Jonathan Shafer, a spokesman for the National Park Service, called it the completion of a project “that’s been years in the making. It’s exciting that this bridge that’s been here for 88 years is ready for service in its second century.”
Some work will continue on the bridge, he said. And some landscaping won’t take place until next spring.
The crumbling landmark underwent a thorough facelift. Using construction cranes and barges, workers removed the old draw section and its rusted machinery, and replaced it with a new non-opening segment.
The project, overseen by the Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration, began in 2018 after the highway administration found that — without the work — the bridge would have to close by 2021.
The structure had never undergone a complete rehabilitation, the Park Service said.
Designed in the neoclassical style in the 1920s by the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, the 2,100-foot-long bridge has borne generations of motorists, Arlington National Cemetery mourners and the feet of myriad pilgrims and protesters since it opened in 1932.
With its elegance and multiple arches, it symbolically links North and South — the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial — according to the Park Service.
But it was in poor condition, with much of its massive understructure corroded.
The bridge was originally built as a draw span and was said to be one of the longest and fastest openings in the world. But it was last raised in 1961 because other low bridges on the river prevented navigation by taller ships.
Over this span walked President Herbert Hoover and first lady Lou Hoover, inspecting the just-finished bridge on Jan. 16, 1932, as the country fell deeper into the Great Depression.
The bridge opened to traffic the next day, when more than 30,000 vehicles crossed, according to a news report. The speed limit was 22 mph.
The first funeral procession to the cemetery crossed the day after that.
The deceased was Alexander M. Harvey, a Canadian veteran of World War I who had worked on the bridge during its construction.
He had fallen from a building site in Washington five days before and was buried in the cemetery’s section for Canadian war veterans.
His was one of many such send-offs.
Famed World War I Gen. John J. Pershing’s funeral cortège crossed the bridge in July 1948.
President John F. Kennedy’s cortège, watched by millions on television, crossed after his assassination in 1963. The procession of his brother Robert crossed by moonlight after his assassination in 1968.
The bridge has witnessed protest marches during the Vietnam War, commemorative walks to mark the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the armies of motorcycle riders who turned out for the annual Memorial Day rally.
“This is a hallowed gateway to Arlington National Cemetery and is the crossroads between Virginia and Washington D.C.,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Friday.
“This is more than just a bridge,” he added. “It is a monument to our veterans . . . it’s a symbol of a country brought back together after the Civil War.”