Woodrow Wilson Bridge – Fort Washington, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

Woodrow Wilson Bridge

This rare triple-jurisdiction drawbridge passes through Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. 


If you take the Capital Beltway over the Potomac River by driving across the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, you will pass through the states of Virginia and Maryland as well as, very briefly, Washington, D.C. This rare bridge is the only one in the United States that passes through three different jurisdictions.

Named for the 28th president of the United States, the drawbridge connects the city of Alexandria, Virginia, on the western end, to Oxon Hill, Maryland on the eastern. The majority of the bridge spans a portion of the Potomac that falls within the Maryland border. But a part of it passes through the very southernmost tip of Washington, which meets its neighboring states in the river, just south of the bridge. Thus, for about 300 feet on the mid-span of the bridge, drivers are not in Maryland or Virginia, but in the United States capital.

The bridge was first constructed in 1961, named after President Woodrow Wilson in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Wilson was an advocate for the future of cars and highways in America, and his namesake bridge was designed to carry 75,000 commuters every day. But by the end of the 20th century, it was transporting more than 200,000 cars each day. The original bascule bridge could open two spans to allow for the passage of tall boats, and this, in addition to the overwhelming car traffic, caused problems. Plans were made for a new double bridge (two spans side by side) that could better handle both kinds of traffic. The new structure, built between 2000 and 2008, is 20 feet higher than the old bridge with a total of 12 lanes, twice the number as the original. 

Up until that point, Washington, D.C., had owned and operated its small span of bridge, the only span of the interstate system (I-95/I-495, the Capital Beltway) that was federally controlled. After the completion of the new bridges, that span of bridge was turned over to the Virginia and Maryland departments of transportation, which now share responsibility for the whole bridge.

To add a touch more Americana intrigue to the tale of the bridge, a nest of bald eagles within the construction zone (on the Maryland side) was protected as the new bridges were being built. Sixteen eaglets were born in that time.

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