D.C. Region's Bridges Are Safe, Officials Say

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Transportation authorities reassured drivers in the Washington region last night that area bridges are safe and that there is little reason to fear that a bridge collapse like that in Minneapolis could happen here.

"I would not have any concern driving bridges in the commonwealth," said Malcolm Kerley, chief engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Several major bridges have been under construction in the Washington area, including the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the Capital Beltway between Alexandria and Prince George's County. One of two new spans is complete and carries traffic in both directions. What will become the span for the inner loop is under construction. The old Wilson Bridge has been demolished.

VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris said the state has an aggressive bridge inspection program that focuses on detecting structural deficiencies.

"The Wilson Bridge is a brand-new, state-of-the-art bridge that will last many, many years, unlike the previous bridge that was never meant to carry that much traffic every day," Morris said.

Maryland Transportation Authority spokeswoman Teri Moss said the state inspects each bridge every year, even though federal law requires inspection only every two years.

In repairing the District's 55-year-old Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, city officials decided to close the span last month and detour the estimated 77,000 cars that used it to cross the Anacostia River each day.

"It was not necessarily a popular decision with commuters, but we took a look at best practices in some major cities," said Erik Linden of the city's transportation department.

Linden said the two-month closure allows crews to work on the bridge up to 20 hours a day, in two 10-hour shifts.

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