BEAR­ING THE WEIGHT OF HISTORY

An icon for in­ac­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - The writer is pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Cor­ro­sion Engi­neers.

Ar­ling­ton Me­mo­rial Bridge is the most iconic bridge in our na­tion’s cap­i­tal. Each day thou­sands of com­muters and tourists cross the Po­tomac River to travel be­tween North­ern Vir­ginia and the Dis­trict. I al­ways am moved by how the bridge sym­bol­izes U.S. history.

Un­der­neath, how­ever, the bridge is sym­bolic of a na­tion­wide prob­lem: the steady de­cay of U.S. in­fra­struc­ture, some­thing I am acutely fa­mil­iar with as pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Cor­ro­sion Engi­neers.

Last month, fed­eral of­fi­cials de­clared the cor­ro­sion of the Ar­ling­ton Me­mo­rial Bridge so ad­vanced that two lanes will be closed for up to nine months for emer­gency re­pairs. A thor­ough in­spec­tion by the Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vealed sec­ondary steel sup­port beams were so cor­roded that they no longer met load-bear­ing stan­dards. The con­crete bridge deck suf­fered “se­ri­ous de­te­ri­o­ra­tion,” the Na­tional Park Ser­vice said.

The bridge’s new 10-ton load limit ef­fec­tively bars thou­sands of visi­tors from rid­ing tour buses from Ar­ling­ton Ceme­tery to the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial.

Sadly, the Me­mo­rial Bridge de­cay is hardly unique. Thou­sands of bridges across the coun­try are near­ing sim­i­lar states. In 2014, the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion iden­ti­fied 61,064 struc­turally de­fi­cient bridges across the coun­try, and fed­eral data show there are 14 such bridges in the Dis­trict.

The H Street Bridge near Union Sta­tion is so cor­roded that re­bar is ex­posed in the un­der deck­ing.

While not as iconic as the Ar­ling­ton Me­mo­rial Bridge, the H Street Bridge is even more vi­tal to the re­gion’s trans­porta­tion net­work, as Am­trak, MARC and Metro trains travel be­neath it to reach Union Sta­tion. Fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion could dra­mat­i­cally af­fect rail trans­porta­tion in the North­east Cor­ri­dor.

Only one en­tity has the power to ad­dress this in­fra­struc­ture cri­sis. But Congress has been un­able to agree on a longterm so­lu­tion to this na­tion’s crum­bling trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture. Ac­cord­ing to Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton (D-D.C.), fully re­pair­ing the Me­mo­rial Bridge alone would cost as much as $ 275 mil­lion. That’s morethan the Park Ser­vice re­ceives an­nu­ally for trans­porta­tion projects na­tion­wide.

Cor­ro­sion af­fects other as­sets through­out the coun­try, too: Look at the scaf­fold­ing on the Capi­tol Dome. The core of the cri­sis lies in the need for cor­ro­sion-con­trol plan­ning, use of qual­i­fied pro­ce­dures and per­son­nel and pre­ven­tive strate­gies at the start of ev­ery new bridge pro­ject or be­fore a bridge gets to the point that the Me­mo­rial Bridge has.

Mem­bers of Congress agree that it’s time to pass a com­pre­hen­sive, long-term trans­porta­tion bill that fully ad­dresses the de­cay of our in­fra­struc­ture. Cor­ro­sion plan­ning must be a corner­stone of that mis­sion.

The safety and longevity of the U.S. trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture is one is­sue that should be thor­oughly non­par­ti­san. Af­ter years of de­lay in fund­ing a com­pre­hen­sive high­way bill, Congress must act.

Oth­er­wise, bridges and highways in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal and through­out the states will con­tinue to cor­rode and crum­ble, caus­ing dis­rup­tion to daily life and even­tu­ally crip­pling the U.S. econ­omy. We can’t turn back the clock and pre­vent the de­cay of the Me­mo­rial Bridge, but we can pre­vent the same thing from hap­pen­ing na­tion­wide.

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