Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wilson Bridge Adventures

Kalmar Nuckel (C)
I got the chance yesterday (Wednesday) to take my first trip across the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge south of Washington. The contrast between the new span and the old one is stunning.

Some of you might say "Huh? Why the h*** is he writing about a bridge?" But I had the chance to take a real close look at the old span on my way home because two tall ships - one of them the Kalmar Nyckel pictured here - and the other the Schooner Sultan - had to pass into Old Town Alexandria and the bridges had to open. As far as I am concerned, God bless the men and women who worked on the new bridge cause the old one's a piece of crap!

In Tuesday's Washington Post, the erstwhile commentators wrote that "The new crossing is the product of the labor of some 1,400 workers now at the site, plus the efforts of hundreds or thousands more engineers, planners and officials over the past 20 years. It is a great achievement. And, considering the old span's cracking girders, rusting rebar and crumbling concrete, it is a relief."

Cracking, rusting, crumbling - that pretty much characterizes the old Wilson bridge. It was finished in 1961, and man does this rattletrap show its age. It has no shoulders, it's deck is pockmarked with enough potholes to make 1916 Verdun look like a smooth tabletop, and the backups are legendary on both sides.

The Post writes of the new span, "At a cost of $2.44 billion, the new Wilson Bridge -- six lanes down, six lanes to come on a second span in summer 2008 -- is among the nation's biggest infrastructure projects. Its eventual capacity of 295,000 vehicles per day is about four times that of the decrepit span it will replace."

But Wednesday I and a few thousand of my closest friends were caught in another backup to let these two beautiful tall ships cross under the span.

This one, the Kalmar Nyckel, can be booked for all kinds of stuff, including parties, weddings, corporate functions, etc. They also do public sails, but I think this week, most of the sailings are charters. Even so, it might be worth it.

I originally thought it was the Godspeed, which is sailing the East Coast to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's founding. The two ships are of a comparable era, but the Godspeed is in New York this week.

According to "The original Kalmar Nyckel was one of America's colonial ships. The current version of the Kalmar Nyckel is owned and operated by a non-profit organization that offers sea and land based learning and recreational opportunities. The tall ship Schooner Sultana is a full-sized reproduction of the 1767 schooner Sultana that served as a cargo schooner."

If you get the chance, check out the Alexandria Water Front Festival. They plan to have jazz, food, tall ships of course, and other fun stuff. Admissions is $10 per adult, $5 for children 2-12 years old and children under 2 are free.

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