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Historic DC Bridge Risks Closure

Monday, March 7, 2016

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Deterioration of an iconic bridge in the nation’s capital has progressed at a pace that brings one federal bureau to warn that it may need to close in the next five years.

The Arlington Memorial Bridge, which serves as a symbolic entry to Washington, D.C., recently underwent an inspection that showed wear and tear is worsening at an accelerated rate, the National Park Service announced Thursday (March 3).

Arlington Memorial Bridge
© / Sean Pavone

Arlington Memorial Bridge, the symbolic entry to Washington, D.C., needs a major overhaul or it will have to be closed in 2021, according to the National Park Service.

"Memorial Bridge was built to symbolize the coming together and reunification of a fractured nation following the Civil War," Rep. Don Beyer, D-VA, said in a statement reported by NBC Washington.

"Today, unfortunately, it also symbolizes the neglect of our nation's transportation system."

The NPS transportation portfolio includes about 5,500 miles of paved roads, the equivalent of 970 miles of paved parking areas, more than 4,500 miles of unpaved roads, and more than 1,400 bridges.

Accelerating Deterioration

In last month’s Federal Highway Administration inspection, the agency found the structure to be in considerably worse condition since its 2015 assessment. The necessary repair and renovation costs needed to keep it functional are estimated at $250 million, the bureau said.

Without those repairs, “it’s a footbridge” by 2021, Jonathan B. Jarvis, NPS’s director, told The Washington Post.

During a public tour of the structure Wednesday (March 2), officials drew attention to decayed steel supports, corroded rivets, crumbling concrete and old peeling paint.

If the decking and support structure are not rebuilt, the bureau says, the bridge may close to traffic in 2021.

The NPS reports that it has spent nearly $10 million on temporary repairs since 2010, with another $5 million emergency repair due to start late this year.

The $5 million is expected to be used to shore up supports at the base of the former draw span, but this is only a temporary solution to keep the bridge open at least five years while funding is sought for the full reconstruction.

bascule span
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The NPS plans to remove the antique drawbridge at the center of the bridge and replace it with either a metal or concrete span.

According to the Post, the NPS has waved a red flag about the bridge’s worsening condition.

“How did it get that bad . . . is a great example of what happens when you’re under­funded to do basic maintenance,” Jarvis told the paper. “We get annually essentially less than half of what we need to just keep even.

“If there had been some sort of periodic maintenance . . . we might have got another 20 years out of that bridge,” he added. “Now . . . you’re facing essentially a closure of that bridge in 2021, if we don’t fix it.”

He warns that a contract for the repair project must be awarded within the next year or two to avoid the 2021 closure.

The bridge is still considered safe by officials.

Getting the Job Done

Plans for the reconstruction are already underway. According to the NPS, the antique drawbridge at the center of the bridge would be removed and replaced with either a metal or concrete span. Either way, the bureau intends to preserve the historic appearance of the structure.

The road deck would also be removed. Although the existing roadway deck has been patched over time, water is still found to be leaking onto the metal structure underneath, resulting in corrosion.

In the short term, however, the NPS will shore up the eight trunnion posts supporting the weight of the drawbridge section in order to relieve pressure on the “rusting 80-year-old posts,” the Post said.

Memorial Bridge
By Tim Evanson / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the short term, the NPS will shore up the eight trunnion posts supporting the weight of the drawbridge section in order to relieve pressure on the “rusting 80-year-old posts,” the Post said.

Shoring has already taken place in other areas of the bridge.

“The biggest concern was the bridge center span would drop a foot or so, not completely collapse into the river or anything, [but that] the center supports would fail,” Jarvis said. “So that’s all been shored up. But that’s a temporary fix.”

Use of Funds

NPS says it has $11.9 billion of deferred maintenance projects—maintenance that has been put off for a year or more because of a lack of funds—nationwide. Of this total, slightly more than half is deferred transportation maintenance.

In addition to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, the Service is responsible for several parkways in the country as well as the NPS loop road systems that allow visitors to access national parks such as Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Each of those parkways or loop roads have repair needs that, taken together, exceed a billion dollars.

“Memorial Bridge is a significant example of the immediate challenges we are facing across the National Park System to repair and maintain roads, bridges, and other essential transportation systems that not only connect people to the parks, but that also can be part of people’s daily commutes,” Jarvis said.

The NPS received some transportation funding increases as a result of the recent federal highway bill. Its transportation allocation rose from $240 million in 2015 to $268 million in 2016 and will increase by $8 million per year over the next four years to $300 million per year by 2020, the bureau said.

The new federal highway funding law also included new programs that could help support large projects like Memorial Bridge, but those programs require non-federal matching dollars.

“The National Park Service will need the support of partnerships with other federal, state, and local entities, to compete successfully for funds available from the Department of Transportation,” Jarvis said.

“We are pursuing every funding possibility to find a path forward to repair Memorial Bridge.”


Tagged categories: Bridges; Infrastructure; North America; Quality Control; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways; Steel

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