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Lawmakers Lament Deteriorating Arlington Memorial Bridge

From left, Beyer, Jarvis and Jewell called for more federal transportation funding. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
From left, Beyer, Jarvis and Jewell called for more federal transportation funding. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Regional lawmakers are sounding the alarm about the condition of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and are pushing for Congress to provide funds to repair the structure.  

“Two lanes closed on one of the most important entrances to our nation’s capital. We already have the worst traffic congestion in the country, and now this,” Rep. Don Beyer Jr., D-Va., said at a Monday press conference on the Virginia side of the bridge. “This is not just the symbol, but the reality of failed leadership.” The National Park Service announced on May 28 that both of the curbside lanes in the drawbridge section of the bridge will be closed until emergency repairs are finished. The NPS and the Federal Highway Administration also instituted an indefinite 10-ton load limit across the entire bridge, meaning Metro buses will not be able to traverse the bridge connecting the District of Columbia to Northern Virginia.  

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.; Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis joined Beyer at the event to call for federal transportation funding.  

“It must be funded, not some by the states and some by the federal government, but 100 percent by the federal government,” said Norton. “This closing is going to have a domino effect on the rest of the congested transportation.”  

On Monday, Norton introduced the Save Our National Parks Transportation Act, which would grant $460 million a year to the NPS for its transportation programs from 2016 to 2021. The NPS typically receives $250 million a year as part of the Federal Lands Transportation Program to maintain the thousands of miles of transportation systems it operates. The estimated cost to repair the entire 83-year-old Arlington Memorial Bridge is $250 million.  

The NPS noted temporary repairs were set to begin in September, but an annual inspection revealed that some drawbridge support beams were corroding faster than expected. So work will begin in July and last between six months and nine months.  

That emergency repair work is to keep the bridge functioning and safe as the NPS awaits federal funds to repair the entire bridge. “There are some real minor things that we can do on the deck,” Jarvis told CQ Roll Call. “But … there’s not money for that work, for the big fix.”  

The NPS has been developing a complete bridge repair plan since 2012. The bridge is 1 of 14 “structurally deficient” bridges in D.C. and is the most heavily trafficked, with roughly 68,000 vehicles crossing it per day.  

Jarvis said the temporary repairs are not going to fix the broader problems plaguing the bridge. “And ultimately you could be looking at a bridge closure,” he said. “[It] should be OK for a while, but not over the long term.  

“We’re not anticipating any type of catastrophic failure,” he added, noting the bridge is inspected every two months. “But if you go under there … you’ll see what was a three-quarter inch steel beam is now a quarter-inch steel beam.”  

The director said he was hopeful Congress would raise the level of funding for these federal projects. But Norton, who is also the ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, was not optimistic.  

“My prediction is that the Republican House and Senate will try to kick the can down the road for another six months and finish out the year,” she said. “I don’t see any urgency here.”  

Norton said without more federal funds, a likely scenario for the Arlington bridge is a series of temporary fixes, which will cost more money in the long run.  

In the meantime, Beyer said his office has been working with the Office of Personnel Management to encourage the scores of federal workers who cross the bridge into D.C. to consider alternatives.  

“We do have flex time, we do have telework,” Beyer said. “Let’s take advantage of the other tools we have to diminish the hardship for the six months to repair this part.”  

Beyer said the cost of the emergency repairs has not yet been determined. But, he said, if there is no federal money coming in for the long-term rehabilitation, “It will just get worse and worse.”  

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