By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009
When softball-size chunks of concrete fell from a bridge over Route 50 before the morning rush yesterday, the timing was terrible for commuters in Arlington County. But it might have been fortuitous for local officials seeking to capitalize on federal stimulus funds.
No one was injured, and no cars were hit in the incident, which occurred about 4 a.m. There were lane closings until about 11 a.m. as inspectors studied the Glebe Road bridge and maintenance crews scraped about 100 pounds of loose concrete from its underside.
Engineers declared the bridge safe. But the symbolism was potent.
"This is a perfect example of how stimulus money could be spent in the state," said Arlington County Board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D), who called Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer to push for swift action. "I want [the Virginia Department of Transportation] to repair this bridge."
VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris said that the bridge was already slated for a $14 million overhaul beginning in 2012 but that officials will consider speeding up the work and using some of the $694.5 million that the state expects to receive for roads and bridges from the federal stimulus package. The state is also eligible to receive $116.1 million for rail and other mass transit.
Officials in Virginia are still figuring out how and where to spend stimulus funds, and are encouraging local governments and others to submit proposals to a state Web site, stimulus.virginia.gov, by today.
Officials plan to review most of the requests in time for a meeting next month of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Among the priorities: bridges categorized as structurally deficient.
Officials said that seeping water caused concrete on the Glebe Road bridge to crumble, but they emphasized that the bridge is safe.
"The concrete that fell contributes little to structural capacity," said Nicholas J. Roper, VDOT's Northern Virginia district bridge engineer. Officials said drainage repairs and some other work will be done soon.
Favola said bigger repairs also should be made now.
"Nobody was in danger," she said. "But it's not good practice to wait until someone is in danger."