Suitland Parkway/I-295 interchange. The existing bridge, a vital link carrying an average of 77,000 vehicles per day, had become structurally deficient after 71 years, despite multiple deck replacements. 


AECOM designed a unique cable-stayed, arch bridge to replace the existing structure. Spanning 1,608 feet (490 meters) over the Anacostia River, the new 3-span bridge is wider, featuring three lanes of traffic in each direction along with accommodations for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, including four overlook points for sightseers. It is designed for a 100-year lifespan and stands as the only bridge of its type in the world. Construction began in 2017, with R.J. Watson selected by the joint venture team to design and manufacture 12 high-load multirotational disc bearings for its support. The Disktron bearing was chosen for its durability, versatility, low maintenance, and cost-effectiveness. The bridge was completed and opened to traffic on Labor Day Weekend, 2021. 


As we celebrate this remarkable recognition, we at R.J. Watson, Inc. are reminded of the importance of pushing boundaries and embracing innovation. The Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge stands as a beacon of our commitment to excellence, our dedication to community, and our contribution to the legacy of one of the nation’s most influential civil rights leaders. 


Washington’s New Frederick Douglass Bridge Named NSBA Bridge of the Year (