BEARING THE WEIGHT OF HISTORY
An icon for inaction
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.