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Why the $228 million set aside to to repair Memorial Bridge is a win for Virginia commuters

The effort to repair the Arlington Memorial Bridge got a major funding boost from Congress.

The feds will spend $228 million to rehabilitate the 85-year-old bridge linking Arlington and Washington, D.C.

Vital to the region’s transportation infrastructure, 68,000 cars cross the bridge each day. About 58 percent of those are from Virginia.

The rehab project is expected to save taxpayers $35 million and take about a year to construct.

From a press release:

Major construction will start in fall 2018. It will replace the drawbridge span, rehabilitate the concrete approach spans, and replace the concrete deck. Workers will employ accelerated bridge construction techniques, including using prefabricated concrete deck panels. They will reset the stone curbs and light posts and restore the historic stone and metal cladding. The structure of the existing bascule span will be replaced with variable depth steel girders, which will significantly extend the useful life of the bridge while significantly reducing maintenance costs. The NPS will begin minor repairs to the bridge by the beginning of 2018.

Virginia’s congressional delegation worked to secure he funds for the bridge repairs, including Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Barbara Comstock (R, VA-10) and Don Beyer (D, VA-8).

“This is exactly the right thing to do, repairing the bridge now is projected to save $35 million and reduce construction time by a year and a half. It is a win-win decision, making sense financially and for our commuters including many from Virginia’s Tenth District,” stated Comstock in a press release. This is an essential infrastructure improvement for the region, and fortunately, minor repairs will begin in early 2018 and major construction is scheduled to follow soon after in the fall.”

Repairs totaling $5 million to the bridge’s trunnion posts on its drawbridge was scheduled to happen in 2017. They were to follow some $9 million in repairs to the bridge since the aging structure was found to be in trouble in 2009.

From a press release:

Regarded as Washington’s most beautiful bridge, Memorial Bridge symbolically links North and South in its alignment between the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial. The adjacent Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway terminus, the Watergate steps, and monumental equestrian statuary join with the bridge to create a formal western terminus of the National Mall at the edge of the Potomac River.

Designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, the low, Neoclassical bridge is 2,163 feet long and 60 feet wide. Except for the bascule (drawbridge) span in the bridge’s center which is clad in metal, it is constructed from reinforced concrete faced with dressed North Carolina granite ashlar. When it opened in 1932, the bridge was the longest, heaviest and fastest opening drawbridge in the world; the drawbridge last opened in 1961. Today, it carries 68,000 cars per day.

Without a complete rehab of the bridge, officials say the bridge was slated to close to traffic by 2021. According to the National Park Service, if the bridge were to close it would result in $74 million in annual lost revenue for the region due to traffic delays.

Work to keep open the Memorial Bridge has postponed other park service roadway repair projects, including work on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Maryland, a highway linking the two named cities. 

Flickr photo: Tim Evanson

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